Smell the Coffee: Goin' buggy on shopping carts

There’s something about the life of a shopping cart that must cause it to long for escape.

I suppose there couldn’t be a more mundane life. Society’s pack mule. Day in. Day out.

Every now and then, it gets to be too much for one of them, and they make a run for it.

Wrote Karen Joseph of Whitesville: “My hubby and I have a summer camp in Barber Springs, not far from Hinton.”

When at the camp, they often travel to a Dollar General in a nearby town for provisions.

“It’s right off 460,” wrote Karen. “A very busy area.”

On one visit, Karen and her husband loaded their cart particularly full and headed across the parking lot to their car, where Karen had to shuffle a number of things around to make room for the bags. When she finally turned around, she discovered her shopping cart was gone.

For a second, she thought someone had swiped it.

And then she looked down the hill — way down the hill.

“The buggy had rolled all the way down and across the two-lane, very busy highway and flipped over on the grass, spilling things everywhere,” Karen wrote. “How no one hit it is beyond me.”

She said traffic had stopped and a nice lady had gotten out and was picking up all their things and putting it back in the cart.

Her husband hurried down to retrieve it, while Karen contemplated hiding, in embarrassment, under their car.

“We didn’t go back there again for a while,” she said.

As one who has chased after a few carts herself — both my own and those belonging to others — it’s an issue with which I’m familiar. The Kroger near our house sits at the top of a long, sloping lot. By the end of each day, the guardrail that runs across the bottom of the lot is crowded with carts, some of which gained such speed as they rolled to make it mostly over the rail.

Occasionally, some newcomer to the area will arrive when the lot has been cleaned and leave their car at that end, likely believing they’re protecting it from door dings, only to return and find their car has made a bunch of rough new friends.

I’ve often wondered why cart manufacturers don’t make a simple lock, much like they have on wheelchairs. Just a single rear wheel would be all it would take. Or maybe that one forever wonky wheel actually serves as the brake.

I’m bad about personifying inanimate objects, giving them relatable human properties. There’s something about shopping carts that especially hits me that way. I can commiserate with their repetitious task-type existence. And with their occasional desire to flee.

A few years back, when Don and I were doing a lot of hiking, we kept finding shopping carts in the strangest places. Deep in the woods. On riverbanks. On top of a mountain. We would speculate how they got where we found them.

It became something of an inside joke with us for a while, so imagine my excitement when I came across a book called, “The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification” by Julian Montague.

This book is presented as a true field-guide, with an identification and classification system, and loads of pictures of carts spotted in the wild. There are False Strays (likely to be herded up), True Strays (never goin’ back), and a few dozen subtypes like naturalized, repurposed and structurally modified.

The effort that went into writing and photographing this book is impressive. It’s deadpan and clinical — and absolutely hilarious.

It’s a truly wonderful book — and an ideal white elephant gift, if you’re looking for something guaranteed to get a good laugh when it’s unwrapped.

I might have to send Karen Joseph my copy when I get through.

Karin Fuller can be reached via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.

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