Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Experimental schizophrenic Wal-Mart

I am parked in the "large vehicle" lot at the Wal-Mart DIA, technically in Aurora, Colorado (map).

Rather than take up four or five paragraphs here explaining the "experimental" nature of this store, let me just point you to this press release (old enough, now, that many of the links don't work), and this follow-up report (PDF). The short story, for those who'd rather not bother with the links, is that this store, along with the store in McKinney, Texas, are test beds for various "green" technology and construction techniques that Wal-Mart is looking at implementing in new stores nationwide. The report details which efforts seem to be working and which do not.

One of the first things we noticed, driving in, was clear signage directing oversize vehicles to a particular lot. While we've seen this before, the experimental nature of this store meant there was a sign explaining the intent:

Note the sign describes their expectation that the store will get extra RV and semi traffic due to its proximity to the interstate. Note also the photo of the two RVs, which is actually a PhotoShop of the same RV, in one case with the leveling jacks deployed. Text on the sign describes the extra-heavy duty paving and underlayment to support this. Note also the large callout on the blueprint photo, "RV Parking Area." The sign all but comes out and says they are expecting overnight guests.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered this sign late yesterday evening, after I was already squared away for the night (after a large truck, which had been blocking it, pulled out):

Hmm. It was clear to me that neither of these admonishments is being enforced. Trucks idled here the whole time we were here on Sunday, as well as since I arrived here around 3ish yesterday (it was around 9pm when I saw the sign and took the photograph). Also, this truck

was here Sunday afternoon, parked with the driver nowhere in sight, and was still here Monday night. (It was also here this morning when I got up -- probably waiting for a load.) Ditto goes for this (possibly abandoned) class-C in the main lot:

The class-C is still here tonight. I think the tumbleweeds wedged underneath add a nice touch. The truck-tractor in the foreground isn't supposed to be in the main lot, either, but those signs are also, apparently, not enforced.

Since I was already parked for the night, and had had a couple glasses of wine, to boot, I decided I was just not going to worry about it. I am guessing that the "No Overnight" bit is actually a concession to the city of Aurora, as I've heard they've banned it at the other two Wal-Marts in town. I had a peaceful night, and was undisturbed (other than the idling trucks, but then, I'm used to staying in truck stops).

Normally we try not to spend more than a single night in a Wal-Mart. This place, though, has the atmosphere of a regular overnight free-for-all truck-stop, and Odyssey is actually pretty unobtrusive here. Besides, I had more shopping to do today, both at Wal-Mart and also at some of the adjacent stores, which include a Home Depot, a Best Buy, a Bed, Bath and Beyond, a Petco, an Office Depot, and a few more I've forgotten already. I also wanted to eat tonight at one of the myriad restaurants -- I chose Chipotle, but there is also a Chili's, Del Taco, McAllister's Deli, Wendy's, two outlets inside Wal-Mart (Subway and Papa Murphy's), and let's not forget the hotdog stand in front of Home Depot.

While Odyssey was the only RV in this lot (among many trucks) last night, tonight I see an Allegro Bay and a Bluebird here with me. I don't want to overstay my welcome, so notwithstanding being nearly invisible among the trucks,

I will move tomorrow to the Aurora Elks lodge, which is reputed to be in not the nicest of neighborhoods, but at least has 15-amp power (available, oddly, only at night) so I can charge up my batteries after three nights of dry camping. We'll see how it goes over there -- I might end up moving again before the week is out.

I took some photos of some of the experimental aspects of the store here. This shows the front end well lit with natural light from the sawtooth ceiling, with north-facing clerestory windows to provide natural light without letting direct sunlight (and thus heat) in. You can also see the low-level (11') HVAC ducts:

Here is a shot, over the truck/RV lot, of the two wind turbines. The massive one in the back is 50kW, and has fancy tilting blades that can withstand gusts up to 120mph. The one in the front is much smaller, only 1kW:

The fancy solar-powered blinking "Stop" and "Pedestrian" signs (along with an RV and a truck parked in the "No Trucks" main lot, ignoring the "Large Vehicle" signage):

The retaining wall, made of "Staplestone" -- actually chunks of the old runways at now-defunct Stapleton International Airport, just a few miles west of here. Pulverized bits of the Stapleton runways also form the pavement underlayment and some of the building foundation:

Another shot of the small turbine and some solar panels behind the monument sign, also made of "Staplestone," and the interpretive sign about the turbines:

It's been a pleasant, if somewhat baffling, stay here, and I wish Wal-Mart success with their many green initiatives. I will pull up stakes and roll out tomorrow after a noon conference call with the Red Cross.

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