This article was originally published a few years ago as a guest column in the Edwardsville Intelligencer’s “Edge” weekend insert.
There is a creature unique to the bounds of civilization, growing overpopulated and more prevalent. It inconveniences us, endangers our vehicles and, perhaps worst of all, takes up all the good parking spaces. It affects all but the most dedicated e-commerce consumer, and it’s an epidemic of our own making: shopping cart abandonment.
Every department or grocery store parking lot is an urban wilderness populated by cast-off carts, left to litter and, all too quickly, dominate the white-lined landscape.
We’re probably all guilty of it: after a long hunt for discounted, brand name cereals, dog toys that will survive more than 10 minutes and reasonably watchable DVDs from the $5.50 bin, that cart corral five parking spaces down from our SUV just seems too far. The looming danger of Timmy’s upset tummy and a gratuitous soiling of the Huggies is a powerful motivator to get moving. Yet you must not neglect this most vital of duties - deliver your shopping cart from the perils of the parking lot.
The cart has been your friend through many shopping adventures. It carries your unpurchased burdens when they surpass a handful. It secures your child and keeps the little predator from attacking unsuspecting canned goods, turkey basters and Pop-tarts on lower grocery shelves. It is your support when the act of consumerism awakens that old crick in your back. It serves as coat rack, foot rest, purse holder and even occasional improvised go-cart (for amusement-seeking high school students).
Your shopping cart is there for you, ready to serve - often with a helpful coupon leaflet tucked into its basket. Sure, sometimes it has a wobbly wheel or a shrill, rusty squeal, lusting for a shot of WD-40 but, hey, your working parts don’t always function just right either. Beware, though - this friendly contraption of metal and casters reverts to a feral state almost instantly when left alone on the great, concrete plains.
Once abandoned, shopping carts will first occupy corners of parking spaces, making the parking maneuvers of large vehicles difficult, and scaring off drivers with expensive cars. Soon, the carts gather into packs, blocking off whole sections of the lot, boldly venturing into the margins of the lot’s lanes. The bravest of all, bolstered by the unruly wind, will cross lines and lanes in pursuit of defenseless Fords, Pontiacs and Infinities.
The front-line against this menace are the unthanked, unsung heroes called cart collectors - part-time employees in garish orange vests and rain slickers, suffering the elements and in-lot traffic congestion to wrangle these refugees from commerce. Ideally their job is to collect the carts from the (too often widely spread) designated corrals set up around the lot. But, you can bet they spend much more of their time chasing vagrant shopping sleighs, just to return them in a long chain-gang, pushed by a rudimentary R2-D2 topped with a spinning yellow light. After capture, the carts are quickly re-domesticated and prepared for another trip through this endless cycle.
It is your moral and social responsibility to see that your cart finds its way to the proper stall, tucked in and comfortably spooning with its wheeled peers. It’s only considerate of your metallic friend, and it will make the exhausting process of shopping a little easier on all of us.
Until then, I’ll be the guy darting through traffic trying to stop an angry, orphaned cart from cutting a nasty scratch in some soccer mom’s Windstar...