Target’s Last Shopper

Target. What do you picture when you hear that word? A store celebrating holidays months before they arrive? Stylish mothers surrounded by Hearth & Hand products worshipping an effigy of Joanna Gaines? I’ll tell you what I picture: a nearly empty store giving off some intense Left Behind vibes.

It was a night like so many others in that I was craving ice cream. More specifically, I was craving a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. A simple fix would have been to hop in my car and drive to the Publix located less than 1,500 feet from my apartment, but I am far too cheap for that. Since moving to Florida, I’ve learned that Publix is one of the worst places to buy my favorite ice cream because of how pricy it is. I’ll admit that night, I was tempted to bite the bullet and buy the marked up ice cream because I was tired and it was getting late. But my frugal spirit won the internal debate, so I hopped in my car to make the fifteen-minute drive to the nearest Target.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I had to turn down the Natalie Portman song I was blasting so I could process what I saw. The parking lot was nearly empty, which gave the whole area an eery vibe. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was only 9:58 p.m. I reasoned, Target is always open until 11 p.m., so it must be quiet because of widespread exhaustion from the mental trauma caused by Daylight Saving Time.

Once I’d parked, I marched through the doors and made a beeline to the back of the store where I knew the pints of Vermont deliciousness were kept. As I walked, I couldn’t help but notice two things: lights were being dimmed and employees were eying me as if I were wearing a “Boycott Target” t-shirt. Undeterred, I continued walking until a seemingly exhausted employee intercepted me.

The second she interrupted my speed walking, it hit me that the store must be closed, so my first words to her were, “Oh my gosh, the store’s closed, isn’t it?” She confirmed my worst fear and asked if I was looking for something specific. I was wearing my most tattered pair of pajamas since I’d figured I wouldn’t have to interact with anyone, so I thought that saying I was there to load up on ice cream wouldn’t be the best way to complete the look. At that moment, I considered telling her I was looking for rash cream or a copy of High School Musical 2 rather than admit I was there for ice cream.

However, I knew I needed to leave with a pint since I’d gone through all the trouble of getting there, so I ultimately confessed that I was at the store solely to buy ice cream. I expected that to be the end of it our brief encounter, but there was more embarrassment to be had. The employee proceeded to walk me to the ice cream section, stand there while I hurriedly decided to grab Half Baked rather than Milk & Cookies, and then escort me to a cash register to check out. As we walked, I did my best to make conversation by saying something along the lines of, “Hey, it could be worse. I could be buying two cases of beer for a party of one. Haha.” She didn’t laugh, so I kept quiet for the rest of our time together.

After what felt like an eternity, we finally made it to the cash register, where the employee murmured a goodbye before turning and disappearing into a section of drastically discounted Mossimo clothing. I considered making conversation with the woman they had pulled from a different department to check me out, but she had the look of a Sears employee on October 15, 2018, which discouraged small talk. So I stood there waiting for my credit card purchase to process and then said a cheerful goodnight as I grabbed my bag and headed for the exit.

As I walked out the front door, the employee standing next to it spoke into her radio saying, “That’s the last one.” It was then that I knew exactly what it would feel like to shop at a Target in an alternate, dystopian reality. And as I drove home, I realized I’d learned a valuable lesson: always check store hours before embarking on a mission of ice cream discovery.

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