One of the little compromises the universe has made with my creeping decrepitude takes the form of those electric cars parked just inside the entrance of almost every Food Pig supermarket. They’re a blast. Harris Toddler has them too. Picture the love child of a wheelchair and a bumper car. Add a metal basket for groceries and you’ll have a mental image. The carts are slower than I used to walk, but I’ve got nothing but time these days.
Once I drag my portly carcass from a handicap spot in the parking lot to the store entrance, two or three of the little toots are sitting there waiting for me. The first thing to check is battery life. The dashboard occupies about 2 square inches. There you’ll find a battery indicator light that’s, at best, vague; I can’t tell if it’s three-quarters empty or three-quarters full. But, it’s always possible the battery hasn’t had a chance to recharge since the last geezer took a lap around the store. Who wants to be marooned next to the Depends display?
You don’t need a driver’s license or a permit to pilot one of these buggies. Nor does one ask permission. You just fall backward into the seat and take off. Do, OMG, make sure it’s unplugged. In theory, the last driver plugs the thing into the nearest socket as part of the parking routine. If that last person is a store employee ferrying the grocery rocket back from the parking lot (where I leave it), chances are it’ll be done properly.
Customers can’t be trusted to reattach the power plug, which brings up an issue about the other customers. There seems to be an unspoken protocol while circumnavigating the store: I have the right of way. Let’s face it, an old guy riding one of these beasts sort of automatically receives deference. And most of it is cheerful. The store employees are used to it, but civilians encountering me, with my head at shopping-cart height, sometime recoil. You can feel it. You’d think Quasimodo is running rampant through the pickle aisle. They’re the ones who avert their eyes.
It seems reasonable to avoid hitting anyone, especially since the basket on the front of the car is just below waist level — a collision, while probably not injurious, would be many kinds of impolite.
The thought brings to mind a song by Mason Williams titled “Them Moose Goosers” (“some use an umbrella, some use a thumb”), but that’s a subject for another time.
I never tire of the fact that these runabouts have a turning radius equal to their length, which means I can pull a 180 in the middle of an aisle. Oops, forgot the Raid, nyyeeoww.
Did I tell you that the carts are green? Surgical-scrubs green, the green you see on very new cheese or very old meat. Not John Deere green, nor Vermont forest green. No, more phytoplankton green. I’m guessing you’ve got the idea. (Move along, Gerry.) They’re green.
There is one caution to be mentioned, however: Forward and reverse functions are found on the same control handle. And while I wouldn’t say the operation is counterintuitive, it is possible to push forward when the intention was to reverse. I’ve demonstrated that this is not beyond imagination. The result was the upending of a cardboard endcap, what the folks in food retaining call the point-of-sale advertising at the end of the aisle. One highly amused shopper saw me do it. Not only did I knock it over, I did my level best to grind the dadgum thing into the floor. A senior moment, no doubt. At least no one charged at me with the challenge, “May I help you, Sir?” I do, I admit, sometime leave a trail of plastic price rail tags in my wake.
Encountering an old friend who’s never seen me tootling around the store before can be a little awkward. The conversation understandably turns to health very quickly. I explain why I don’t have the energy level of my rat terrier, then try to move on to other subjects — excluding religion and politics. “How’s everyone in your house?” I’m vamping as I try to remember their kids’ names. That’s when I learn the seven-year-old is now a junior at Clemson, and the ten-year-old daughter has two children of her own and is living in Abu Dhabi or someplace equally hard to spell. “My goodness, doesn’t time go by quickly?” Duh.
The final hurdle of course is the check-out. Actually, that’s the easiest part. I sometimes fill the basket to overflowing which can cause a moment of indecision there. But, I make up for it by placing the twelve-packs of Fresca (yes, they still make it) with at least one of them turned so the UPC code is exposed to that Star Trek ray gun the cashier uses. Having done so occasionally garners some appreciation from the lady manning the register. We fleetingly make eye contact, affirming my status as a savvy shopper. It’s absolution for the six boxes of Special K (with red berries) I left on the floor in aisle seven.
Aisle five is the cereal aisle.
Gerry Dionne is a writer, musician and coffee-table philosopher who moved to our area when he was 18. He’s in his 70s now, so y’all give him a break.