Bonnie Sheeren says she has shopped at the West 11th Street Kroger for 20 years. A former teacher at nearby Reagan High School, she knew many of the employees. It felt like home, less like a corporate leviathan than a neighborhood mom-and-pop.
All of that changed at around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, August 13. She tells Hair Balls that on that steamy morning, a homeless man got caught lifting some merchandise near the register where she had just checked out, and, distracted by the spectacle, she left her wallet behind.
She noticed it was gone about five hours later, and returned to the store. She was directed to lost and found at customer service, where a sullen woman produced a box of junk, rooted through it and told her it wasn't there.
She returned the next day, resolved to speak to Jesus, the clerk who had checked her out the day before. (She's been shopping there so long, she knows most of the clerks by name, and also many of their shifts.) Jesus reassured her that her wallet was "in a safe place."
Which turned out to be lost and found, where she was once again showed the plastic box of junk and told her wallet was not there.
Shereen started complaining, and Kroger started making excuses.
Finally she demanded to be told what really happened, and an employee decided to level with her. She says the employee told her that her wallet had been thrown in the trash, her credit cards had been cut to pieces and her money put in the cash drawer. She was told her driver's license was in the mail.
Sheeren was in dire straits. Her husband was working on a film shoot in the Rio Grande Valley, so she could not immediately cancel her credit cards until he returned home 48 hours later. What's more, she had no money nor ID.
She says Kroger floated her an emergency loan of $40 cash to help her reconstruct her billfold, and a kindly manager offered her $30 worth of store credit.
So far so good. At that point, she believed it was all a big misunderstanding, that her beloved neighborhood store would do right by her in the end. She believed her license would turn up in her mailbox and that would be the end of it.
But it didn't show up. As the days turned into weeks, using her "nice teacher voice," Sheeren lodged several complaints, ascending Kroger's corporate chain of command in a series of phone calls. The Houston-area manager told her that he would just call the post office and they would track it down. Sheeren told him that it was unlikely the postal service would be able to do much of anything, as it was her understanding that the letter had no tracking number.
She was then passed up to Texas-Louisiana manager Rob Hamilton, who, she says, first regaled her with tales of his wonderful recent Florida family vacation. Sheeren says he droned on and on about what a great time he'd had, and then abruptly turned nasty when talk came around to her lost license.
Sheeren says he was practically yelling at her when he told her that in giving her money after destroying her credit cards, trashing her wallet and losing her license, Kroger had actually done right by her. "You left your wallet! We did you a favor," he snapped, according to Sheeren. "You only had about three dollars in that wallet," he added. Between asking Hamilton to use his "inside voice," Sheeren wanted to know how he knew that. (As she remembers it, there was about $15 in there.) Hamilton told her he had seen the videotape. She asked him if he could tell if her social security card had been in there as well. Hamilton said he couldn't tell because the tape was so grainy. Then how, Sheeren wonders, could he tell how much money she had? "The whole thing was bizarre, like theater of the absurd," she says.
And now, six weeks later?
"Kroger has given new meaning to being 'in the mail' as no sign of my driver's license has shown up here (where I've lived for almost 20 years)," she tells Hair Balls.
With her license God knows where, she dreads that she could be caught in "identity theft hell" a year from now, and the Department of Public Safety has told her that she cannot be issued a new driver's license number until a case of fraud can be proved.
She says she's spoken to several attorneys, all of whom have assured her that Kroger's phalanx of attorneys would make mincemeat out of her in court. One told her that she could present a videotape of a manager beating her up in the store and the company's staff sharks would still be able to convince a court that it was all her fault.
And her faith in Kroger as a good neighbor has been destroyed.
"Maybe I was naive to believe that to begin with," she says. "But after news about the Walmart got around, they really started to try to act like they were part of the neighborhood, not some huge corporation. But that's just what they are."
And now, she says, she shops at H-E-B.
(A call to the loss prevention desk, where Rob Hamilton purportedly works, at Kroger's area headquarters in Conroe was not returned.)