Are There Rules Of The Road At Costco?

I think my German is showing. Yes, my last name (and my general disposition) may be Irish, but I was raised among Germans – as I wrote in this space some time ago. This question came to my mind on a recent shopping trip. Why can’t shoppers follow the rules of the road?

Those of us who drive who are sentient beings know that there is such a thing as “Rules of the Road”. The details may vary from place to place, but someone in the US can drive from Maine to San Diego without being surprised by any legal variation beyond the occasional speed trap or the legality of a right turn on a red light. The biggest commonality is, of course, keeping to the correct side of the road.

Yes, there are some countries that never got the memo about driving on the right side of the roadway (the UK, Australia and Japan come to mind, and there are surely others) but whichever side a civilization has chosen, keeping on the appropriate side of the center line is right up there with universal proscriptions on murder and cannibalism. I wonder though – why does this near-universal rule not seem to apply when shopping?

Shopping at Costco is a lot like driving. First, the carts are nearly as big as some of the smaller automobiles on our roads. And alththough they are pushed by shoppers instead of by complex electrical or mechanical systems, they are steered about the same way. Then there are shopping spaces that are designed much like the parking lots outside. Long aisles with perpendicular connecting ways between them.

Where the stores differ from roads and parking lots is that there are shelves and shelves of stuff for sale in the stores. Actually, how much real estate could these places save if they just stacked the merchandise outdoors in the parking places so that we could stay in our cars as we shop. Maybe I’ll get to work on that. Because this design is the problem.

Imagine driving down a street in your neighborhood when the person in front of you can’t decide if he wants to stare at the landscaping of the house on the right or the paint scheme of the building next door to it. Does that driver stop in the middle of the street while he strokes his chin or calls his wife for instructions on which of these two scenes he should be taking in? No he does not. If he wishes to stare at the neighbors’ poorly kept lawn he will pull over to the right curb and stop, leaving plenty of room for others to go around as he does whatever gawking might be necessary.

Or does he drive down the street with his wife driving a separate car along side of him? Or does he assume the right of way at all times and pull out of a side street into a main road whenever the urge strikes? OK, he probably does this one. (“It’s OK, they see me” is not actually recognized as a legitimate grant of right-of-way in any traffic manual I have ever seen.)

But at Costco everything the poor schlep learned in driver’s ed goes out the window. If Costco had a window, anyway. His cart stops in the middle of the too-narrow aisle impeding traffic while he walks to the other side to wrestle a gallon of mayonnaise from the shelf. Who needs that much mayonnaise is another question for another time.

Even worse are the happy shopping couples who walk side by side down the aisle, blissfully ignorant of the shoppers behind, in front of or anywhere around them who must stand still and wait for them to slowly amble (these people are never in a hurry) along, eying the different varieties of protein bars on offer. Don’t mind us, we have nothing else to do today.

I have been picking on guys, but in truth I was trying to avoid sharp comments that would come if I were using ladies in my examples. Because they are far from immune from these tendencies. Have you ever seen pictures of big city streets in the early days of the automobile? There was a time when there were no lanes and everyone just kind of went where they needed to go. Modern shopping is like that.

I once read about how certain Asian women are called “tiger mothers” because of how they relentlessly push their children to higher levels of achievement than most other mothers do. It’s really a thing, you can look it up. Perhaps these are the ladies I see at Costco who push their carts with the same level of intensity. Tiger mothers are just as entitled to shop as anyone else, I suppose. But it would be nice if they could restrain the beast within for just a little while.

I wonder if Costco should hire me to take control of their traffic problems. Maybe one-way aisles? Little magnetic or radio-controlled devices that can report if you cross a center line (that I would absolutely paint there) and charge you an added 2% for each infraction? Or perhaps we could embed tracks in the floors so that carts would necessarily stay where they should like slot cars? Don’t tell me that any of these would wreck your shopping experience. Really, you enjoy it now? Of course you don’t.

I can’t gripe about free-roaming kids (Mommmmm – Justin got to pick his cereal last tiiiiiimmmme.) or about folks with mobility issues who actually drive their carts through the store. The former should be given allowances and the latter are usually quite good about treating the carts like the vehicles they are. But for the rest, we have some major cleanup to do.

Media Credits:

Scene from Los Angeles in the early 1920s from

18 thoughts on “Are There Rules Of The Road At Costco?

  1. So true on so many levels. There is also a similar phenomena in large parking lots, particularly at retail establishments.

    There is another small subset of offenders in which a certain commenter gleefully resides – the speeders. If I’m in a store I want to get my stuff and go; there are other and better things on the agenda. Thus my cart is pushed at wide-open throttle. Navigating through, around, and among those you have described is indeed irritating but if utilizing an old cart that has one or two wheels flopping, it gets loud and breaks through these other people’s bubble of obliviousness. It injects a degree of fun into an otherwise mundane experience.

    Your desire to introduce traffic control in stores is much more socially acceptable.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Queuing up to cash out at these big box stores takes it to a whole other level. It resembles trying to cross the International border at Niagara Falls, trying to pick a line that you won’t have to endure forever.

    Pity that poor horse in the photo. He reportedly succumbed to lung cancer after inhaling the pollutants all about.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. While I have seen all of those delightful behaviors, I have to say that my small town Meijer is usually pretty good. Just prepare for possible gridlock in the baking isle between Halloween and New Years.

    Early in the pandemic they did try one way isles. About 80 percent of customers ignored them, and the signs went away in a month or so.

    Going back to your first example, I did once rear end someone who stopped in the middle of the road because he thought he needed to look at a map. Helpful tip: if you are going to try this, don’t drive a small car the same shade of tan as the dust cloud coming up from the unpaved road you are on!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Our Costco is pretty good for traffic discipline, and the checkout people really hustle so the long lines at least move quickly. Weekend congestion can be a problem, so we like to tag team it and I wait with the cart in backwaters while Mrs DougD dodges traffic to get items.

    My biggest problem is being able to tell my wife from all the other middle aged blonde ladies in black coats and jeans. Sometimes I find myself asking a random lady if we need tomatoes, then notice she actually isn’t my wife. I have suggested that she wears a red motorcycle jacket or a suction cup with an orange flag on her head, but this has not been adopted.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Doug, your comment about tomatoes reminds me of a truly embarrassing encounter. What makes it even more embarrassing is that there was zero alcohol involved.

      One evening after dining at a restaurant, my wife went to get the car while I paid the bill at the front counter. Exiting the restaurant, I confidently walked up to the waiting medium blue Honda CR-V and opened the passenger door. The only thing that stopped me from getting in was the astonished-frightened looks from the not-my-wife driver and the kid in the back seat!

      Luckily, my wife pulled up behind in our nearly identical CR-V at that exact moment. I politely mumbled something like “Oops, wrong Honda” and made a hasty retreat. Boy, was my face red… for about a week!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I vividly remember doing that in kindergarten when I walked up to a dark green Oldsmobile just like my mother’s only to find some strange lady telling me that this was not my family’s car. I have usually avoided that as an adult by only driving weird cars. 🙂


    • That’s so funny! My dad did that one year when purple coats were in for women – he went up to some lady in the mall who he thought was my mom and put his arm around her! She turned around and gave him the dirtiest look, even though he was apologizing profusely that he thought she was his wife!

      Liked by 1 person

    • You can always get her an orange safety vest for Christmas! Or maybe not.

      We do the tag-team occasionally, and it is usually divide and conquer with one driving the car and the other darting around grabbing individual items. The problem then is finding the cart. I long ago stopped feeling decadent about keeping tabs on each other in a big store with cell phones.


  5. I’m sorry JP but I have no advice to offer, never actually having been in a Cosco or Sam’s Club or any of those big box stores – the nearest store for me is 2 hours away, not worth the gas to save money. I find the grocery store bad enough, nobody obeys the one way streets anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You sound like a Costco pro, JP. One, you go to the store knowing what you need. Two, you probably know where your items can be found. The navigation is much easier if you know what and where. We tend to head straight to the back of the store first (meat, produce) and work our way forward. We save any pharmacy items for last. We also avoid the “sample stations” because they simply encourage the congestion you talk about. And we NEVER go to Costco on weekends!

    Liked by 1 person

    • All true. We have a set routine for how we navigate the place. What makes things confusing is that we are also Sam’s Club members, so remembering where each keeps what is a challenge. And Sam’s has a maddening habit of reconfiguring the store every 3 years or so, which requires major brain rewiring. But their phone app that allows self checkout evens things out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting about Sam’s Club rearranging things. Now that I think about it not every Costco is laid out the same. We have two in our town and they flipped the floor plan to make one the opposite of the other. You start through electronics in both but then you have to remind yourself which one you’re in or you’ll get your 10,000 steps for no reason.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This is funny JP – I’ve never been to a Costco but have seen comments or memes about the size of some items and how people cannot resist a bargain so they rush to buy in bulk, so I found your description of the gallon-sized mayo would be the same kind of scenario. Since I live alone, I have not gotten a membership to Costco, but since I over-buy every Fall so I don’t have to shop, except for perishables, throughout the Winter (and I’m not even not doing that this Winter due to COVID), I could probably benefit by a Costco membership to save on bulk items items only. They put markings in each aisle at Meijer where I shop – some were designated as one-way aisles … it never happened as the “aisle police” were not there to enforce the signs/rules and people did as they wanted, especially during the “11 items for the price of 10 items” sales. It’s every shopper for themselves then. You can fully expect to be rammed in the back of your ankles. Thankfully the person who use the scooters have the “beep-beep” to alert you they are in the vicinity. I usually shop as early as possible in the day to avoid all this bad behavior if at all possible.

    Liked by 2 people

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