Wal-Mart Boy
The Brad Files
Courtesy of The Dallas Morning News

College student spends 41 hours in Wal-Mart

02:08 AM CST on Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Associated Press

Tyler Bartels said he's surprised at all the attention.

DES MOINES, Iowa - Some students set out for sun-drenched beaches and tropical party bars for spring break. Skyler Bartels, a 20-year-old Drake University sophomore, headed for the local Wal-Mart.

Bartels, an aspiring writer from Harvard, Neb., thought he'd spend a week in the store as a test of endurance, using it as the premise for a magazine article. He called his adviser and she liked the idea.

"I just intuitively thought, 'This is brilliant!'" said Carol Spaulding-Kruse, a Drake associate professor of English. "I wasn't quite sure why, but it just sounded like a really good idea."

For 41 hours, Bartels wandered the aisles of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Windsor Heights. He watched shoppers, read magazines, watched movies on the DVD display and played video games.

He bought meals at the in-store Subway sandwich shop, but was able to catch only brief naps in a restroom stall or on lawn chairs in the garden department.

Other shoppers and employees didn't pay much attention until the end of his stay, he said, when it appeared some store greeters began to take notice — pointing at him and whispering.

A shift manager approached him and asked him if he was finding everything he needed.

"He said, 'Didn't I see you over by the magazines, like, five hours ago?' I told him, 'Maybe,'" Bartels said.

Tiring to the point of hallucinating, Bartels said he decided to go home before he was thrown out.

He considered the project a failure.

Then, The Des Moines Register, which had been contacted by Spaulding-Kruse, called to ask him about the experience. Once the story ran, ABC and other networks began calling.

He started his day Tuesday talking with Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America" and told The Associated Press he had decided the stunt wasn't such a failure after all.

He's talked with a book agent after a Penguin books author saw the story on the Internet. He also has been contacted by New Line Cinema about a movie concept.

Tuesday afternoon he did a radio interview with National Public Radio, and CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" was arranging a flight to New York for an appearance later in the week.

Bartels said he's surprised by the attention, but it's like a dream for anyone with hopes of ever becoming a writer.

"Whereas, I think the project itself is a failure, I could use this media stuff as a third leg of a book if I wrote it, about how America eats this stuff up," he said. "I'm incredibly happy with the press coverage. It would be kind of silly not to accept it with open arms."

The manager of the Windsor Heights Wal-Mart referred questions to company headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., where spokesman Kevin Thornton said Bartels neither violated store policy nor broke the law.

"We were unaware of his presence and if we were aware of it we certainly wouldn't have condoned it," Thornton said. "We're a retailer, not a hotel."

Thornton said the story has taken off because of Wal-Mart's stature.

"We have 3,800 locations in the U.S. One-hundred million people go through our stores every week," he said. "Wal-Mart is part of the fabric of life and this kind of reiterates that."



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