Slapped out of a Costco daze

May 26, 2008

A dreaded Sunday morning excursion: stocking up on household staples at Costco in outer Northeast Portland. Luckily, I only have to run this gantlet once every few months. Not sure I could take the crowded aisles and old ladies peddling samples of bad food any more often.

What eases my disorientation and general disgust with commercial excess isn’t the $15.25 in coupon savings. It’s what I see on the way home. Call them diversions. Perhaps they wouldn’t have registered at all had my errand been different or my mind occupied with something pressing. But what I see stays with me:

  • A motel marquee sign cries out with a message, sappy like a greeting card but no doubt well-intended. It makes me notice the motel’s name: Best Western Pony Soldier Inn. Mind you I’m no marketing guru, which may explain why the name baffles me. Is it supposed to spring to mind a romanticized vision of U.S. cavalry soldiers galloping across The Big Western Sky? A Google check turns up an excruciating list of links for this motel and its lookalikes scattered across the land. None explains the name. I also find links to the 1952 Canadian movie Pony Soldier, including this breathless promotional text: The Pony Soldier rides where no white man ever rode before. . .in the last flaming days of the great Cree Rebellion! Maybe the motel is more exciting than it looks.
  • A young woman, attractive from a distance and dressed in matching mauve-ish top and pants, walks into a building painted nearly the same color. The building is shaped like a jug. It’s 11:30 a.m. Perhaps her shift begins this early in the day at the Pirate’s Cove, a strip club in a city with the nation’s highest per capita of such establishments. Seeing her prompts me to think not so much of her but my inhospitable neighbor down the street. The guy with long ponytail who works odd hours and sometimes leaves home dressed like a pirate but never wearing anything mauve.
  • A middle-aged couple walks in Rose City Cemetery. Their posture is typical of a military procession, except they’re dressed plainly and holding hands. They step between the small stone markers inset flush with the ground. The woman holds flowers. I look away, as if I’ve intruded, though I’m driving past a world away from theirs. But I’ve seen too much not to wonder: to whom are they delivering flowers on this rainy day? Deceased son, daughter, mother, or father? How often do they visit? For a moment, grief seizes me. My reaction brings back the message on the Best Western marquee, a message not so sappy now:

Wherever there is a human being there is an opportunity for a kindness.

The quote could mean that someone at the Best Western Pony Soldier Inn is reading the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca, the Stoic who wrote the words nearly two thousand years ago. (Thank you, Google.) Better yet, perhaps the night clerk is obsessed with finding special words for the sign with a special purpose in mind.

I picture him in the half light of dawn’s approach. He attaches letters to a long pole and affixes them to the marquee. He whispers to the words, urging them to do his will. What could that be? Slap Costco zombies like me awake to see something other than big screen HDTVs and oversized bags of beef jerky when I close my eyes to sleep tonight.