Basket case

David Feela - 10/05/2017

Instead of pushing a cart with a wonky wheel, I walked over to pick up a handy totable plastic basket. None were in sight. I asked an attendant if she knew where I’d find one.

“Not here, somebody walked out the door with the whole stack of them.”

It seemed improbable that every basket the store owns had been lifted in a heist, and even more odd that nobody planned to replace them.

It’s also difficult to imagine any practical plan for stealing and then putting 40 or so carrying baskets to use, all branded with the retail store’s company name. Abandoning a shopping cart along the sidewalk three or four blocks away from a grocery store, now that I understand. Groceries get heavy, especially when you’re hungry and the impulse to buy makes them heavier. When I find a “borrowed” cart I push it back, always looking forward to the day when someone repays me by ditching an electric cart with plenty of juice so I can ride it all the way back to the store.

In larger cities where miles of sidewalks shape our pedestrian highways, shopping carts appear more often. I take these to be a street population’s alternative to pushing an SUV through rush-hour traffic. The carts are often heaped with belongings, bundles of useful but rather ungainly furnishings; staples for setting up a temporary life. I keep hoping there are groceries buried somewhere in the heap, at least enough fixings for an ala carte meal.

When another employee approached me and pointed out that the management had recently prohibited customers from bringing backpacks into the store and that we could thank the new high school next door for this policy, I was happy he didn’t mistake me for a high-schooler. His glare and humorless expression suggested that he’d taken me for a codger whose malfunctioning hearing aide might have missed the news.

Resigned to pusher status, I yanked a cart away from a lineup of its companions, stuffed my backpack into its basket, and headed disgruntledly down the aisle, the one inevitable wheel wobbling its own complaint.

I had just bicycled 3 miles in the heat to get to the store. My devious plan involved purchasing all the items on my list, paying for them, and then pedaling away with my totable backpack. When I left home it seemed like a reasonable plan, one I’d made use of on previous consumer expeditions to a variety of local businesses, including this one. It seems like only yesterday that shoppers were being chastised for not carrying their own reusable bags into the store. Now I was being asked to leave mine at home.

“Yep,” I said, “the kids these days sure don’t shoplift the way we used to.”

I grumbled my way down the aisle, fiddling with my earlobe, as if trying to adjust an imaginary hearing aide.

A few weeks earlier I carried this identical pack into the same store. I left it in my cart, parked at the end of an aisle while I scoured a wall of shelving for a new brand of shampoo. When I returned, my cart had vanished, along with my back-pack. I glanced up at a surveillance camera and held my hands out in an exasperated gesture. Then I hoofed it up and down the neighboring aisles, attempting to catch the thief red-handed.

Tell me it hasn’t happened to you. Some single-minded shopper simply takes the cart you’re using – even dumps the items you already placed inside it onto the nearest shelf – and walks away, pretending the cart was set out for his or her convenience. Eventually my back-pack surfaced in a different department, an aisle from a store exit. I walked up to it and said loudly to the nearest shopper who was busy

fondling bath towels that the cart with the backpack belonged to me. “Well take it then,” she replied, pointing toward a different cart at the end of the aisle, “but leave mine alone.”

Apparently the management’s new strategy for beefing up the store’s security requires shoppers to push heavy metal carts, probably because they are more easily scrutinized by personnel stationed at each exit who are instructed to randomly re-check the stream of customers. I thought the proliferation of security cameras was supposed to keep the lid on crime, that Orwellian eye in the public sky that is supposed to make us feel safer.

I never caught the culprit who tried to make off with my backpack, but at least I provided some lively entertainment for the crew whose shift monitoring the shoplifting cameras coincided with my frantic search. 

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