For clarity’s sake, it would be better to explain some things up front.
First there’s the cart pusher, which I have affectionately named Wally. The most essential piece of equipment in the cart attendant’s arsenal, Wally is a five hundred pound machine that can move as slowly as the bulky, yellow remote control’s turtle silhoutte would suggest, or as fast as the equally accurate rabbit icon. One of our shopping carts is attached to the front of Wally, and we count this as one cart, as Wally can only push a maximum of twenty-five carts at a time and we must be careful to only add twenty-four, or the best case scenario is that he will refuse to budge until we lower the amount. The worst case scenario is that Wally will “die” under the strain, forcing myself and the other cart attendants to hand push up to seven shopping carts at a time throughout the day. This is no small task in any way, shape, or form, and the last time Wally had to have his batteries replaced, it took them all summer. So we try to keep Wally fully functional and well rested at all times.
The second thing to understand is how the front of our store is arranged. Most of our locations have two entrances. In our store, one entrance is closer to the electronics department, while the other is closer to the grocery and pharmacy areas. Since my store is attached to a mall, it’s naturally very busy and also quite a bit larger than other locations in the chain. So rather than one large section, there are two separate sections for storing the shopping carts known as cart corrals. The cart attendant works tirelessly throughout his shift to keep both of these corrals well stocked with shopping carts, sometimes all by himself, even on the busiest days such as weekends and major holidays, or post holiday sales.
At both entrances, there are automatic doors that allow a customer to exit or enter the store. Between these two sets of doors are two single doors with large red signs that read “NOT AN ENTRANCE/EXIT”. These “cart doors” lead to a section that is cordoned off from the rest of the vestibule by large bars that are meant to discourage people from crossing the space, but don’t always work because they are not electrified. It is important to understand that it is this particular section where we guide the long line of twenty-four shopping carts, pushed by Wally, who is being powered by a remote control in one hand, while the cart at the front of the line is guided with the other hand.
This maneuver requires negotiating a stretch of parking lot that is frequently choked with heavy traffic, especially in the holiday months. When we reach the sidewalk in front of the store entrance, there is yet another block of space to traverse as pedestrian customers enter and exit the store, or flit by on their way to the mall entrance, on one side, and the Dollar Store on the other. It’s important to remember that when Wally is pushing the maximum of twenty-five shopping carts, one half of the line is always in the parking lot, still impeding traffic as I try to guide the front of the carts into the special door without damaging property or human beings.
Suffice it to say Wally is heavy. Add to those twenty five large mounds of steel and plastic that are our shopping carts, which we try to move as fast as safety will allow, so that you, our customer can shop, and you have something that can, and will, cause quite a bit of damage given the circumstance. One former cart attendant was actually banned from using Wally after hitting someone’s car and subsequently fired shortly after I came along.
I suffer from a healthy dose of paranoia in regards to my mechanical co-worker and its proximity to other bodies of sufficient mass. If a vehicle is directly in my path, or it looks like a driver is about to back out of a parking space, I won’t even move Wally, or the row of carts until the driver and I are on the same page. The same goes for human and particularly fragile bodies such as the elderly, children, or animals. This paranoia is never more acute than on the final approach to the cart doors.
Generally we need to keep the cart doors closed until we are ready to bring carts in. Part of the reason is because during the warmer months, hot air affects the fresh food near the grocery entrance and during the colder months customers and coworkers are bothered by the cold air that blows in. Anything that makes the cart attendant’s job even the slightest bit easier is a major inconvenience to everyone who views us as the company whipping boys. The reason for keeping the cart doors closed, aside from no longer being in the mood to argue with anyone over what blows in through what doors, is that customers will often mistake the cart doors for an entrance or exit that they are within their rights to use. Most of them are surprised by the enormous line of loudly rumbling shopping carts being pushed by the large red machine with the flashing yellow light, but don’t actually have the decency to look embarrassed as I stop Wally and yank hard on the carts to slow their momentum and prevent possible injury. Another popular move is for me to be within inches of entering the cart doors, only to have come customer think they’re being cute by darting past me like a small child running through the sprinklers. This causes even more anxiety as more and more often, I get closer to having a customer’s fatality on my watch.
You may be asking yourself, are people just that stupid? Do they not comprehend how badly they could be hurt by not respecting Wally and his awesome strength, or is there something else going on beneath the surface?
When it comes to screwing a store out of money, the most complicated maneuvers of the most duplicitous customer will usually involve the returns desk. But there’s another equation that is lodged into the back of everyone’s mind, even those with an application for sainthood just days from approval. That equation is: If “X” happens to me while I am at “Y”, I will get “Z” amount of money.
During a single viewing of Wheel of Fortune, you can expect to see about twenty ads from various law firms announcing the launch of a new campaign of lawsuits against drug companies or improperly coded buildings where asbestos exposure was likely. People often joke about how much money they could get if they sued this or that major company. And although frivolous lawsuits are certainly not an invention of this century, we have to remember that not too long ago, McDonalds, and more recently the tobacco industry both suffered blows to their bottom lines when someone took them to court over things that the majority of the world believe were the plaintiff’s own damn fault.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it myself. Every time I cross the street, I think of the money vultures that would be at my bedside if one of the many idiots who are just a lead foot away from their fifteen minutes of fame on The World’s Dumbest Drivers struck me down in the crosswalk. Since the law of averages says that the chances are better every day, I frankly need that thought just to get me out of bed every morning.
So as sure as the sky is blue, I have no doubt that some of these people see my store; one of the best known retail chains in the country. Then they see me with Wally and the long row of carts that I’m guiding towards the cart entrance. They think of how easy it would be to get injured, just enough for it to be visibly damaging but maybe not enough to wound them mortally. And I’m sure it’s this new sue happy culture, exacerbated by morons who sued for things that were blatantly their fault and still won, that makes the customer see a potential collision with my cart pusher as the winning lottery ticket.
I’m no legal expert but I have been thrown under the bus a few times. What people don’t get about those cases you hear about in the news is that they are most likely just the ones out of the thousands that actually saw the light of day, much less ended in a big payout. And as fast as the Pay Day equation has ingrained itself into our minds, a new subculture of paranoia has taken root in the legal departments of all of the major companies you know and love.
McDonalds now includes calorie counts on their menus. The tobacco companies send out information on how to quit smoking in each pack of cigarettes. And the store I work at is so afraid of being sued by its own employees that they practically guide you to the time clock at gunpoint if you’re in danger of being so much as a minute late for your lunch break.
If someone were to get hit, in the parking lot, or in the store, and my hands were undoubtedly the ones handling Wally’s controls, there is no measure to how fast they would kick me to the curb. By the time you, the victim, arrived at the hospital, every other cart attendant would have immediately received new training on the cart pusher. They would then be required to sign a paper saying that they were retrained, thus creating a paper trail to show that they have taken steps to rectify the mistake of hiring someone so incompetent.
Even if you were to file a lawsuit against my company, the best you could hope for would be that your medical expenses and court costs would be paid. It would not be enough to buy you that car you’ve always dreamed of. The worst case scenario, for you that is, would be a 72-hour watch when investigators watched the CCTV footage and determined that you had caused yourself harm. I’d still be out of a job and likely blackballed from any place that required the use of heavy machinery.
There’s always the possibility, of course, that I’m reading into it. Maybe people really are just that stupid.
For clarity’s sake, it would be better to explain some things up front.