Yep, it’s a thing.

And if you haven’t yet been involved in a shopping cart rage incident yet – as perpetrator, victim or witness – you will soon enough.

Trust me: I spend enough time in grocery stores to be a reliable predictor of the seething underbelly of suburban shoppers. People are on edge… they’re jumpy… they’re hangry.

Crime investigators and anti-terrorist experts will tell you that there are ‘pre-incident indicators’ we should be alert to – conditions which, if ignored, could lead to market day mayhem. (Assistant manager Brad? You might want to stop chatting up the checkout girls and pay attention. We’re going to need a hero.)

The signs begin beyond the perimeter – in the point-of-entry area otherwise known as the parking lot. So much here to trigger outrage: 50 parking spaces for handicap-tagged vehicles (ample or excessive accessibility – up to interpretation, I guess). Followed by another 50 or so dedicated to ‘expecting moms,’ ‘parents with young children,’ ‘veterans,’ and ‘employee of the week.’ Lovely, politically-correct accommodations that force us to park a county over.

After a long and winding trek, we reach the entrance. And that is where we acquire the demon cart. No license, breathalyzer or driving test required. The powers that be let anyone drive a shopping cart – and I mean anyone. If you’re too infirm to push it yourself, heck, they’ll give you a motorized buggy. If you’re a toddler still in diapers, you get your own very own pint-sized cart.

Distracted driving is a punishable offense on the road. But in a packed grocery store you can be distracted by phones, tablets, a pack of rambunctious children and the emotional baggage of the dinner party you’re shopping for – and get not a single citation.

There are no rules of the road in the stores I shop. Cart-drivers hog aisle as they contemplate pitted vs. unpitted olives. They make abrupt, unsignaled turns in their confusion over whether couscous is shelved with the pasta or rice. They park, at ice cream-melting length, to rehash coaching calls and snack sign-ups with soccer moms they saw minutes ago on the field.

We all know the pathological profiles and usual suspects who provoke ire and insurgency:

• There are the health nuts, who settle in at the butcher counter, ignoring the testy line behind them, to pontificate and quiz about grass-fed beef, free-range chickens and wild-caught salmon.
• There the ‘shoppers in training’ – the deceptively-innocent looking children allowed to push carts with ankle-bruising abandon.
• And then, of course, there are the holier-than-thou coupon clippers, who prop a fat binder and calculator in the buggy, consulting their stash for Every. Single. Item.

And we haven’t even gotten to your list yet!

Yep, despite the horn o’ plenty displays of produce and cheeses, fancy breads and tapenades, you can count on coming up short. There will be some essential ingredient you can’t find. Some family member’s wish you can’t grant. Some favorite item that’s been recalled, discontinued or is simply, sadly out-of-stock.

Disappointment and unfulfilled dreams: CSI aficionados will tell you those are seeds of unspeakable atrocity.

We all have our limits, it seems. You may want to flip off the woman picking through every container of eggs and reassembling her own dozen. You may feel like bumper-car shoving your cart into the one blocking the canned vegetable aisle. You may long to lecture the teen employee who has parked a pallet in the crowded aisle, and snippily explain that 5 p.m. on a Wednesday may not be the best time to restock.

But our better angels prevail.

And then, at long last, we come to the scene egress: the checkout. So close, but yet so far.

You know where I’m headed, I expect. And if you do, I hope you won’t cut me off and steal my rightful place in the only open checkout aisle.

Because yes, those open lines, with living, breathing cashiers, are worth fighting for. And they’re growing more precious as ‘self-check-out’ takes hold. It’s a version of the parking lot equation: a single, backed-up line to have a human check you out; 40 beeping terminals that make you do the work yourself.

And it was there – corralled too tightly, performing a kabuki dance to scan hidden barcodes, looking up the six-digit figure for parsnips, waiting for a harried attendant to come perform an override that lets me, thank God, purchase wine – it is there that the ‘incident’ occurred.

The woman beside me, checking herself out, pushed my cart with hers. And, no, it was not accidental. It was aggressive. She looked me straight in the eye and shoved.

Why, after all we’d been through? We had both made it to the end of the grocery survival course. We were both frazzled and pale and staring blankly. But the blasted self-check-out hurdle proved to be the final straw.

What had detonated her hostility, I learned, was that she needed a wine override, too. Her light blinked first, but I was served first. And that meant I was one step ahead of her in leaving the war zone, returning home and uncorking. So she resorted to shopping cart rage.

Grocery stores are simmering cauldrons of pent-up rage. Their happy, wholesome décor and piped in ‘80s pop music belies the frustration we endure to hunt and gather the provisions we need to sustain – and calm – ourselves.

So be safe out there. Be kind to one another; because we are just a raincheck voucher away from anarchy on aisle 4.


Lucinda Trew lives and shops in Weddington, N.C.   Her writing has been published or forthcoming in The Fredricksburg Literary and Art Review, Mulberry Fork Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Medium, The Mighty, Charlotte Viewpoint, BluntMoms, Boomer Café and Vital Speeches of the Day. Website:
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