Shopping Carts

This morning I drove to my neighborhood grocery store for the week’s supplies. As I narrowed in on my parking spot and turned the wheels in, I had to suddenly stop. In the middle of the 7.5 by 9 ft, large, parking spot was a 1.5 by 3 ft little, abandoned, shopping cart. Another ten feet away from this spot was a perfectly functioning shopping cart corral. It was meant to have dozens of shopping carts stacked neatly into each other waiting to oblige and accompany the next shopper on his/her rounds. But the corral stood empty.

Instead, there were forlorn looking shopping carts abandoned everywhere around it. Under the tree at the end of one aisle. Pushed up halfway into the curb three sports down. There were three of them gathered as if in a conversation in the middle of the next lane. And one abandoned cart just inches away from the cart corral.

We humans have some baffling little habits, and not returning shopping carts to the stand (along with the chewing gum under public park benches phenomenon), is one for the anthropology class.

It’s not because we are pressed for time. We are happy to spend forty minutes every day back and forth in our oversized minivan to go to the gym and run on a stationary treadmill for another forty minutes. But we will not spend the extra forty seconds to walk an empty shopping cart back to its rightful place.

It’s not because it’s too much of an effort. We run 8-minute miles with our infants in bob strollers, lift 180 pounds in death-defying bench presses. But we will not walk the extra eight steps to return the cart to the corral.

It’s not because it is too difficult of a task. We manage dozens of different social media profiles, balance books, prescribe antibiotics, chaperone field trips and create amazing latte art. But we find it difficult to walk to the designated spot that will house our empty shopping carts.

As I ruminated thus and rolled my cart through the aisles, a forgotten memory came back to me. It was my first year in this country. I was a penniless student in a very cold part of the country. A part where the snow that collected on the sides of the roads were taller than me. Where getting out of the house meant budgeting an extra half an hour to get into the various extra layers – thermal wear, two jackets, woolen cap, gloves, winter shoes. And having donned those, walk everywhere because we didn’t have a car. It was an adventure walking to classes and back. But guess what was more fun? Yes – Getting a month’s supply of groceries.

I remember one such excursion where my roommate and I walked two miles to the closest grocery store near the university campus housing and hauled the month’s supplies in two shopping carts. Outside the store, we came face to face with the predicament of how we were going to be able to walk back the two miles with hundred pound of supplies on our then thin frames. We balked. So we walked back home slowly pushing the heavily loaded shopping cart ahead of us. Through the snow and ice, the entire two miles. And then we abandoned them.

I sighed as I locked that memory back in and looked around me in a new light. Maybe that cart near the tree was used by a young mother who didn’t want to leave her infant alone in the car after loading her supplies. Maybe it was a gentleman in a leg cast who just couldn’t  fathom limping back. Maybe it was an adventurous old lady, who, after filling her supplies into her red corvette, just plain forgot that cart behind her. For the other instances, well, I would have to write them off as the many unsolved mysteries of the universe. Having finished the shopping trip,  I unloaded my groceries and walked away lighter with this insight

In case you were wondering; before I walked away, I did push my cart back to the corral and dragged another one in as well as redemption for the infractions of my student days.


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