As I stood in the Christmas decorating section of Target looking for replacement light bulbs, a sense of deja vu washed over me. But, how? I’ve never been to this Target before. I only recently moved to this city. I searched my brain for the memory that eluded me—like a fuzzy dream that had disappeared in the morning.

Finally, I realized I had been in another Target, in another city a couple of years ago, looking for the same thing. The display hadn’t changed.

Big box stores and chains build cookie cutter stores in every city. When I walk into the Walgreens in rural New Mexico, I might as well be in downtown Washington, D.C. Although the skyline is unfamiliar, I feel at home. The refrigerated section covers one far wall. Make-up and curling irons cover the other. The actual pharmacy is way in the back and closes earlier than the rest of the store. Puzzling.

Marketers study my habits. Milk, bread, and produce hide around the perimeter of any grocery store, ensuring the maximum number of steps on my Fitbit. I need those items. Cookies, chips, and candy fill the center aisles waiting for me to take a short-cut to the checkout stand.

I find it creepy when Facebook recommends products I might want to purchase, but the idea of watching shoppers is nothing new. Marketers have done it for generations. New technology simply allows sellers to fine tune their efforts. I don’t mind seeing ads for cute skirts and coffee mugs that say “Writer at work” in my news feeds. I wish there was a way to tell them I already bought a kitchen faucet. Stop showing them to me.

Good thing I’m not a true crime writer. What would they try to sell me then? It might be fun to type in some key words to see what they offer.

Yes, Big Brother is watching. But his strategies are predictable. I put on sneakers and hike the perimeter of the grocery store. I get some squats in as I grab generic items from the bottom shelf. I use public computers at the library to research true crime.

The proliferation of big box stores creates a common experience. I can meet any woman in my demographic and immediately have a bond.

My new friend from another city says, “I have that same shirt.”

Together we say, “Costco. Fifteen-ninety-nine.”

Then we have a good laugh.

I can travel to a foreign land, like New Mexico or Nebraska and know which way to turn once I get inside. And, more importantly, know where they hide the restrooms.

When my daughter chose to have her wedding in her new husband’s hometown, I volunteered for the Target runs. A little piece of home.

Deja vu in a foreign land.