My Early Years
I came off the assembly line in 1961, in Ohio, and was shipped to Syracuse NY, where I started my career at the Acme Supermarket on S. Salina, near Valley Plaza. I was a Kennedy Kid. I know that sounds odd, but we carts identify with the eras and events of American life, just like everyone else. We’re as red-white-and-blue as the hot dogs, french fries, and Cheerios we carry, the neighborhood gossip we pick up at the deli counter, and the headlines we follow in the National Enquirer at the checkout counter.
Lots of times, we don’t even have to wait for the news. Markets are the center of the universe, and groceries talk. For example:
— The Cuban Missile Crisis: As Americans raced to the stores and bought up all the canned goods, we knew that they were re-stocking their bomb shelters, and why.
— The Kennedy Assassination: Grief-stricken customers, grabbing TV dinners and racing home, told us something awful had happened. What else could it be?
— The First Super-Bowl: In just one day, I did six massive potato chips-dip-and-beer runs. I felt like a fullback carrying the entire defensive line on his back.
— The Obesity Epidemic: Americans were still pretty thin in those days, but we knew, from the rising tide of sugar-coated cereals, soft-drinks, and snacks, that the future wasn’t going to be pretty.
I made it through the Nixon Administration in pretty good health, though my right-front-wheel gave me some trouble for a while, and I did develop some wicked headaches from the collisions (the blind turn at the end of the aisle is a killer). Still, I was young and quick to recover.
Right around Nixon’s resignation, we began to see new carts with those fold-down baby seats. I was glad I didn’t have one, with the bawling, the melting ice cream, and the flailing that can torque you around and give you chronic lower-back pain.
Worse than the physical stuff was the psychological, especially the back-of-the-queue problem, languishing for days without the exercise and mental stimulation we all need. The issue was, the way the store lined us up, they always put the most recently used carts in the front of the queue, a blatantly unfair labor practice. You rotate your stock, so rotate your carts, you idiots! I wanted to scream.
But this was just a symptom of much bigger management problems and, during the Ford Administration, Acme sold us to the new Grand Union store, farther south on Salina, at Dorwin Ave.
My Golden Years
The Grand Union experience started ok, but, with the newer, bigger carts (the fleet was bulking up along with the rest of America), we older numbers were relegated to part-time contract status and stripped of most of our benefits. I complained, but all it got me was the back of the queue. Without a union, what can you do?
I was near the end of my tether when a couple teen-agers grabbed me to pick up some beer and Doritos, wheeling me quietly out the front door without paying, walking nonchalantly through the parking lot, then racing pell-mell across the sidewalk, over the curb, across Salina against the red light (what a rush!), down Dorwin, and up to a little stucco ranch house.
What a lovely place to settle down, I said to myself. But they had different ideas. That night, they wheeled me down the block, through a field, and pushed me down the bank, into Onondaga Creek! The crass inhumanity!
I was physically ok, but shocked. I’d been abandoned before, but always retrieved. For a while, I tried to keep my spirits up by humming my favorite jingle — I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony; I’d like to buy the world a Coke to keep it company — but the water was cold and the creek bed was muddy.
I lay there for two months, figuring it would all end in rust, when, about dusk, I felt something pulling at me. I couldn’t see for all the moss. Whoever it was dragged me out of the water, up the bank, and into the field. As he scraped me off and dried me, I could see him better — obviously a bum (I’m ashamed, now, of my attitude, but it was a first reaction).
He tried to push me back to the street, but I was rusted solid. He went away, and I thought that was it, abandoned again, but he came back quickly with an oil can and, after a few hours, got me back on my wheels again.
Liberation! My friend saved my life. We go everywhere together and he gives me honest work — carrying his bed roll and his shopping bags, protecting his bottles and cans. Often, when we go to the Rescue Mission, he saves a little food, clears everything out of my basket, and lets me carry it around for a while, just like old times. Sweet guy!
The best is that all his homeless buddies have shopping carts. Some (the carts, I mean) are Kennedy relics, like me, but there’s also the Johnson and Carter gang, and the Clinton and Bush youngsters. In the evening, we share stories, like the one about the lady who took the Thanksgiving turkey home but left her kid in the cart. We laugh at our favorite cartoon, you know, the one showing the guy seeking wisdom, climbing up over the final ledge at the mountain-top, exhausted, only to find an abandoned shopping cart.
And, we keep an eye out for the guys rounding up stray carts. One whistle, and we’re off as fast as teenagers tearing across Salina St. with stolen beer and Doritos.