First of all, though the day was pleasant, and the trip to the regional entrepot of Chico provides some pleasant scenery, I am not overly fond of travel by car. I am, first and last, a confirmed pedestrian, and my preferred means of locomotion is best suited to the dense urban street or the quiet country path. I have traveled by train, which has the advantage of providing a place to walk even as the conveyance itself is moving rapidly. I have, on occasion, fantasized a journey by dirigible, which I imagine might be sufficiently leisurely to suit my desire to always have a sense of where I am at any moment. And, though I have never had the opportunity for a sea voyage, I have often though that one of the great Liners of the vanished age of sea travel would have been an ideal means of getting from one place to another.
But the automobile, even driving along a scenic divided highway through woodlands and brown California fields, with views across the valley to the dark, rumpled line of the coast range of mountains, and the magical shapes of Sutter Buttes, and, only a few yards away, the splendid chasm of Butte Creek Canyon, is not a means of transportation that brings me a great deal of pleasure. I always feel rushed in a car. I can't relax. I don't like the noise when the windows are open, or the feeling of being isolated from the surroundings that I get when the windows are closed. In short, I don't get along with cars.
So, I arrived at my destination with a sense of displacement, aggravated by the fact that, having descended almost 2000 feet in a few miles had left my ears feeling uncomfortable. And the destination itself was one of those places of which I am decidedly unfond. It is a new strip mall, with a handful chain stores, anchored by Best Buy at one end and Old Navy at the other. The buildings are essentially (as they are in fact called) big boxes, and they are covered in a roughly textured plaster spread over their walls and decorative appendages, the latter being primarily huge hollow constructions that flank the entrances to the larger stores and which, I suppose, are meant to suggest columns of great strength. Above them, there is a non-essential roof covered in what may or may not be actual red tile. I find these buildings which have sprouted throughout California in recent years to be very disconcerting. The faux element of their design is intensely self-conscious in that arch post-modern way that makes the style, if such it can be called, uniquely repellent in the dismal history of late nth century architecture. The city of Chico requires that a large percentage of the land around these buildings be devoted to landscaping, so the huge parking lots are dotted with shrubs and trees. If they are properly maintained, the trees one day will, mercifully, at least partly conceal the buildings. But for now, everything is quite exposed.
But I rant. I must get to the meat of the matter, which is what awaited me once I passed between those hollow portals and entered the cavernous maw of this manifestation of American abundance (as provided by the cheap labor of China, Thailand, Indonesia, etc.)
I must say, it boggles the mind. Chico is a fairly small place, and I suspect that Best Buy stores in large metropolitan areas are probably correspondingly larger than this one. If so, I urgently desire never to see one. Inside the store, lighted by those annoying spot lights that never quite shine where you want them to, as well as by the flickering glare from dozens and dozens of video screens of all sizes, was the most astonishing panoply of gadgetry and gizmos that I have ever seen in one room. Televisions, of course, and video game consoles, and cameras, and computers, and peripherals, and I don't know what all. And the din! Some species of techno music blaring from speakers everywhere, battling with the shrieks and pops and whistles of video games and the sound tracks of whatever was playing on the myriad television sets. And, of course, the sound of human voices shouting, to be heard above the unholy cacophony.
The monitors were near the back of the store, so I had to make my way into the very belly of the beast in order to find a surprisingly limited selection. There were about a dozen. The size of the place had raised my expectations, and, on looking closely, I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed to find that artful arrangement and a great deal of carefully wasted space had been used to substitute for width of selection.
There were guys everywhere. I found myself wondering if women ever buy electronics, or did they simply avoid this particular store? It was like a bad night club, for guys who couldn't get dates. Or, perhaps, it was like a gay night club for guys too deep in the closet to make any moves. They just wandered around in the jittery light, pounded by the loud, frenetic music, looking furtively at one another from time to time. The entire thing was too bizarre for words. I had thought to look for a new pair of headphones while I was there, the experience of being in this place was so unpleasant that I just grabbed the cheapest monitor they had in stock and rushed to the checkout counter. As I left the place, my main thought was this is why so many people are buying stuff on line, now.
Well, enough reliving of the trauma. With luck, I will not need to return there any time soon. I was so rattled by the experience, that I almost went to a nearby Starbucks for five dollar coffee, but thought better of it. I just took my monitor home and made a cup of tea. For the best, I think.