Inside the store, it was absolute chaos. To call it crowded would be like calling Justin Beiber 'a little famous'. People were mulling about in every aisle, carts half-full and dazed looks on their faces as they clearly struggled to think of what items they needed for feeding holiday guests. Barricades of carts had formed, creating confused traffic jams, while staff worked silently and without any sudden movements to refill shelves picked bare. I hate grocery shopping on busy days like this, because there's nothing I hate more than feeling like I'm waiting in line, or waiting in a crowd; but groceries we needed, and groceries I'd get us. I cursed the mathematical pattern that made payday fall on a holiday.
I worked as quickly as I could, dodging carts, deeking around people like a basketball player, sprinting out for raids on the bread and deli counters before returning and dumping my loot in the cart. I worked quickly, making no eye contact, and calculating my total under my breath because I’d forgot my cell phone (slash-calculator). There was no room for browsing today, no time for in-depth nutritional comparisons…just go, go go. Down the entire length of the pasta aisle, a woman used her cart to urge me onwards by repeatedly running it into my Achilles’ tendons, not realizing I couldn’t go any faster because of the three-way discussion going on ahead of me about why noodles have number grades on the box. I didn’t scream at the ankle-whacker, and then later wished I had. A teenaged girl working the customer service desk kept paging someone on the intercom to return a cart with fabric shopping bags in it, a page both confusing and apparently useless, as she made her plea about eight times throughout my shopping trip. It created a surreal, repetitive drone that was almost creepy. I tried—once, and once only—to stop and look at my cart because someone had clearly moved my reusable bags to the lower level of the cart for some odd reason, but a woman T-boned my cart with a huge smash and I decided to just hurry up.
I lost track around the third last aisle of my mental shopping list, and the running total price of my purchases, but I wasn’t stopping now. I rounded the cheese section, made a left while grabbing frozen berries with my other hand, and got into the first checkout line I saw. Done. I stood there, dazed, looking over my haul.
And that’s when I saw the strange shopping list.
In my cart was a list, written in tiny, neat pencil script, detailing a long day of errands. But this wasn’t my list. I picked it up and read it, feeling sad for whoever had lost their list halfway through the day. Then I looked down at my cart, and noticed something was wrong: there was a package of corn on the cob, for one. I hadn’t grabbed that. Where I had placed a single green pepper, there was now three red ones. And my bread had somehow morphed from white to brown. As I stared at about a half cart’s worth of unknown products, the teenager’s words from the intercom came back to me: Whoever has taken a cart with shopping bags in it that isn’t yours, please return it to the customer service desk.” I dug under the groceries and found, instead of my usual two fabric bags…ten. Ten fabric bags.
My face flushed with heat as I realized that I was the cart bandit. My pulse quickened as I realized that whoever owned this cart and its contents had wanted it back badly enough to stand at customer service for a half-hour and prod the teenager into repeatedly paging me. I frantically checked the cart for a baby or something else irreplaceable: nothing. Phew. Well, I’d have to go to the desk and figure this out. I stepped out my unenviable position in line and wheeled myself down the store.
I stopped in front of a girl employee who was sorting through carts of unsold products and told her that if she was the girl who’d been radioing for the stolen cart, I was the woman she was looking for. She looked surprised to see me, then said that the woman had just wanted her bags back; I said, well fine but that woman has my bags. The girl seemed to think this made us even, and in any case the woman had given up and left, so the girl basically lost interest in me and went back to what she’d been doing. I stood there, debating with myself, as I now had two options: redo exactly 50% of store, because I could see I had foreign products right up to the soy aisle in the middle of the store; or dump the whole cart with this girl and walk away. I chose to redo the first half of the store.
Pure, unadulterated stubbornness propelled me, back through the insanity of the produce area, back through bread and back through deli; I wrangled my sieve-like memory, demanding that it re-remember all the things I’d picked up through these aisles. I was almost done, just one more thing to get, when I walked down the soy aisle and grabbed my two cartons of soymilk, and I turned back towards my waiting cart—and there, parked right in front of my ‘new’ cart, was my old cart. It was exactly halfway full, and waiting for me exactly where I must have left it when I’d grabbed the other woman’s.
I swore a bit under my breath.
I then had an idea. I grabbed both carts awkwardly and dragged them, wheels protesting, into the soymilk aisle with me. I then began sorting through my old cart, making sure that I had the right number of everything I’d started out with. Turns out, on my second trip through, I had missed quite a few things. I began a wild sorting process…one broccoli head, not two…two soy milks…not four…white bread, not brown…green pepper, not read…oops, there’s the tomato I missed…sorting back and forth between the two carts until I had everything in one cart I had originally intended to purchase. Just as I was wrapping up, I looked around and saw several pairs of suspicious eyes watching me. I realized it must look like some crazy woman had just kidnapped a stranger’s cart and was sorting through it, deciding which head of broccoli she liked better, and absconding with someone else’s picks. I bowed my head low to avoid identification and sped away with one cart, now full of only the products I’d wanted in the first place.
I got through the lineups, paid for my purchases, and began bagging them all into my cloth bags—my own bags, now reunited with me after finding my old cart. And about a quarter-way through the job, I realized I needed way more bags. I couldn’t figure out how to ask the cashier for plastic ones when I clearly had a mountain of fabric ones in my cart…so I did something that felt truly sinful, and filled up the stolen bags with my groceries. Then I jogged my cart out of that store as fast as I could, fearing that the owner of the bags would somehow spot me, recognize her generic black Loblaws bags, and then demand I empty my groceries into the cart to give them back to her. Which would have been fair, but highly inconvenient.
Here’s hoping that you get some quiet, stress-free time this weekend, whether you’re an actual practitioner of Easter, or a simple Easter chocolate-eater like myself. Here’s hoping you avoided the grocery stores on Saturday, and here’s hoping you have some relaxing, happy family time…or if that fails, some relaxing time after the family leaves. Easter, originally named Eostre, is the festival of fertility, so take a moment and enjoy the sound of romancing squirrels and the smell of budding flowers.
And if you happen to be the woman from the grocery store whose bags I stole, please send us an email and I’ll get them back to you. I’m grateful for the loan and happy to return them. I hope that didn’t ruin your weekend; the entire adventure sure took a toll on mine.