Almost every Army post has a Post Exchange, more commonly known as the PX. The PX is essentially a government run Wal-Mart store, that carries a wide variety of crap for sale, most of which the average soldier doesn’t need. The selection of goods varies from anemic to bizarre, but it’s never very good; it usually seems like items are stocked based on some kind of random encounter table or some kind of arcane government metric that is buried in page 568 of 790 of some manual somewhere. For example, the online PX only carries Swarovski brand rifle scopes. If you’re wondering, yes, that’s the same company that makes Swarovski crystal, and their scopes are just as expensive. Who in the military (except officers, natch) can afford Swarovski rifle scopes?
Despite these flaws, the PX is always a prime destination whenever arriving at an Army post. Indeed, it usually remains a popular location even after spending long months at a given post, despite the relatively low rate of stock turnover. I’m not exactly sure why, but it is certain that someone will say “let’s go check out the PX” within the first ten minutes of available free time.
Obviously boredom is a factor; shopping is recreation for many people and sometimes that’s all you have to do. It’s also about the prospect of finding something shiny to buy: since everything else on a post is green or tan and belongs to somebody else, the PX the only place where new things can be introduced to the environment. This act of buying is also an expression of our sacred capitalism, set against the quasi-socialist microcosm of the military, where everything is free (if sometimes shabby). To us materialistic youth, one can’t help but chafe under the burden of all the free clothing, shelter, and food the military flings at us – our wallets virtually cry out for emptying!
Also, unlike a Wal-Mart, each PX is different – METT-TC dependent, if you will. Each one is somewhat tailored to the base that houses it, so while the general atmosphere is the same, the layout changes. This adds to the excitement, because there’s a vain hope that one might discover some cool, strange thing, lurking behind some new curve of an unfamiliar wall.
Or maybe it’s just a huge mind-control ploy by the government: during basic training, we’re all secretly bombarded with subliminal messages that inculcate an irresistible desire to shop at every PX we see. That seems most likely – just another cruel Rumsfeldian plot to ruin our lives!