Aisle B watching

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 seems improbable that every basket the store owns had been lifted in a heist. It’s also difficult to imagine any practical plan for using 40 or so carrying baskets, 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 shopping on an empty stomach. When I find a “borrowed” basket I push it back, always looking forward to the day when someone repays me by leaving an electric mobility scooter with enough juice to ride 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.

Soon 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. His glare and humorless expression suggested that he’d taken me for a codger whose malfunctioning hearing aid might have missed the news.

Resigned to becoming a pusher, I returned from the bike rack, yanked a cart away from a lineup of its companions, and headed disgruntledly down the aisle, one wheel wobbling its own inevitable complaint.

I had just bicycled three miles to get to the store. My devious plan involved purchasing all the items on my list, paying for them, and then pedaling home, my backpack filled with my provisions. When I left the house it seemed like a reasonable plan, one I’d used on many 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 aid.

A few weeks earlier I carried the identical pack into the same store. I placed it in my cart, parked at the end of the aisle. When I returned my cart had vanished, along with my backpack. 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.

Tell me it hasn’t happened to you. Some lazy shopper simply takes the cart you’re using – even dumps your items onto the nearest shelf – and casually walks away. Eventually my cart and backpack surfaced in a different department, very near a store exit. I walked up to it and said loudly to a shopper who was occupied fondling bath towels that the cart with the backpack belonged to me.

“Well, take it then,” she replied, pointing toward a different cart a few yards away, “but leave mine alone.”

I never caught the culprit who tried to make off with my backpack, but I’m happy to report that at least I provided some lively entertainment for the employees stuck with the tedious job of monitoring shoplifting cameras while I conducted my frantic search.

David Feela is an award-winning poet, essayist, and author in Cortez, Colo. See his works at

From David Feela.