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Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006 | It was Monday, the historic morning that the lights flickered out on a million dollars worth of Christmas presents and about 200 shoppers at Costco.

In the toy department, an automated Santa Claus had just reached the top rung of a fireman’s ladder. Over in Wine, two customers were interrupted in studying the label of a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. A woman in Books dropped a romance novel to the floor.

The first rainfall of the holiday season sounded like thunder striking the metal roof of the old Rose Canyon warehouse that the attorney Sol Price chose so long ago as the trial site for an unfamiliar breed of retail discount warehouse. I hadn’t heard rainfall that noisy since coconuts woke me up years ago in Tahiti, crashing on my tin roof. Shoppers stopped in place and stared up above. The pharmacy went dark, a reassuring sign.

The party mood was brief. Generators began kicking in. Two strangers grinned at each other and went back to stroking cashmere sweaters. Six cash registers came back humming every merchant’s favorite holiday sound.

“Do you remember the last time it rained here?” I asked Eddie, the checker at the door who they say is a big Costco stockholder by now.

Eddie loves to joke. His face wrinkled up for a moment and then he looked proud. “Five minutes ago,” he said.

Pushing my cart, I walked out into the rain and started trying to remember, as usual, where in that vast jumble I had parked.

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