Assistant manager attack

This week’s lead Newslines story (“No free speech”) necessitated a visit to Wal-Mart on my part. I was trying to get information about the arrest of a signature-gatherer there last week on charges of trespassing. Trespassing at Wal-Mart? That’s like being arrested for loitering in New York’s Times Square at 11:55 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. There had to be more to the story. The first thing I learned is that Wal-Mart does a brisk business at 10:30 in the morning—at least based on the number of cars in the massive parking lot at that time. Second, Wal-Mart employs a lot of assistant managers. I was looking for an assistant manager named Mick, and when I entered the store with pen and notebook in hand, an assistant manager named Jason approached quickly and asked if he could help me. I told him I was looking for Mick, that I had some questions about the arrest. “Mick won’t say anything,” Jason told me. I asked for Mick’s last name, but Jason wouldn’t say. “What’s your last name? I asked. “Jason,” he said. “Jason Jason?” I repeated, a bit confused. He said no, but still refused to give me either his or Mick’s last name.

Assistant Manager Jason did tell me he’d get me the phone number for the regional public-relations person. But I doubted the regional public-relations person could help me here. Jason walked away, I assumed to get the number off the Rolodex in his office. He left me standing next to the greeter, an older fellow named Tom. “How are you?” I asked Tom, sort of reversing roles on him and stealing his thunder. He squinted at me suspiciously but nodded in the affirmative. At that point yet another assistant manager, Kirsty, walked up. I recognized her from a photo I’d seen, taken by a pal of the offending signature-gatherer at the time of the arrest. I asked her about the arrest, and she said she didn’t “appreciate the fact they were taking my picture.” About that time I noticed Jason was behind the customer service counter, busily typing away on a computer keyboard. I went over and waited. I could see that Jason was having trouble getting the computer to cooperate. He was grimacing and typing harder with each stroke. My standing nearby didn’t help matters.

Then I noticed, taped to the wall behind him, a photo of District Manager Kim Turner, a blond women wearing a blue pants suit and a sincere smile. A sign under the photo said: “If you have a problem, questions or concern, ask for me or any other member of our management staff. We will resolve the situation on the spot.” That’s it, I thought. “Jason,” I said. He looked up from the keyboard he’d been punching at furiously for the last eight or nine minutes. “How about if I call her?” I nodded toward the photo of District Manager Turner. Jason said no, that she wouldn’t talk to me either and went back to hammering the keyboard. “But the sign says…” I protested. Jason held up his hand and shook his head no. In the end, Jason couldn’t pull up the number and finally had to tell me to call back and ask for him later. “Is Jason enough?” I asked. I figured there might be two or three other assistant managers named Jason working that day. He assured me that was all I needed. I let it go.

I do have one question about Wal-Mart’s plan to expand its Forest Avenue building into a superstore and construct another Wal-Mart on the Sunset Golf Course just north of town: Where does the Downtown Chico Business Association stand on this? Is it in favor? Against? Or is this none of its business? Isn’t the DCBA’s mission to promote and, we assume, protect the health and well-being of downtown businesses? It wants to double the cost of a parking fine. We’ve heard that the Chico Chamber of Commerce board of directors briefly discussed taking a stand but was so divided it decided to drop the matter. So what about it, DCBA? What happens when Collier Hardware shuts its doors? How about the House of Rice, Bird-in-Hand, Nantucket Home Furnishings? What happens, DCBA, when Wal-Mart is the last place in town where you can get a tattoo and the only choice is a variation of that yellow happy face used in its commercials? What then?