A Swedish Fish Out of Water

One of the goals we had for this summer was to get Valerie a new desk for her room. To the best of my recollection, we bought the desk she has been using when she was about six-years-old. It’s kind of a wood version of a Little Tikes table. The desk’s small size and matching mini-chair make it very cute to look at but don’t measure up now that she is a high school junior. I sat down at it recently and instantly felt like I was in first grade again.

So where to buy a desk for a ten-foot-by-eleven-foot bedroom that gives my daughter enough space for homework, artwork, and a computer, but isn’t so big that it has to double as a bed? And as she put it, “it also can’t be ugly or expensive.”

After typing in “small glass-top desk” in Google, and scrolling through pages of office furniture, we ended up on the Ikea website. There we found a simple rectangular glass top table with silver legs that was a snug fit for the room but met our other criteria. Yippee! Whip out the credit card and we’re done! Except that we quickly discovered that shipping was going to cost as much as the desk itself.

“Well no problem,” I said to Valerie. “There’s an Ikea store about 45 minutes away from us. I’ve driven past dozens of times but I’ve never been in. And even better, we’ll be driving right past it on the way home from our day of foraging at Nordstrom Rack. Swedish meatballs here we come!”

So on Friday, after our day of shopping in the South Bay, we headed north, inched our way through Raider fans on their way to McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, and got to Ikea well after 7pm. The blue and yellow fortress that is the Ikea store looks big from the freeway, but I was not prepared for the enormity of it close up. We kept joking that it must have its own zip code. Thankfully, “Entrance” was identified in letters about the size of a bus so even novice Ikea shoppers like us could find our way in.

Once we got inside, it was obvious a map was essential if we were ever going to track down the Vika Larssven Ingefisk Table (ok, I’m exaggerating, it’s just that all the items in Ikea have faux Swedish names) we had seen online. We grabbed a map and on the back of it was little schematic drawing of their shopping process ““ kind of like the assembly instructions that come with Happy Meal toys that are supposed to be able to be understood by three-year-olds who can’t read yet but actually they have been simplified so much that they don’t make sense.

The girls and I agreed that we should forget figuring out the map and hope that we could find someone to ask once we start shopping. From the entrance where we were standing, the only way that didn’t lead to a dead end was up the escalator. That took us to the “Showroom” level where there were arrows painted on the concrete path. It wasn’t exactly the Yellow Brick Road but we were pretty sure that we were supposed to follow it.

That’s when I realized that Ikea is the Swedish word for maze. And how thoughtful; they know that we’re not as smart as rats and so they gave us arrows to help us find our way through it. And if we never find your way out? That’s why there’s a restaurant there. We’ll be able to survive on smorbrot and lingonberry jam.

So how do you shop at Ikea? It took the agile brain power of my youngest daughter, Jennifer, to figure it out. The fundamental Ikea concept that I didn’t get is that the entrance is truly only an entrance. Once inside, you follow the arrows until you get spit out in the warehouse and checkout area. It is designed so you don’t see the full scope of the place unless you follow the complete path.

In retrospect, it doesn’t sound like it should have been that hard to figure out. However, just like I wouldn’t recommend a first-time visitor to Disneyland arrive there an hour before closing and try to find their way to the Indiana Jones ride, a newbie Ikea shopper like me probably shouldn’t have attempted an excursion there without an experienced guide ““ especially after an already action-packed day of shopping at Nordstrom Rack.

Did we actually get the desk that we went to Ikea for in the first place? We did indeed find it, and got a nice Ikea employee to load it on a flatbed cart. We were on our way to the self-service check out when we had second thoughts about its size. A phone call to Steve confirmed that it was too big for Valerie’s room. And it’s a good thing because the girls and I never would have been able to hoist 70 pounds of glass tabletop into the back of our car and have it still be in one piece.

At 15 minutes before closing, we broke the Ikea rules by going against the arrows and made a mad dash back up to the second floor showroom. Valerie hastily looked at two desks, said, “I like this one,” and we flew back downstairs to fling it ““ fortunately it only weighed 28 pounds ““ onto a cart. We made a photo finish to the check out line before the clock struck 9:00. Mission accomplished.

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