Saturday afternoon, I drove 45 minutes to partake in some perverse Swedish science project. Admittedly, I didn’t realize my involvement in this cruel experiment until I had been sucked through the automatic doors of the 350,000-square-foot laboratory.
And by then, it was too late.
Looking back on this wasted weekend afternoon, however, I should have realized something was up as soon as I exited Route 24 and found myself in a snarl of traffic that was slowly snaking its way past an army of wannabe cops decked out in fluorescent green vests. Sharing traffic-mangling duties with a few police academy graduates, these manufacturers of road rage were stationed at every exit, entrance and orifice of 1 IKEA Way in Stoughton, Mass.
And just to make sure you were herded into the proper holding pen, a sea of orange cones marked the way. Turning around was not an option.
From the top of the parking garage, I followed the rest of the zombies into the IKEA labyrinth. I never did hear the Pied Piper or catch a glimpse of some robed shepherd, but I soon fell in line with the rest of the guinea pigs, circling rows of stuffed-animal lambs and big-nosed bunnies and scurrying down aisles filled with sofas, cookware and foam mattresses.
When this bastion of consumerism first opened, an estimated 20,000 people charged through the doors. Some even camped for days outside the Sweden-based shopping mecca, eagerly waiting to get their hands on some funky-colored bathmat or a wall hook shaped like a dog’s behind.
Luckily, last Saturday, only a few thousand such souls were milling about in this maze of merchandise — and many of them were in the IKEA cafeteria seeking nourishment. There, the huddled masses dined on 99-cent breakfast specials, scarfed down Swedish meatballs and slurped soup from tiny bowls.
I thought I was in a refugee camp. Only it was sadder.
Back on the massive shopping floor, the crazed experiment continued. I soon found myself playing chicken with a never-ending rush of small children — the ones that weren’t in the IKEA supervised play area horsing around in a giant shoe, anyway — and doing my best to avoid being knocked out by one of the big, yellow, mesh-like bags hanging from shoulders and swinging from arms.
Even though these shopping bags looked better suited for holding trout and salmon, they were filled with fake polar bear rugs, mixing bowls and kitchen faucets.
Last year, 453,791,000 people visited the 231 IKEA stores in 33 countries and territories around the world. In a span of 30 dizzying minutes Saturday, I felt like I had met every one of them.
With my senses working overtime and panic setting in, it was time to get out of this blue-ribbon-winning mousetrap. Undoubtedly, this is when the experiment’s mad scientists took pens out of their long, white lab coats and began to take notes.
With no store security guards in brightly colored vests directing baby strollers and shopping carts into gridlock, I struggled to find the escape route. The orange cones that had guided my way into this maze had been replaced with red exit signs, which, I eventually discovered, only led to emergency exits.
Back to the rat race.
When I did finally find the front door, I was expecting to be rewarded with a piece of cheese. Instead, I found a shopping cart getting up close and personal with my car’s back bumper.