My brother called me today to tell me that they opened a new IKEA in the Detroit area. Immediately I pictured it in my mind; the colossal size of the parking lot; the giant blue and yellow monstrosity of a building; and the excessive space for bus parking. He told me that people camped out for four days. WHAT? I can’t really criticize it too much, because I’ve been there…at least four times; always taking a friend with me, in one of those environmentally unfriendly SUVs for the 45-minute trip from Highland Park, Illinois.
Pulling into the parking lot feels a little like the parking situation on the first day of a county fair. I am immediately taken back by the enormity of the space and the fact that the building, or “action,” seems to be so-o-o-o-o far away from me, across from the thousands of matchbox cars covering acres and acres of pavement.. Of course, at the fair, we park on acres and acres of grass, which grows back in its environmentally correct way over the next year. But here people drive slowly, looking for a coveted parking space to open up, close to the building. I’ve found it best to drive straight to the front door and follow someone walking with clear bags, stuffed with everything from fake fauna to Tupperware-like gadgets that both confuse and amaze me. I follow her closely, leaning forward, my hands turning white on the tightly gripped wheel. Blissfully thinking I’ve got a spot and BAM, two miles later she crosses over between cars into another row. Yep.
Once you walk the quarter mile to the door ( because you had to park all the way back at the parking lot entrance, after following some wayward shopper around the lot for 45 minutes) you are greeted by what appear to be several Oompa Loompas in blue shirts. Like the fair, there are prize drawings, displays, and restrooms at the entrance. I highly recommend using them, because you won’t find another one for several hours. They keep them hidden behind racks of carts, and walls of shelving. This is designed to make you as uncomfortable and crabby as possible.
I don’t have to tell you that this store has everything that you could possibly need to make your house appear starkly Scandinavian. If there is a gadget, they have it. If there is a holiday, they’ve got the wrappings. If you need a nut or bolt for a bookshelf that you bought there three years ago, just grab a handful off the wall by the service desk.
So, let’s get into the human traffic…Everyone looks alike, but once in, you don’t really see or hear them, except when you pay attention. It’s like Charlie Brown’s parents. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. I notice because I am a people watcher. I find this place fascinating. They come from everywhere, but somehow, they all look remarkably alike. The family units appear like this: Mother of three walks determinedly ahead of the pack. She is on a mission. She has clearly mapped out the store for some time, and carries a list in her head that would rival Santa’s.
Trailing behind her, are three stepping stones of children, exactly a year and a half apart. They follow her absentmindedly, snaking their way through the store; their eyes like giant boulders, scoping out the stuffed monkeys and toys dangling, taunting them, from racks on the ceiling. They think, “Oooh, I want that lion.” “Oh, a new bed.” “I want those frog-faced rain boots!” They understand that it is useless to tell their determined mother, so they keep it to themselves. This is her war, and they are merely soldiers. Everyone in the family understands that…which takes us to the husband.
This is the man you see hunched over, pushing a cart full of useless items he knows will be in the next garage sale, for pennies on the dollar. He wears a baseball cap, tennis shoes, and a loose-hipped jacket, discreetly concealing the small radio, on which he is listening to the game that was on the television when he was dragged away for this miserable expedition. That is the uniform of the IKEA Sherpa. It’s the same look, Indian, Ecuadorian, Oak Parkian, or Scottish. They shuffle along behind the cart, remaining the established 10 feet behind the wife; shoulders hunched; cap down over the eyes; the mouth a sad straight line. Once in a while, you see the thumbs go up to another IKEA Sherpa, when the Sox score. The joy is fleeting, as the wife swings her head around to make sure that her slave has not lost focus on the mission. His head snaps back down, he hunches, and shuffles along like the others. These are the troopers; the men who have been with their wives for so long, through so much, and have no hope of escape. They have no choice, but to go along for the ride, ‘til death do us part.’ …and that is exactly what you feel as you attempt to leave.
If you think that the lines at Sam’s Club are bad, try some special time checking-out at IKEA. Bring your New York Times, because it is the ONE thing that I have not found there; but I probably wasn’t looking hard enough. Anyway, be sure to bring one, otherwise, you will have to spend an hour staring desperately and disappointedly in the odd humanity that surrounds you. It is feasible that you will be able to complete the Wednesday crossword, and I highly recommend going on a Wednesday, in the time that you spend in line. Don’t worry about bringing a pencil. There are millions of little golf pencils all over the store. You may want to pick up some erasers though. You can find them in the children’s department under the noosed animals.
Have a nice day, and thank you for shopping at IKEA. Now, go find your car!