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.
Scene from Los Angeles in the early 1920s from martinturnbull.com