Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Shopping Cart Offenders

People are so uttterly lazy. You can blame it on whatever you want -- the influence of modern technology and that instant gratification culture we're growing, or this generation's overwhelming sense of entitlement -- but no matter what the cause, the sheer laziness of people drives me crazy.

Do you ever just look at someone's lazy behavior in public and just want to slap him upside the head? Yesterday, as I sat at Panera Bread Company in Pensacola eating a wonderful meal, I watched as four college students walked away and left their garbage, dishes and various food-related paraphenalia strewn out all over the nicest table in the place. If you've ever been to a Panera, you know that's not the drill. This company offers superior food in a low-maintenance, clean-up-after-yourself atmosphere. They're not staffed with "bus boys," so soiled tables stay that way until business drops to a standstill. I can't figure out how people are either a) so self-centered that they don't care, or b) so lazy that they can't bring themselves to clean up. I refuse to accept that anyone could be too dense to figure it out. It's simple really: Go to the bin, stack the dishes, toss the leftovers. No calculus, no nuclear thermodynamics. Pretty darn clear-cut.

Then there are the folks I like to call the "shopping cart offenders." You know them. These people will go to more trouble hiking the front two wheels of a cart up on a grassy island than to take it to the cart return 20 feet away. It's a crime that knows no demographic bounds: Soccer moms and little blue-haired ladies are just as likely to succumb to this mischief as hoodlums and thugs.

Envision the subtle, yet perfectly choreographed dance: First they transfer groceries from the cart into the car. Next, they strap-in the kids and close the hatches. If you watch carefully, (right when she reaches for the cart's steering handle), you'll see a discreet flash of the eyes and quick turn of the head as she assesses the parking lot for anyone who might see her stealthily roll the cart in between the next two parked cars. That momentary glance conveys one clear mentality: pure, unadulterated guilt. Doesn't the Bible say that the willful commission of a sin is far worse than an innocent stumble? (I never really got how that fit with the premise that "all sin is equal in God's eyes," but that's a debate for another day.)

We have given an inch. I remember a day when you had to -- believe it or not -- return the cart all the way inside the store. You had to load your car and then trek back inside to deliver your cart. Only the lowest dregs of society ever protested this unwritten rule by leaving a cart in the parking lot. Before the days of plastic carts and rebounding quarter-panels, carts weighed more and cars stayed dented. Further, if everyone didn't return a cart, there wouldn't be one to shop with later. I know it's difficult to remember, but once upon a time, Wal-Mart didn't have associates dedicated to ferrying carts from lot to store with a strobelight-quaffed robotic companion. Shockingly, that's a development of the last 20 years. In an effort to serve the customer, by giving him or her a convenient set of cart return areas, big stores have created an entire movement of people who don't think they should have to go to any effort at all.

So here's my proposed solution: Treat shopping carts like airport luggage carts, only more expensive. Make people pay a refundable fee, (exorbitant even -- let's say $5), to use a shopping cart. What's the value in paying a refundable fee? The shopping cart offenders don't get a refund unless they return the cart to an approved location. Period. It's less drastic than, say, ritual public execution, and probably effective, nonetheless.

Give lazy people an inch, they'll take a mile. Just don't expect them to walk it.