Bad Times, Bad Times, whatcha gonna do?

Ever since we moved we’ve been gradually getting our bearings. We’ve figured out where we are in relation to the various supermarkets and chain drugstores in the area—the Jewels (Jewels as in multiple Jewel stores, not the so-called ersatz possessive-form slang vernacular “Jewel’s”), the Walgreen’s (or are they Walgreenses?) and Dominick’s (Dominiquorum?). We know where nearest stores are, and as far as we can tell, none of them are Bad Times stores.

Every store chain has at least one Bad Times location. The Walgreens closest to Chris’s old apartment, the one at Lawrence and Western, is a Bad Times Walgreen’s. I grew up near a Bad Times Jewel on Madison near Ridgeland. There is a Bad Times Dominick’s on Lincoln Avenue at Bryn Mawr, just a quarter mile or so north from the old Bad Times Osco, and together with the Walgreens they formed a Bad Time Triangle, a veritable vortex of shitty store-going experience.

What constitutes Bad Times? It’s not just bad service or poor merchandise selection. It’s almost never a single thing that can be isolated and remedied. No, it’s an elaborate matrix of factors that make you miserable practically every single fucking time you shop there.

Bad Times conditions produce varying results within a consistent pattern of badness. Your shopping cart gets swiped. You wait in line and then the line closes. They’re inexplicably all out of water, or candy, or something amazing like that. Everything you need is available only in some horrifyingly wrong form, size and/or quantity, i.e., tampons which come in boxes of two hundred and are the super-ultra-maximum kind with scented musical applicators. The ATM is down, always. You’re lost in the aisles and the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is playing. So many things around you suck to distraction that you forget half the things you meant to get, and you stumble home defeated and with the distinct sense that none of this bullshit would have happened if only you’d gone to the other Jewel or Walgreens or Osco or Dominck’s. Bad Times stores are the ones you find yourself going out of the way to avoid for one reason or another. Sometimes you can articulate why, sometimes you can’t.

Nothing ever gets cold in the beverage coolers at the Bad Times Walgreen’s. Shopping at the Bad Times Jewel-Osco in Andersonville is weirdly tedious, and it always feels like you’re pushing your cart through sand. One time, at the bad times Dominick’s, there was this cashier who wore makeup in such a way to as to make her entire head look like a fleshy Lucha Libre mask, and she barked orders at every one of us in line. “Have your Fresh Values card READY! In your HAND and READY! Take OUT your Fresh Values Card and HAVE IT READY!” At the Bad Times Osco a few years ago I smiled at an old man standing near the doorway on my way out and he followed me to my car and tapped on my window and said “DON’T I KNOW YOU?” He was holding down a button on his neck as he spoke. “I SEEN YOU BEFORE,” he said, in a voice that I think meant to be friendly but instead sounded like a tiny demon calling long-distance. I knew I hadn’t seen him before, because if I’d had I probably would’ve tried a little harder to resist the sudden visceral impulse to clutch my own throat. But as it happened, I was doing it right then, right in front of him. “I’m sorry!” I said. It was deeply awkward and not in the least bit a good time.

Bad Times knows no boundaries, lest you think Bad Times equals “ghetto.” My recent experiences have all been urban, but store can be in the middle of a manicured suburban Strippe Mall Named For An Olde Tree and still be infested with a bad case of Bad Times. Many places carry a certain variant strain of Bad Times in which nothing about the store itself is objectionable but bad things happen to you—you forget your wallet, or you leave your car headlights on, or you drop a case of canned soda and it starts hissing and you have to leave it in the aisle and scurry away like a water rat. And you can’t go back; you won’t go back, and you don’t for a very long time until one day it seems sort of silly and inconvenient to not go there, so you go, and you have Bad Times AGAIN, and you curse yourself the whole unhappy drive home. That’s what I mean by Bad Times.

Bad Times tend to make themselves known as soon as you visit the store for the first time, but do they ever go away. I’m curious about this, since the Bad Times Osco on Lincoln and Foster has now become a CVS—a chain I haven’t visited enough to know where its Bad Times locations are. Will the Osco Bad Times transfer seamlessly to CVS, just like its prescription records? Or will the change in management cause a butterfly effect disrupting the unique circumstances under which Bad Times flourished? Or what? I’ll have to go there again sometime and let you know. But I’m in no hurry.


  1. Beth says

    Bad Times T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores are also popular. Bad Times Marshalls include one in Skokie (near Old Orchard).

    With the boom of a Starbucks every 50 yards, I have began to discover some Bad Times Starbucks. Including one at Bryn Mawr and Broadway-ish. I really wanted to love this BTStarbucks because the building is so pretty – alas, the service slow, the mocha – weak, the condiment counter – horrific.

  2. Darryl says

    Sorry I’m a little late to this discussion but “Bad Times” is SUCH a useful phrase and since I discovered this post recently has come in handy many times. I must add a Bad Times anecdote:

    I have to agree about the Bad Times Jewel on Madison and Ridgeland and the burned down Bad Times Dominick’s on Broadway… but the true definition of Bad Times to me is the Bad Times KFC on Madison and Ridgeland. The first time I went there (which took a long time because, one, it LOOKS bad times and, two, it’s a KFC) I was with two other people and they didn’t have anything ANY of the three of us ordered! We left.

    I’ve returned three times since then (why, oh god, why?) and each time, no matter what I order, the first thing I order is not in stock. It’s a fast food restaurant, for goodness sake, how hard is it to keep some chicken in the freezer? Every time I go I leave feeling like if I ever go again I’m gonna need to pack some heat like John Cleese in Monty Python’s famous Bad Times cheese shop:

    “I’m going to ask you a question and if the answer is ‘no’ I’m going to have to shoot you through the head. Do you, in fact, have any cheese at all?”



  3. Spikat says

    Helloooo!! Store managers! Are you listening? Why do you treat your employees and customers like crap?

    Here’s a thought: in general (and this allegory is a few decades old, so the stats are a bit off, but nevertheless), Who shops most in grocery and drug stores? Women, yes? And, Who are the store managers? Men, that’s who. Who don’t care about good service, because they never deal with crap service at their own stores.

    Poundy – Let me know when you find more of those scented musical tampons. I only ever find unscented.

  4. Keight says

    HA! omg… My local Walmart has been a little bit of a Bad Times Walmart since they reorganized the whole store. I used to be able to find anything and everything… I never frequented Home Depot but our local one must be a Bad Times one. No matter what I need, even if just ONE item, I can’t get out of there in under 40 minutes. And no one will help me unless I have A MAN with me. Because women don’t buy building supplies!!! no, NEVAH!!!

    However, I disagree that all CVS are Bad Times stores. The CVS in Falmouth MA has very nice people working there. Falmouth is a summer town, and most things close really early in winter. My fiance & I, when we lived there, went to a late movie once (we didn’t have a car) and came out to go home and found that all the buses had stopped running and the cab companies too! The cashier at CVS let us use the phone book, and when we couldn’t find a single open cab co, called her husband to come give us a ride! he did, too! It was awesome.

    I notice Bad Times Restaurants are regional. In OH where I grew up, ALL Denny’s are the worst of the BT eateries. When I was in MA, it was Friendly’s. Odd.

  5. says

    First of all, thanks for writing “I’m Not The New Me” I very much enjoyed it.

    A friend and I were in line at what will now be known as the “Bad Times Taco Bell” in Jefferson City, Missouri for an hour. This taco bell is evil and the drive through is designed so that once you enter it, you are unable to leave it until after you’ve ordered. They have accomplished this by making the entire length of the drive through line only wide enough for one car.

    Anyway, we were sitting there trying to come up with what we were going to call the taco bell. Bad times = perfection.

  6. says

    There is a Bed, Bath and Beyond that is right by my apartment that I shall now and forever refer to as the Bad Times BB&B. BB&B was always my favorite store, and I hate them for having made this store so awful that I cringe just driving by it.

    Bad Times BB&B sits on a busy thoroughfare (Olympic in West L.A.) but its entrance is off a tiny side street so cars have to line up to get inside. Then the parking lot is tiny and cramped. So they took ownership of an adjacent lot, but you can only park there some of the time and if it’s the wrong time, a crotchety guard yells at you. The aisles are too narrow, and people just leave their carts in the aisles to meander about the store which compounds the problem. I’ve gotten stuck in corners of that BB&B, unable to get out. They have too much stock and not enough space, it’s claustrophobic, people there are always rude, and the one time I tried to shop there during the holiday season, I came out in a trembling ball of anxiety swearing, “never again.”

  7. jayinchicago says

    I know this is 2 years old, but it’s hilarious and apt.
    There is a creepy Dominick’s at McCormack and like, Pratt I guess. It is bland and fairly new/remodeled, but no one ever goes there. I don’t understand how they stay in business.

    The Walgreens on Howard and Western is very much bad times. One time I was there and they had no cashier for ten minutes! The Dunkin Donuts in the same lot always serves burnt coffee.

    There is a Walmart in Palatine that must be the worst walmart in existence.

  8. cusheamus says

    I just saw this post for the first time today, courtesy of a true friend, and it’s the best thing I’ve encountered in quite a while, not the least because my experiences with various Bad Time stores always leave me feeling like a wuss, a broken reed, someone too sensitive and weak to Suck It Up And Drive On, unequal to the demands of, well, reality, life, and everything. So after I’ve sat in the parking lot and trembled and cried or pounded the steering wheel, I take a solemn oath never to enter that particular Bad Times store again, which is all well and good, except it means I have to drive several miles to a good pharmacy, a good grocery store, and a good bank, even though Bad Time versions are available within walking distance. Now I thinks it’s time to explore the issue so gracefully raised by Patrick, who wondered why he encounters so many people at the Post Office who seem (a) never to have mailed anything before and (b) to have chosen to begin by sending a severed head stuffed with heroin to Upper Volta.

  9. C says

    I know I’m like 2 years late but I wanted to add that this is a worldwide phenomenon. Here in Melbourne, Australia there are several stores that I’d classify as Bad Times Stores. The Safeway in Ashwood, for example, has been renamed Trashwood Safeway. I run into clients there all the time (I’m a social worker), their aisles are always filled with overflowing trolleys of “Specials” (code for random, expired shit that they over ordered), the checkouts take FOREVER and always feature a substance affected couple having a domestic. The Safeway in Box Hill (aka Pox Hill Safeway) is such a bad time store. The aisles feel like the have been placed to close together. It’s dark and dingy and there’s always someone yelling.

  10. shayna says

    oh, man, THANK YOU. I never know what to call the strangely-crappy Rite Aid that is closest to my house and therefore within easy walking distance, but which I never go to because the one further away is vastly superior. It is my bad times Rite Aid. The ice cream is always melted, they’re always out of everything, it’s dirty, no useful employees… etc.

    I’m so excited.

  11. Lisa says

    2 comments on this: We live near a locally owned burger joint, and it is definitely a bad times burger joint. If you order a burger after 6 pm, they are inevitably out of fries. Also, you never feel like they can hear you when you phone in your order.

    In our old neighborhood we lived near a bad times starbucks (funny none of the commenters talk about bad times starbucks. They do exist). We had a much more politically incorrect name for it: retardo-bucks.

  12. Amanda says

    I live in the suburbs, but insist that Oak Park is a more urban suburb, right? I’m really glad that I can still take the el everywhere, that it seems more diverse, etc. But I was really upset when I realized the grocery store by my home was still a bad times store. I pay a lot in property taxes, why can’t I have a nice grocery store?

    The ultimate, and not funny, terribly sad thing, though, (and I’m sorry this is so disturbing) is that a homeless man was just killed when he was crushed in a dumpster outside the bad times store. So I don’t go to that one, but other than Whole foods in River Forest, It’s just a choice of less-bad-times stores.

  13. says

    What a great post. It’s so true. Our Wal-Mart is definitely a Bad Time, but I keep going back thinking it will be different. It never is. Saving five bucks is never worth being in a foul mood for the rest of the day – why can’t I remember that?

    There is a Safeway in a very nice neighborhood near me that is inexplicably Bad Times. The lighting seems dimmer, the layout is confusing (the outer aisle is all sausages and peanut butter), and they are always OUT of staples – like bread and milk. I was once trying to explain to someone where I lived and they said, “Oh, over by the Soviet Safeway?”

  14. zonezenmaster1 says

    Bad times exist well into the suburbs of chicago as well. Wal-mart I would rate them a “5” dirty and sometimes slllloooow lines but cheap. Target in the strip mall near me(palatine,illlinois) I’d rate a one or two OVERALL. They have clean stores,lots of name brand merchandise. Its a quick time getting your goods rung up. However, their employees sometimes seem confused when asked where something is located. An startled but apathetic face stares you back as you ask for help. Once you make eye contact they are quck to shout at deafening volumes into that walkie talkie that has the volume cranked. I’m waiting for a breaker one -nine for a radio check. They eventually go into commando mode and either tell u they have what you need or not. Kinda weird. Then again so is the bright red polo shirts and khaki outfits. Lol.