Shopping in the 21st Century
by Ed Orzechowski

[Life After 50, The Springfield Republican 5/14/2008]

The price of progress

Well, it's finally happened. It just cost me as much to fill up my gas tank as it did to pay for a month's rent in my first apartment. $75.00! Remember when five bucks would fill the tank?

I know, that was then, and this is now. But at the risk of sounding like an old fogey, I still tend to gauge today's prices against what I used to pay 'back in the good ol' days.' It's not that I've been a consumer's Rip Van Winkle all these years. But, like a first kiss, those early big purchases -- your first car, your first apartment or house -- leave a big impression. They become part of your shopping DNA.

It seems like only a few years ago that gas - pumped by a smiling attendant who checked your oil and cleaned your windshield - was 29 cents a gallon. Back then, a dime was the standard for things like a cup of coffee, a Coke, a candy bar, or a call from a payphone. And typewriters (remember them?) still had a key for a cent sign, "¢", because penny candy wasn't $4.99 a pound.

But now I'm forced to shell out 21st-century prices with a 1960s mindset.

A couple of weeks ago, I went shopping for a new pair of what we used to call 'sneakers.' I figured to spend maybe $35 or $40, tops.

The young clerk -- pardon me, 'sales associate' -- sporting top-of-the-line models himself that nicely complemented his necklace, nose ring, and tattoos, snapped shut his cellphone and mumbled, "Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for sneakers," I said. The lad blinked at me like a dog trying to process a meow.

"Something like what you're wearing, only plainer," I said, pointing toward his feet, in an effort to translate.

"Oh, you're lookin' for athletic footwear," he said, after a brief tape delay. "Will you be, like, doing jogging, fitness training, or, like, doing aerobics?"

"I will be 'like' doing walking, mostly."
"Yes, sir. Are we talking on or off-road? Do you need, like, LED lights, air shock absorption, or stability control?"

"I don't want to drive 'em, son," I said. "I just want to wear 'em. You know, on my feet? Like?"

His eyes said, "Tilt."

"Of course, sir," he said. "I'm just trying to narrow down your options." He tugged at his neck chain. "Are you interested in a neo sport culture look, or retro look?"

"I'm interested in sneakers," I said. "I already look retro enough. I just want comfortable sneakers to walk in. Look, how much are these?" I picked a random sample off the shelf.

"A great choice, sir. That's from our new multi-sport collection, the MDX-195 with ergonomic cushioning technology. It's regularly $194.99, but on special this week for only $134.99. A real buy."

"A-hundred-and-thirty-five bucks for a pair of sneakers!?" I said. "My first car only cost me $275! That's two pairs of these things! Don't you have anything cheaper?"

"Yes, sir, we do. How about this nice XLR-105 with advanced mesh upper, reflectorized fabric, and crisscross lacing for $105?"  

"Uh-uh. Still too much."

Now he knew he was dealing with a mall fossil.

"I see," he said. "Well, we do have these."

He stooped to lift a shoe from the lowest shelf.

"This is the least expensive of our athletic footwear, sir. We call this the GZR-75. They're a classic at just $74.99."

"OK, I'll take 'em," I sighed. And, reluctantly, I parted with another month's rent.