A La Cart

I've always had a problem with shopping carts. Not the carts themselves (I generally regard them as a nice way to get peanut butter from point A to point B) but, rather, how lots of people treat them.

This angry fixation began when, at the store with my parents, I was old enough to push the cart. We'd shlep to the car, unload our bags, and it would be my job to drive the cart to the corral (is that what they're called?).

And, more often than not, my Errand of Upmost Importance would be interrupted. Straining to see around the tall cart, I'd skillfully navigate my way between the metal bars of the cart corral, only to be stopped with a clang.

Some sap had left their cart crooked!

With the naive due diligence that comes coupled with childhood I would shuffle around, push in the offending victual vessel and then my own, and restore order to the universe.

Man, I bet 7-year old, self-righteous me was fun at parties.


As I aged, I became more and more cart-conscious. I noticed them strewn everywhere: in the store's doorways, on the sidewalk adjacent, in parking spots and in bushes. Worst of all were the ones drifted carelessly against the corrals. So close, and yet so far away.

I didn't understand why people wouldn't take 30 seconds to make everyone else's day easier. Little Duncan was angry.

Wasn't there satisfaction in a job well done? Joy for a world in order? I was so young to be exposed so violently to the tragedy of the commons.

Although I like to think I lost a bit of my self-righteousness as I grew (the offending shoppers were probably just late for something), my dark fascination continued. At 14, for the mandatory science fair, I wanted to conduct a behavioral study on the psychology of cart abandonment. It wasn't science-y enough, which I can understand.

I moved on.

After many undisturbed and unperturbed years, at least by shopping carts, I arrived at University. There I was, in a new land, free of past pet peeves, at peace with myself.

That is, until I went for my first walk.

I saw more carts strewn across campus and the surrounding roads than I ever had at home. It was a shock to the system. How could I coexist with this madness? I thought I was free.

My aforementioned personal growth stayed strong, more or less. I too had walked to the nearest grocery store: it was a hike. Without a backpack, I wouldn't have wanted to carry groceries back to campus.

I noticed that my old anger had been replaced with melancholy. I didn't fault the weary, sleepless students for their misdeeds; instead, I mourned this cart diaspora, these migrant beasts forever on the road, out of place and out of time, stranded in a world they never made.

I imagine shopping carts are a lot like Eeyore the donkey, strong in build but anhedonic and malleable in heart. The kind of creature that wouldn't hurt a fly, only bum it out.

I imagine carts are independent folk. They are loyal to their fellow carts, but don't waste time with attachment, and are hardy in all weather. Practiced grumblers, they never complain with the intent to make change.

Despite their predicament, I imagine they are proud at heart, and wouldn't wish anyone inconvenience for their sake. I imagine that they'll never stand up for themselves, and I imagine we'll continue to find them, roaming lost and aimless, unless we lend them our voices.

A Dr Seuss character—I can never remember who—once proclaimed, "I am the Lorax. I speak for the [carts]." Be that Lorax, and return those carts.

Falmouth, Cornwall.
Autumn 2019.