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What ever happened to making a quick trip to the store for a few items? Remember that kind of shopping?
You’d get in your car, drive to the store, park, go in the store, grab a cart, go up and down the aisles getting what you needed, get in the checkout line, read the salacious headlines on the tabloids as your order was being totaled and bagged, pay, leave and go home.
So what’s happened?
The other day I stopped at my nearby supermarket -- now a sprawling over-stuffed enterprise covering several acres -- to pick up a few items. As I moved through one of the aisles trying to navigate my small shopping cart around countless floor displays and past other frustrated customers, I felt like a peddler in some teeming Calcutta market.
Looking around it occurred to me that over the years, teams of highly motivated and efficient supermarket employees have been moving toward their ultimate goals of total supermarket aisle immobility. And, judging by the looks of the aisle I was in, the teams are just about there.
Follow me, here -- but watch that giant pyramid of tomato cans.
I’ve never seen the memos or attended the meetings, but I’m certain these teams exist. One is a team whose job it is to give each customer the precise sized cart needed for their particular shopping needs. The other’s job is to design and place as many large, flashy, cumbersome, bulky, burdensome aisle displays in the store as the laws of physics will allow.
Now, most people of average intelligence -- like you and me -- would see right off that these two committees would eventually “collide” since both need aisle space for their “things.” So what’s the matter with the managers of our giant
supermarkets who don’t see the problem like the rest of us do? As customers, we have to try and shop around the aisle-blocking things that these two overzealous committees produce.
I can imagine that these groups began with the best of intentions. The shopping cart team probably started off with the goal of providing customers with the cart best suited to get the shopping job done. After months of meetings, exhaustive discussions, teleconferencing and Las Vegas conventions, they finally settled on their shopping cart designs: large and small. Goal achieved.
But hold your breezeway basket, Bunky. Have you ever heard of an American ice cream stand that served only chocolate and vanilla? I don’t think so. Nothing in 21st century America can ever remain that simple. Small and large indeed! Give a group of inventive red-blooded Americans a task, and they will keep on proposing and conferencing and brainstorming and refining and redesigning and perfecting and mass-producing and multi-tasking until Doomsday, or quitting time, whichever comes first. The result is, we now have in the average supermarket almost as many choices in shopping carts as we do in food products -- maybe more.
We still have large and small carts, of course, but now, because of the tireless efforts of these committees, we also have shopping carts in an endless array of sizes and shapes and models. To keep the little ones amused there are kiddie carts, which look like vehicles, come in two- and four-door models and can take up the same aisle space as the average adult-sized four-door sedan. These kiddie carts come in sporty convertible models and as five-ton SUVs for shoppers who want to get serious about their aisle-obstructing.
And -- don’t worry - the resourceful cart committees have not forgotten seniors. The over 60 set can now move around the supermarket in battery-powered comfort on a scooter cart that I’ve seen go from zero to 3 mph in just under 60 seconds.
Call it enlightened self-interest, but the older I get the more sensible those particular carts look.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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