I got lost at the Home Depot the other day. For some reason, it’s always Home Depot. What should have been a routine visit turned into a two-hour session in social anxiety, an exercise in the many subtle social interactions that in thirty years on this planet I’ve yet to learn. I could be feeling at the top of my game, like I’ve got everything figured out. And it only takes one trip to Home Depot to make me feel like a little kid again. A little kid who has no idea what he’s doing in life, just wasting everybody’s time with his presence.
It should have been simple enough. I wanted some cedar to build a vegetable garden in the backyard. The wood comes in these twelve foot long planks, and I know that they’ll cut it right there for you. But figuring out how to get them to cut it, it’s crazy. It’s not like the Home Depot commercials, where everything looks so easy. “You’ve got a project but you don’t know how to start?” the faceless announcer pegs me right away, “Just come over to Home Depot, where we’ll tell you what you need, and how to do it.”
But what they don’t tell you is, there are like three hundred people also shopping at the Home Depot, and while most everybody knows what they’re doing, like they’re able to navigate the maze of endless choices of tools and equipment, instantly zeroing in on precisely the right product that they need for the job, there are always at least ten or fifteen people per aisle doing exactly what I’m doing, staring ahead blankly at the walls, unable to even think about how you’re supposed to start doing whatever it is what you want to do.
Sure, it should be as easy as just grabbing someone in an orange vest, “Can you help me out for a second?” But each orange vest is always helping someone else out. Not only that, they’ve got like two or three other people waiting in line to be helped out. Only, there’s not really a line. You’re just supposed to kind of hover around the orange vest, hoping that whenever they’re done helping whoever it is that they’re currently helping, they’ll turn to you next and go, “OK, so what can I help you with?”
Nobody’s taking numbers, it’s always a free-for-all. You’ll be awkwardly orbiting an orange vest, you’re clearly next in line, in fact, you’ve gone above and beyond what should have been necessary to secure your spot. You might have started out in the tool aisle, you’re waiting as the orange vest helps someone pick out a choice screwdriver, and all you need is some help picking out your own screwdriver. But no, after this guy gets his screwdriver, he’s like, “Also, can you help me pick out a good doorknob?”
“Sure! Right this way!” And then it’s crazy, you have to follow them to the doorknob aisle. You’re lost, very far away from your intended goal, and for all you know, there might be a new orange vest in the tool aisle, someone ready to help out the next tool-seeking customer. But you’re invested. You’ve waited. You’ve tried to give these two enough space so as not to intrude upon their moment while also remaining close enough that everyone knows that you’re there for help, that you’re next.
But how many times does it happen, when you should be next, but maybe you’ve got like two or three other hangers-on, waiting for the orange vest’s attention. It’s your turn, but right before you can jump in, someone else cuts the line, “Hey sorry, just real quick, can you help me pick out a doorknob?” And what are you supposed to say? “Excuse me, I’m next, and we’re going back to the tool aisle.”
No, you have to sit there and wait, and then other people see that you’ve just given up your turn, so when that turn is over, it’s like you’re labeled, go ahead and cut me, I won’t say anything, I’m not going to protest.
That’s what it was like for this wood that I needed cut. I found the wood, right, and I found the cutting machine. “Hey man, do you think you could cut some wood for me?” and he just kept saying, “What? What?” Like, was I not speaking properly? Every single question I asked, “What? Huh?” Finally I had to spell it out, “Can. You. Cut …”
And then he was like, “OK, yeah, fine, go get the wood, I’ll cut it.”
So I got the wood, eight pieces of cedar. I loaded it onto this awkward lumber shopping cart, and I waited by the machine. Only, he was gone. He disappeared. I waited for like fifteen minutes, tried to go on my phone to make the time go by, tried not to look impatient. Finally I felt like I was being had, I stopped some other orange vest, someone walking by with his own posse of hangers on. “Excuse me,” I said really quickly, “I’m not trying to interrupt, but do you know where the wood cutter is? He was here like fifteen minutes ago, but I don’t see him anymore.”
And everyone gave me that stink eye, like what the hell man? Don’t you see the vague circle-like amorphous blob of a line? Nobody here knows exactly who’s up next, but it’s definitely not you.
This orange vest looked around, he told, “I think he’s at the other cutting machine. I can hear it cutting.”
“Thanks,” I told him, leaving my wood behind to go investigate this other cutting machine. Of course there was another cutting machine. And of course there was a new line of people all waiting to have some wood cut. I waited, and by the time it was my turn for assistance, some other Home Depot employee had returned all of my lumber that was waiting at that original cutting machine. I had to start all over again, lifting the wood off of the shelf, trying to get the cutting guy to stay with me, having to speak really slowly all over again so he could understand how long I wanted each piece to be cut.
Does it have to be this hard? Why can’t they make it easier to get help? They should have like a structured system, like you need help, you go find someone at the front, all of the orange vests could help people on a first come, first serve basis. You won’t have to wander the aisles and worry that you’re bothering the wrong people. “Oh sorry, I’m just stocking, I’m not doing customer service.” OK, well how am I supposed to know that? You’re all wearing identical orange vests. And everybody looks like they’re doing something else.
Fix it, Home Depot. Don’t you want me to spend money at your store? Don’t you think I’d be more inclined to visit more frequently if I didn’t feel like such an amateur every time I walked through your giant warehouse doors?