Shopping Carts and Good Feelings

by Phil Lemos


I have this part-time job where I change ads on supermarket shopping carts.  The company assigned me a route of 15 stores in the Worcester area.  Every month they send boxes of ads and an email spelling out which ads go in which stores.  I spend a couple of hours at each store swapping out the old ads for new ones. 

I’ll be working on a carriage in the shopping cart vestibule when a customer asks me what aisle the quinoa is in.  I tell them that I work for a third-party vendor, not the supermarket, so I really don’t know but I’m sure the customer service desk can point them in the right direction; and they call me an unhelpful jerk and tell me they’ll be sure to speak to my supervisor about me; which they won’t because, as previously mentioned, I don’t work for the supermarket.

Today, I’m ad-changing the Stop & Shop around the corner from my place.  Near the store entrance is a guy at a desk with pamphlets and a clipboard.  I avoid eye contact to discourage him from talking to me and start working on carts.  A few minutes later, a woman comes in looking for a carriage.

“What’s that guy hitting people up for?” she asks me.

“He’s trying to get people to sign a petition to get a candidate on the ballot this fall,” I say.

“Jesus.  For what?”

“I dunno.  I was trying to avoid him.”  I slide another ad into a cart frame, thinking she’s on her way to the deli.  I’d grab another cart but she’s in my way.

“People better wake up.  This country’s going to hell in a handbasket,” she says.

“For sure.”  I really thought she’d be inside by now.

“I mean aren’t you disgusted with all that’s going on?”

Maximizing efficiency in this job is an art form.  If you go early in the morning or late at night, the store is less busy and there are more empty carts.  The downside to that, though, is that it means about 300 carts are jammed into a tiny vestibule and that gives you no room to maneuver and you end up doing cart gymnastics to get to the way-back carriages.  That’s no fun, and who the hell wants to get up at 5am to slide ads into shopping-cart frames?  It’s easier to go in the afternoon.  A lot of the carts are in use, but there’s more room to move the others around.

This lady is messing with my process.  She’s beginning to gain a following.  Four or five other customers are now listening to her rant and getting similarly fired up.

“This has gotta stop.”

“Are you registered to vote?”

“Damn right I am.”

“We need to get organized.”

I’m trapped.  I try to gesture toward the other carts a couple of times but they’re not paying any attention because this woman is on a roll.  All she’s missing is a bullhorn.  While I’m an hourly employee, it’d be a tough sell to my bosses that it took me 9 hours to ad-change this store because some woman started a political rally in the cart vestibule.

The demonstration is now up to about seven or eight people.  The guy outside definitely struck a nerve.  Meanwhile, the store manager has also walked over to see what’s going on.  I’ve had enough.  I’d like to be home in time to watch the Celtics playoff game that starts in about 90 minutes.

“Excuse me!” I say.  “I’m kinda wedged in between everybody here, and I have to swap out the ads on all these carts.  Is there any way I could get you to scooch over just a bit?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were another customer,” the first lady says. 

She and her posse head inside to change the world.  The rally in front of me dissolves.  I remember a simpler time when politics didn’t interfere with part-time jobs.  An era of good feelings.  This is why we need to get James Monroe back in the White House.