Wal-Mart before a storm is like a zombie apocalypse

(Originally published January, 2014) 1289992

My beloved Virginia has been hit with another winter storm. That means schools have been closed, plows are busy and grocery stores look like the set of a Michael Bay disaster movie.

You know the scene.

You walk into any Wal-Mart the night before a storm and it’s not much different than Black Friday. Instead of knocking over one another for PlayStations, flat screens and digital cameras, people are tackling neighbors for milk, eggs and Charmin Ultra Soft, Mega Rolls.

It’s like a zombie apocalypse, but scarier.

As I wander the barren aisles marveling at the shortages, I wonder how long folks expect to be stuck in their homes if the forecast proves accurate. Does a 3- to 6-inch snowfall really mean you’re locked down until spring?

What in the world are people doing on these snow days with six loaves of bread, seven dozen eggs and eight maids-a-milking? You eat that much French toast and you start sounding like Gerard Depardieu.

Later, when I’ve finally made my way up front to checkout — when I’ve finished rolling my eyes at so many panic-stricken friends and strangers — I pay for my toilet paper, bread, eggs, milk and Little Debbie Star Crunch Cosmic Snacks.

On the way out the door, I’ll also stop at the Redbox and rent three DVDs I probably won’t watch, but will pay $8 each for the privilege of forgetting to return them for a week.


You might remember the winter of 2009-2010 when much of the East Coast was clobbered with two massive storms and a number of smaller cousins. After the first blizzard, with my lower back on fire and as soon as I was able to get out of my neighborhood, I went with credit card in hand in search of a snowblower.

There are only two good options in our small town and at the first location, the clerk laughed so hard, I thought he might need oxygen.

At the second, the only model left was a huge beast bolted onto a display at an angle 15 feet off the ground. It happened to be the most expensive model the chain sells and something more likely to be sold in Woodstock, N.Y., than Woodstock, Va.

It was twice as much snowblower as a man in the Shenandoah Valley needs. At that price, I remember thinking I could almost buy a plow for my pickup.

Or a new pickup.

Undeterred, I asked a manager and two employees to remove the monster from the display, swipe my card, scrounge up an instruction manual and help me load it into my truck.

My back wrote me love letters all winter long.

What is it about human nature that in spite of sometimes very difficult lessons, we’re always reacting to emergencies instead of preparing for them?

We’re incredulous when the gas gauge reads “E” and we run out of fuel four blocks from the gas station.

We’re stunned when our riverbank home floats away and we have no flood insurance.

We can’t believe we can’t find batteries in the house when an ice storm knocks out power for two days.

Twenty-four hours before this most recent East Coast storm, with temperatures pushing 60 in Virginia despite a confident forecast predicting a whopper, every superstore was selling snow shovels hanging on large racks right inside the doors. When did they really start to fly? Only when the flakes flew.

Our culture responds well to crisis — we always have, but we’re not so deft at averting them in the first place.

Washington has a spending problem? When did that happen?

Obamacare isn’t working well? Come on now, that really came out of left field.

Justin Beiber was arrested for DUI and drag racing? Really? Who could have possibly seen that coming?

Maybe it’s just who we are. Perhaps America is at her best when she’s rolling up her sleeves and cleaning up messes made by man and Mother Nature. After all, a country of 300 million can’t possibly be expected to foresee every coming disaster.

But can’t we predict many of them? If we changed our habits at home, could it ripple throughout a community and beyond?

Maybe there are lessons to be learned in the final hours before a snowstorm.

Buy the snowblower you need — not the only snowblower left.

Buy your milk and eggs early and not more than is really necessary.

Most importantly, if you do have extras, save them.

Maybe we can use them to repay China.

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