Targeting a Chariot of One's Own

Monday, January 8, 2007

Where we live shapes us, and we shape where we live. And sometimes where we live provides fuel for our fantasies, such as racing down the street in a bright red chariot. Vrooooom!

The clatter of metal grows louder and louder, disturbing our Sunday paper and tea. My husband jumps up to see what has passed by. Two kids race down the street in shopping carts. I run to the window, but they are out of sight. I sigh and return to my paper. I'm jealous. If I were a kid, I'd be racing in shopping carts, too.

A Target moved into the neighborhood recently, and its presence has been felt in ways we never imagined. The store provides its customers bright red shopping carts to take merchandise to their cars. But the carts have a far greater range than the shopping mall parking lot. People push them everywhere. I once saw a middle-aged woman, easily a half-mile from the store, happily rolling a cart along the street. She was taking home something in a large box, and the cart suited the purpose. Farther from the mall, I saw three kids joyfully running with a cart, a fourth companion enjoying the privilege of riding inside, their aim unknown. I must confess that I, too, succumbed to taking a cart a good ways to my house the day after Christmas when the mall parking lot could not handle another car. My only recourse was four wheels that I could push.

Having served their purpose of hauling or joy riding, the carts are eventually abandoned. Empty and lonely, red Target carts dot the neighborhood, like debris washed up after an ocean storm. They end up in the oddest places. Not only on the curb but in parking spaces, upside down in a creek, quite a few at subway entrances and in a vacant lot.

At first I complained, but it did no good. A store employee did tell me that if I saw a cart, I could call and someone would come and pick it up. Target had actually assigned an employee the job of lost-cart picker-upper. I tried this a few times but have since given up. The tide of carts is just too great.

What makes people take carts on walkabout? Perhaps it is their siren call. They offer help and comfort for those weighed down with consumption. For me, that call is different. They beckon for me to try it just once, to see if they really are mean racing machines.

-- Marsha Schmidt, Silver Spring

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