Baltimore County

Learning to navigate the grocery store's wheels of torture

By computing years of data — including the season, day of the week, time of day and wind speed — I've calculated the following statistic:

My chance of getting the grocery store cart with the crazy wheel is 100 percent.

The odds that it will contain wilted leaves from an unidentifiable vegetable and a used tissue?

Also 100 percent.

Most shoppers grab any cart and dash through the store in arrow-straight lines, checking items off their lists as they go.

I can kick the tires of 20 carts before choosing one, and I'll still wind up with the crazy-wheel. And the last time I tried the list check-off maneuver, I careened into an elderly lady giving out Pizza Roll samples. She was fine, but the Pizza Rolls — not so much.

I'd love to be able to pull into the check-out aisle without incident. Others can do it; their carts roll as precisely as the Blue Angels. Yet they avert their eyes as I rumble by, swerving wildly and grunting with the effort of keeping my cart from knocking the greeting cards out of their slots.

On average, it takes me three tries to angle my crazy-wheel cart between the candy rack and the "Little Mermaid" DVDs and up to the cash register without knocking over a display of bouncing balls.

Frankly, I'm surprised the store manager hasn't demanded I take a Breathalyzer test.

Crazy-wheel carts have a mind of their own. One dragged me to seafood when I wanted a carton of milk. While I was there, I picked out some fish filets. (Fish is supposed to be good for the heart, perhaps combating the high-blood pressure caused by pushing a crazy-wheel cart.)

One day, after a winding up at the kiddie playroom — without having a kid to retrieve — I set out to find a way to finesse the trajectory of a crazy-wheel cart to arrive at my intended destination, instead of behind the customer service desk under a pile of lottery tickets.

Allowing for which wheel is crazy, how crazy it is, and when the grocery store's floor was last waxed, I can now navigate the aisles without having to buy State Farm collision insurance.

It takes a delicate touch, but finally — rather than looking like I'm trying to shove a stubborn mule ahead of me — I can easily plot a course to get where I want to be.

For example, if we need shredded wheat, I aim for frozen foods and — voila! — the cereal aisle. If looking for ground beef, I "steer" the cart toward the juice aisle. When toilet paper's on my list, I go "straight" for the cheese.

Getting into the narrow check-out aisle is still the hard part, though: I have to point the cart toward the rest rooms at the back of the store.

Still, I always turn down offers of help getting my purchases out to the car. I'd rather that cart dragged me on a tour of the parking spot than admit defeat.

Besides, if I can get out the door without having plowed into a table of freshly baked pies, I'm ahead of the game.

Exiting the store, I aim for the hair salon across the way — with any luck, I'll be loading the car in a half hour or so.

Then, I just have to return the empty cart. Once I tried giving it a push directly into the canopied cart-collection area; but it veered off and slammed into a tree on the other side of the parking lot.

Maybe I'll give State Farm a call after all.

Email Cathy Drinkwater Better at

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