I knew there would be a lot of changes when I moved my family to a new city.
New schools. New job. Learning my way around. But it’s nice to know that, wherever you go, you can always guarantee one discomfort of home: people not returning their shopping carts.
It happened on my second day in town. I went to a store to pick up a few items that had not made it onto the moving van and were still sitting comfortably in my old house. Turns out, such things as a skillet and towels were kind of necessary.
I went to a nearby store and went to pull into a parking place. And there it was — a mocking reminder of how human indecency knows no geographic bounds — an abandoned cart, left to cover two open spots which were a whopping 10 feet away from the corral.
I stopped my car, stepped out in the parking lot, climbed onto the hood of my car, raised my fists in the air and shouted, “WHYYYYYYYYY!?!?!?!?”
Then, like any good movie dream scene, I flashed back to the actual reality in which I just mumbled some unpleasantries under my breath, backed up, found a new parking place, and went and returned the cart.
A new city, without a leader of the cart warriors. Would I have to start from scratch?
I was saddened. My struggle has been for years, but it was undergirded by the brave and noble warriors who fought side by side with me, and who occasionally sent me e-mails that said they now returned their carts because they were afraid of running into me in the parking lot, which is both flattering and a little unnerving that some people felt kinda threatened.
After this store visit, I went to a nearby grocery store. And there, in an instant, my outlook changed. As I pulled into the lot, I saw a covered area in the middle of the lot. A big sign said that it was a return area for the kiddie race car carts, which I have stated many times before is the single greatest invention ever, as it allows you to shop with a toddler and not have an entire row of mayonnaise pulled onto the floor, as they are busy making “VROOOM” noises during the trip.
And next to the shelter? Several parking places, designated for cars with kids in them. That’s right — this store actually has set aside a place for parents with kids to park, and a convenient return corral for the carts, one that keeps the carts dry in the rain and not 1,000 degrees after baking in the sun.
And then I began to notice something else. This cart set-up led to a grocery cart culture. Everyone there returns their carts. A few days ago, I saw a woman in the pouring rain return her cart to the proper corral. I considered running over to hold her umbrella for her, but let’s be honest — that’s a good way to get pepper sprayed.
I have yet to see a rogue cart at this store. The patrons are dutiful in their return policy, and the tone is clearly set by the parking lot design that encouraged such behavior. Harris-Teeter — you deserve a Nobel Prize in Parental Assistance and Grocery Cart Aweseomeness.
So now that I reflect on my first bad cart encounter here, I would like to think that was an exception. Perhaps someone from out of town who failed to grasp the importance of proper cart return. And I was energized to know that there were others leading the charge. There are other warriors in other cities.
To my cart warriors in my hometown, have faith. Our battle is widespread, and we have many brothers and sisters fighting the good fight. My hope is that other grocery stores will follow the Harris-Teeter approach and properly outfit those who are doing one of the most noble things you can do in a grocery store parking lot. And, to be frank, there’s really not a whole slew of opportunities for nobility in a parking lot outside of cart returns, not stealing a parking place, and walking faster than a box turtle when crossing in front of a waiting car.
I am so pleased to know that the war can be won, little battles at a time. Stay vigilant, cart warriors. You are making a difference all across America, one parking lot at a time.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.