I’ve heard that when you’re investigating graft and corruption in politics, the advice is, “follow the money.” To learn more about the puzzle I’m investigating now, I think I ought to follow the wreckage.
And there’s bound to be wreckage, someplace, sometime, when you have large grocery carts with wheels designed so that they are truly impossible to control. The giant Carrefour Everything store that is our nearest source for general groceries has such carts, and I eye them warily.
I didn’t give much thought to grocery carts in the US stores that I frequented. Why would I? My experience led me to assume a certain simple sequence of events: you put stuff into the cart, push the stuff around in the cart, unload the stuff, pay for the stuff, put the cart back, and you’re done.
My few excursions with one of these Spanish no-wheel-drive carts (all the wheels can pivot freely, so nobody’s steering), have been unsettling experiences. I felt somehow that things were madly out of control, as if I were in a high speed slalom, even when I was hardly moving.
What is it like? As the front of the cart is part of a rigid frame and is thus securely connected to the back of the cart whose handle I’m gripping, it would be reasonable to expect that pushing forward evenly on the handle would lead to forward motion in a straight line for the cart as a whole, but no. More often than not, the front begins to meander in the direction of the nearest flimsy cardboard display of little juice boxes (often a milk and juice mixture, tastier than it sounds) or worse, the nearest petite Spanish abuelita with her shuffling steps and her string bag. Wishing I’d been more diligent in upper-body strength training, I try to strong-arm the beast in another direction and find that I’m slewing wildly off yet again.
I ask myself, who benefits from this situation? Who wins when the store’s aisles are populated by large grocery carts that more closely resemble pin balls than conveyances of comestibles? Were the carts perhaps a gift from a law firm that represents accident victims, with a view to increasing the number of potential clients?
Though my eyes go wide when I see one, I admit that I haven’t yet witnessed a full scale disaster involving a grocery cart. Most of the time I use the much smaller carts that tilt and are pulled on only two wheels. And I shop with the heightened senses of a small animal, to match my small 2-wheeled cart. I nimbly dart in and out, gathering what I need, trying to avoid drawing the attention of the larger, dangerous beasts. When I do see one, sashaying down aisles, careening around corners, I steer clear–because unlike the no-wheel drive carts, with my little 2-wheeled contraption, steering is something I can actually do.
Update: We went over to the store to try to get some careening action shots, and what did we find but an entirely new fleet of grocery carts! Could this be a coincidence? Had someone gotten wind of my impending exposé? At least it gave us a chance to test El Guapo’s theory that perhaps the carts’ erratic navigation was at least partially due to wear, tear and malfunction. We were able to put the idea to rest. The brand new carts wander hither and thither, as did their aged predecessors.