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I went to the Mall of America to conduct some commerce at the Apple Store. It is not often I go to the MOA, unless someone embeds a grappling hook in my back and drags me there. It’s not that I hate it. It’s just full of stuff I don’t need or want. Over the years I’ve done TV remotes in the grand rotunda, explored the secret passages behind the stores, had a few fine meals, taken Daughter to the rides in the enormous amusement park, and enjoyed some Christmas shopping sessions. I don’t hate it. I always find it interesting as an expression of American commercial culture, from the design of the storefronts to the signage to the architecture of the additions. That said, I hate it.
Usually I go to the Apple Store in Southdale, the original mall of America – and in fact that’s where I went, on Thursday. It was a return of a defective item, and even though it was out of warranty this particular defect was so widely reported that Apple more or less said “yeah, that’s on us” and swapped it out. The Southdale store had no replacements, and sent me to the MOA.
Walking into the Mall without a mask was a happy moment – an initial tick of doubt, until I realized, oh yeah, I’m good. About 30% of the people in the Mall were masked. The place was jammed, and it’s a very big place. I proceeded to the Apple Store, where there was a line, because Apple has decided to make its stores reprise the experience of getting a visa to emigrate from the USSR.
You have to tell them what you’re there for. They send you to a line. You wait to be called. Someone comes forward with an iPad and asks how they can help. I get it; this streamlines the retail experience, gets you to the right person. But the effect is oddly demeaning, as if you don’t know what you want, and have to be guided.
In my ideal world I enter an Apple store, pick up a box, and head to the register. But there aren’t any boxes and there isn’t any register. You have to ask, and they go to the Mysterious Back and bring it out. Again, I get it; there are different configurations to the products, and this process makes sure you get what you want. I’m used to it. But the COVID protocols are insane.
We had to stand in a line, on our bubbles. There were two security officers making sure distance was maintained. When two people joined the line behind me, the security officer scurried over to ask if we were all together, and upon being informed we were not, commanded the two newcomers to step back to a different sticker.
She’s just doing her job. Is it that much of a burden to comply? Do you want to be that guy who has to make a remark about it? Yes yes yes I do, because she seemed to embody one of my favorite quotes: “I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them with particular enthusiasm.”
When I reached the head of the line another security officer, who was not an officer of anything at all, commanded me to step forward to the Black Dot on the floor. It was all I could do not to mimic Alex in “Clockwork Orange” and step forward with officious precision and clack my heels together. The Black Spot ensured that the onboarding retail specialist, who was vaccinated and masked, would not get too close to the customer, who was masked at the very least.
I was paired with a return agent, who took down my particulars and directed me to stand in a staging area by the Apple TV display, where another return agent would deal with my request. While waiting I strayed a few yards to the AirTags display, trying to convince myself I have any possible use for these, and failing. Very frustrating. I moved back to the AppleTV area, and noted that they’d sent another customer to wait in the same area. As I approached, she instinctively scuttled to the right.
Now. I am not a threatening fellow; I am reasonably well-groomed, was dressed in a well-thought-out monochromatic array with red Chuck Taylors for an accent, and I am short. But she moved away, because her instincts, newly formed over the last year, had taught her to presume disease.
Everything about the entire retail experience was predicated on contagion.
At the end of the commercial transaction I was chatting with the Apple Dude, and recounted the dramatic necessity of separation I’d had in the queue. He said yeah, they’re pretty intense. I said: you’re vaccinated? He said sure. I said: so am I. So why are we standing here with masks on? He said yeah, I know, it’s policy.
I don’t expect him to suffer the personal economic consequences of bucking company policy, just as I didn’t expect I would Take A Stand, because I needed an item repaired. Perhaps it’s a small and petty thing, a mulish reaction to the trailing edge of post-pandemic protocols, but it’s the idea of being required to do something that is now meaningless and rote because it’s policy. No one believes in it. It’s just what you do. C’mon. Do it. What’s the big deal.
I ended up buying an AppleTV to replace an older unit. It has a better remote that I think my wife will like better. Had to laugh when I plugged it in: the default language settings for the box were Chinese.Published in