An Afternoon at the Maw of America

 

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.

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  1. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    And the sky has got so cloudy
    When it used to be so clear,
    And the summer went so quickly this year.
    Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here…

                                                           – Joe Raposo

    • #1
  2. Chris Member
    Chris
    @Chris

    James Lileks:

    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.

     

    Exactly this.  

    And is it just me who hears echoes of “I know I’m okay, but I can’t trust Joe Blow with a gun” when people say “I know I’m vaccinated but how can I trust Joe Blow at the grocery store being unmasked”?  

     

    • #2
  3. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    James Lileks: I ended up buying an AppleTV to replace an older unit…Had to laugh when I plugged it in: the default language settings for the box were Chinese.

    Apple knows which side their bread is buttered on. China is where most of their products are manufactured, and where most will one day be sold (if Apple’s executives have placed their bets correctly.) What a bold strategic plan: make your wealth by building your business in the world’s most successful fascist state.

    Perhaps my grousing about it is pretty hypocritical? I’m posting this on an Apple iPad…

    • #3
  4. llama12b Coolidge
    llama12b
    @llama12b

    Sounded like a trip to the DMV.

    • #4
  5. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    llama12b (View Comment):

    Sounded like a trip to the DMV.

    DMV wouldn’t be that well organized.

    • #5
  6. Autistic License Thatcher
    Autistic License
    @AutisticLicense

    One of my favorite cafes in Boston has transformed.  It used to be a bookstore and cafe and nothing is better than that.   you could sit at the counter, order French toast and a redeye, watch Ip Man II with the sound off, talk to people…  It still a bookstore and cafe, but now you halt at an imaginary line, proceed to a very well-sanitized table, connect to Toast via a QR code, navigate to”coffee, 1″ navigate to”espresso” and add the codicil,”put in coffee,” and then begin describing French toast.  Sitting has a time limit as does sitting in the library, and I’m a rule follower, so no one has started shouting ” 2319! 2319!”  I got out of there and the kid with the skateboard outfit probably changes into a disposable paper bunny suit, a Darth Vader mask, a sprayer with a long nozzle, and…

    Well, you’ve been there. 

    • #6
  7. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    Autistic License (View Comment):
    …and I’m a rule follower, so no one has started shouting ” 2319! 2319!”

    Any clever reference to “2319” rates a “Like”!

    • #7
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    James Lileks: I ended up buying an AppleTV to replace an older unit.

    You could have replaced it with a good book, instead. Do they have any of those anywhere near where Harmon Killebrew used to hit them into the left field bleacher seats?  (I haven’t been there since Killebrew played first base for the KC Royals, in his last year as a player.)

    • #8
  9. J Ro Member
    J Ro
    @JRo

    James Lileks:

    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.

    I departed Japan exactly one year ago today carrying my old MacBook Pro with a screen that had recently gone black. In the US I tried to buy a new MBP online (all the US Apple Stores were closed). But Apple wouldn’t accept my Visa Card, issued by a very well-trusted and highly secure US military focused Federal Credit Union, because I had a Japanese billing address. The website indicated that they would have no problem accepting my order if I had a French billing address. Or a Chinese one.

    I have learned to live without my MacBook Pro. Take that, Apple! Missed sale!

    Oh, and thanks for the $billion/day quarter and the dividend bump, Tim.

    • #9
  10. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Apple has been hyper paranoid about the Wuhan virus throughout. I was fortunate in March 2020 that I happened to have picked up an item that had been in for a warranty repair, as the day after I picked it up, Apple closed the stores and would not even let people whose stuff was in the store pick it up. They apparently set up some complicated process to ship the product to you. And of course you were totally out of luck if you needed to start a warranty repair. 

    BTW, I read that attaching an AirTag to your dog’s collar can be useful if the dog gets out. 

    • #10
  11. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    Apple has been hyper paranoid about the Wuhan virus throughout.

    Makes you wonder what they know.

    • #11
  12. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Apple is tedious. Best Buy is not tedious. 

    • #12
  13. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    MOA Apple Store Named World’s Most Alienating Retail Experience

     

     

    • #13
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    MOA Apple Store Named World’s Most Alienating Retail Experience

    I’ve never been to an Apple store. However, the description reminds me of going to a Verizon store. (I haven’t been to one since Covid, though.)

     

     

    • #14
  15. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Apple is tedious. Best Buy is not tedious.

    I’ve found Best Buy to be quite tedious.  But mostly they’re just way overpriced and not much selection.

    • #15
  16. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    The only Apple product I’ve bought is the iPod Touch, which is basically a device that fits in the palm of your hand, and runs the same iOS operating system an Apple phone does without the cellular capabilities.

    Beyond that, I’m Android, or in the case of a PC, Microsoft Windows all the way.

    I buy my unlocked phones and other devices online and all these brick and mortar mask requirements have only increased my online purchasing.

    I now buy my clothes, including shoes, entirely online.

    I’ve made it a point to minimize the entering of facilities that require a mask.  Truth be told, if I had lived in Minnesota I would have found a way to move to Wisconsin.  I suspect that Minnesota is hemorrhaging reisidents as we speak.

    • #16
  17. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    kedavis (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Apple is tedious. Best Buy is not tedious.

    I’ve found Best Buy to be quite tedious. But mostly they’re just way overpriced and not much selection.

    Everybody I talk to in there is very well trained and efficient. The only thing I’m going to buy without talking to a sales person is an iPod. 

    Apple stores really suck now because of the virus protocols, but I never saw the value added that made them so crowded all the time. 

    • #17
  18. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    Having an Apple store in Southdale always seemed strangely out of place, even after the remodel of the remodel. The main floor sculpture is the last remnant of an era when the near future was still being imagined, but within reach. A modern patina over a truly human touch. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see people interacting solely with computer generated holograms, transmitting from China to advise customers on their technical problems. I get the feeling at Apple they think their product is fine, it’s the user who has the problem. But I’d talk to the holo-face and he would respond in choppy sentences, as the translation from Chinese to English wasn’t quite perfected. As for the safety theater – I can attest to that. At my pet store, we lowly employees still have to bleach all the counter tops, carts, and credit card pads – and wear masks despite being vaccinated, because, well Policy!…for the well being of the customers dotchaknow…

    • #18
  19. JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery Thatcher
    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery
    @JosePluma

    Meanwhile, in Texas, almost no masks anywhere.  And certainly no security guards.  

    But, I haven’t been to the Apple Store. 

    • #19
  20. Dbroussa Coolidge
    Dbroussa
    @Dbroussa

    There is an interesting effect from the party of SCIENCE!, they now don’t appear to actually want to follow SCIENCE! when it means that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks indoors. Its almost like SCIENCE! was just an excuse to except control over people. 

    • #20
  21. Dbroussa Coolidge
    Dbroussa
    @Dbroussa

    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery (View Comment):

    Meanwhile, in Texas, almost no masks anywhere. And certainly no security guards.

    But, I haven’t been to the Apple Store.

    I suppose it depends on where in Texas. In San Antonio I still see more masks than not. HEB hasn’t updated their signage and still, ostensibly, requires masks. Many business still make their employees mask up. My oldest works at a fast food Mexican place and she has to wear a mask even though she is vaccinated and past her 14 days after that. Corporate policy. I talk to so many people who still mask up even though they are vaccinated saying that they still want to protect people and stay safe from others. 

    • #21
  22. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    They never should have made anybody wear a mask except in certain obvious circumstances. The virus blew through every single mandate and they act like you just don’t get it. It’s total madness. Here is a brief explanation of a study the NIH just approved.

     

    https://video.foxnews.com/v/6256423959001#sp=show-clips

     

     

     

    • #22
  23. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    James – you missed the really good news, they just found a new version of the flu in, of all places, China. What could go wrong?

    • #23
  24. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    MiMac (View Comment):

    James – you missed the really good news, they just found a new version of the flu in, of all places, China. What could go wrong?

    Are we allowed to call it the Chinese variant?

    • #24
  25. Ammo.com Member
    Ammo.com
    @ammodotcom

    Airports following 9/11 were the testing ground. Now retail is preparing Americans even further for the future of their country: an eternal security checkpoint, where every facet of public life is scrutinized and controlled. Don’t like it? Can’t help you – we all have to follow protocol.

    • #25
  26. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge
    Gazpacho Grande'
    @ChrisCampion

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):

    James – you missed the really good news, they just found a new version of the flu in, of all places, China. What could go wrong?

    Are we allowed to call it the Chinese variant?

    Only from our defensive bunkers.

    • #26
  27. JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery Thatcher
    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery
    @JosePluma

    Dbroussa (View Comment):

    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery (View Comment):

    Meanwhile, in Texas, almost no masks anywhere. And certainly no security guards.

    But, I haven’t been to the Apple Store.

    I suppose it depends on where in Texas. In San Antonio I still see more masks than not. HEB hasn’t updated their signage and still, ostensibly, requires masks. Many business still make their employees mask up. My oldest works at a fast food Mexican place and she has to wear a mask even though she is vaccinated and past her 14 days after that. Corporate policy. I talk to so many people who still mask up even though they are vaccinated saying that they still want to protect people and stay safe from others.

    I wrote that after a visit to an HEB in Round Rock. Yesterday I went to one in Pfleugerville, just a few miles south of that, and I was one of the few who were maskless. No one hassled me and, of course, several people were wearing them improperly. I guess as you move closer to Austin, you get weirder  stupider and more sheep-like.

    • #27
  28. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    James Lileks: 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.

    Yeah, I had to buy a new TV because it had a better remote! Good one. 

    • #28
  29. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    JimGoneWild (View Comment):

    James Lileks: 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.

    Yeah, I had to buy a new TV because it had a better remote! Good one.

    When we bought our last TV, my wife talked me *up* from the 73″ to the 82″.

     

    • #29
  30. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    JimGoneWild (View Comment):

    James Lileks: 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.

    Yeah, I had to buy a new TV because it had a better remote! Good one.

    When we bought our last TV, my wife talked me *up* from the 73″ to the 82″.

     

    Some women are to be cherished.

    • #30