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Unsolicited Advice: Put Your Damn Shopping Cart Back

Welcome to Unsolicited Advice, the weekly column in which I give salient advice to people who haven’t asked for it and don’t even know who I am.

This week I’m aiming my unsolicited words at those of you who were born in barns and then raised by wild wolves in the far, uninhabited reaches of the Appalachians before you were reintroduced to civilized society. You know who you are.

You’re the people who refuse to take your shopping carts back to the cart corral.

I can already hear your objections. There are all kinds of reasons why a person might be unable to take a cart back. Perhaps you are disabled, or pregnant or tired or in a rush or whatever. To that I say – then how’d you push that cart around in the first place? Going to the store includes the act of returning your shopping cart to the designated area. It’s a part of the social compact we make with our retailers. Dinged and damaged shopping carts force the stores to replace them, which costs money, which raises the costs of our goods. We help each other and our wallets by making sure the store can continue to offer us the convenience of a cart without forcing them to replace them too often. Then, of course, there’s the damage caused to other vehicles that may be struck by a rogue cart or one they don’t see right away when they pull into a spot. If you do not have enough energy to pick out a cart, do your shopping, pay for your shopping, return to your car and then return the cart, maybe you should be leaving the shopping to people in better health. If you can’t compete the task, perhaps you are not up to the task.

Some say that other people get paid to return the carts so what’s the big deal? Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of “someone gets paid to do this.” That’s the heart of capitalism. But please see the previous paragraph and remember that these people get paid to gather the carts from the corral. We don’t want to be stuck with the bill of paying that person more because the cost of cart maintenance is rising due to careless shoppers.

It’s not even really about the cart or how you’re feeling on a given shopping trip. I bring up the cost as a point of logic, but I really do think this issue goes deeper than cost. It’s about respect. It’s about thoughtfulness and thinking ahead, two things that are in short supply in American right now.

There’s no law against leaving your cart in the middle of the lot and I wouldn’t want there to be. However, returning your cart does signal a willingness to see yourself as a part of a community instead of just someone out to get yours. Sure, you’re busy. You’re tired. Your foot hurts or you’re late for your appointment. I get it. We all get it. You’re not the only person in the world who has a good reason for burning rubber out of the grocery store parking lot ASAP. But what about the person after you who also is in a hurry? Who also has a crying baby or a sore toe? Who also has an appointment they are late for?

It’s a sign of a growing national narcissism. Nothing happens unless it happens to you. You feel justified in rushing off for whatever reason, but you’d be pissed off if the next time you’re in a hurry the one available parking space in the lot is occupied by a stray shopping cart. You don’t have to be Mother Teresa. We’re not talking about feeding the poor in the slums of India. We’re talking about you taking an extra thirty seconds out of your day to help ensure that the next person doesn’t have to deal with the frustration.

It also shows a lack of vision and foresight, two important skills for personal and societal success. If all you can see is the thirty seconds in front of you, that doesn’t give me much hope for the next thirty years for you. Or for the nation. There is a certain strain of American crank who inevitably complain about things like space exploration or investments in the arts.

“How many poor people could we feed with that new space shuttle?!!”

Tis the clarion call of the perpetually visionless. Progress yields prosperity. A large investment now could shift the course of our prosperity later. Please see President John F. Kennedy and our race to the moon. Humans are not made to simply “get by.” We are born to expand, expound, explore. It is the men and women who had the ability to think beyond their present moment who have propelled us to unprecedented success and national prosperity. Even our homeless have cell phones. You don’t get that if you don’t aren’t the type of nation with the audacity to suppose you could step on the moon.

You shopping cart heathens aren’t even being tasked with thinking that far ahead. All I’m asking is that you think two minutes or five minutes ahead. Imagine you are the young mother stopping at the store on the way home with three screaming kids in tow and the only spot available requires her to step out of her car and move that cart you couldn’t be bothered to spend an extra few seconds returning to a proper spot.

It’s not a requirement. It’s a courtesy. But too many of you think you’re the most important person in the world and the only person with places to be and troubles quell.

Put your damn cart back, you selfish drip.