It's not every day you see two elderly men fighting over a shopping cart. Well, they weren't exactly fighting. Both had their hands on the cart and they were doing a geriatric version of the "MINE!" game that my boys enjoy so much. I stood in the entrance of my preferred grocery store and watched in disturbed fascination. I admit that part of me wanted to go all school yard and start yelling "FIGHT! FIGHT!" but somebody needed to keep their dignity. So I watched.
Finally one man realized they were drawing a crowd and let go. He muttered to himself and went on his way. I stood for a moment watching the victor. He seemed a little embarrassed by the scene, but that couldn't hide his victorious flush. I was a bit puzzled by the thought of two men my grandfather's age (Ok, fine. Two men my father's age) fighting over anything, let alone a shopping cart. Then I got it. It was one of those new carts.
Maybe a year ago this grocery store added a number of sleek new shopping carts. These carts are different. Where the old shopping carts were large and cumbersome, these carts are small and maneuverable. They are new and shiny. They let you pretend, if just for a moment, that you are shopping at Whole Foods. You aren't. Where people driving old shopping carts look like victims of the grocery shopping industrial complex, people driving the new sporty versions seem to be in complete control of the shopping experience. The two levels of grocery storage lend an air of responsibility to these sporty grocery transports: Sure you are sporty and "with it" driving the new cart... but you have a sensible side.
I looked around. The loser of the cart struggle swallowed his disappointment and selected a standard shopping cart. He sadly pushed his boring cart into the store. I looked around. The winner had claimed the last cool cart. I wasn't surprised when I thought about what just happened. I never saw a confrontation before, but I have seen grown adults sprint across parking lots to claim them. Somehow the thought of having to push around a standard shopping cart when these beautiful, empowering transports exist is too much to bear.
I took my boring cart and went into the store. There aren't enough cool carts to go around, so the majority of my shopping colleagues were sadly pushing big carts. Ever watch a person push a shopping cart? Next time pay attention to the way people push their carts. There a couple of different methods. There is the standard two-handed-stand-up-straight pushing method. This is my method and is pretty self explanatory. There are cart draggers. These people walk in front and pull their cart around. A variant of this version is the walk-beside method. This method is obnoxious because it occupies the entire aisle and seems to be used mostly by people who are still sore that they didn't get a cool cart. The last method is the most fascinating. I don't have a name for it, but we've all seen it. It's when the driver is virtually laying in the cart while they pushing it. Their chest and arms are draped over the cart and they are pushing with their stomachs. I understand that some people have a hard time getting around... but I wonder how these people made it into the store.
I got a few things as I walked through the store. I moved into the frozen food section. I was on a supplementary Thanksgiving Run. The primary shopping trip was completed two days earlier, but there are always forgotten items and changes that require supplementary shopping. It wouldn't be my last of the season. At the end of the aisle were the turkeys. The winner of the cart struggle stood in front of his sporty, convenient shopping cart with a turkey in each hand and a confused look on his face. He had dog food in the bottom section and the top section had a loaf of French bread and various fresh veggies. He look confused. I had to smile. The Great Lie of the Cool Cart was exposed to him. Unless you are shopping for two or three specific items, which could be carried by hand or in a basket, these carts are almost useless. He was out of room 5 minutes into his shopping trip. The bottom was full and if he put the turkeys in the top part he would crush his bread and veggies. I laughed a little when I realized that he had two turkeys. This store has a coupon for a free turkey with a $150 purchase. This man seriously thought he was going to get $150 in groceries plus two 20-pound turkeys in a cool cart? Not unless he is stuffing both turkeys with caviar. Hard reality set in and that sporty little shopping cart just looked little.
I have seen the big lie revealed many times. People are seduced by the sportiness and newness and grab one of the last small carts. Ha! They win. Let the other losers push the bit carts! Then the reality that you are shopping for a family of five sets in before you get much past the impulse buys at the front of the store. Sure... they look big... but it is all part of the lie. Not long ago I watched a woman with three children enter the store and take a new cart. I had a hunch it wouldn't work. Families with at least three small children don't buy small groceries. A few minutes later I saw her shifting her purchases to a bigger cart. I smiled at her. She understood now.
Some people don't get it. I once saw a couple with a small child using two new, sporty carts. I had to ponder that. Are you really winning if you use two new carts? That question will take a little more thought.
The new carts aren't completely useless. They are good for beer and wine runs. I have used them when I am in a time crunch. Time is the best limiting factor for me in the grocery store. If I have an appointment in 11 minutes, I will go into the grocery store and get out. It has nothing to do with "just needing a few things." If given a list that says "bread, milk and eggs" and unlimited time I will spend three figures and 90 minutes and be miles past the new cart capacity before I get out of the produce section.
I have used new carts... but mostly I am a purist. I go straight for the old-style version with the big cargo compartment, a place for a child that is way to small for any child I have now and the obligatory wobbly wheel. Where some people see "dated" and "boring" I see reliability and tradition. It was good enough for my parents and it is good enough for me. Maybe the most important feature of the standard shopping cart is that I have never had to fight an old man for one.
Please check out my blog at