The three oranges in the produce bag in my cart looked remarkably impressive for this time of year.
A late-winter fruit, I wouldn’t normally choose to buy oranges so far before their season, unless I was planning a cranberry-orange sauce to accompany a braised pork tenderloin or roasted turkey.
In fact, I hadn’t chosen the oranges. Another shopper had inadvertently placed them in my cart. I decided that asking John at to take them off my bill after already wieghing them and pricing them would be unnecessary; a few bucks for an an extra few pieces of healthful food was no major sacrifice. I’d eat the oranges.
Before long, however, an unfamiliar package of lettuce appeared. Not my normal lettuce selection, I wondered if I’d chosen the wrong type of romaine hearts. I peered over the checkout counter and saw that, indeed, there were two packs of romaine lettuce in my cart; one chosen by me, the other by another customer.
The same went for the apples. And the eggs. Someone had filled my cart with their dairy and produce items. I felt bad for them, now likely wandering through the store shopping without knowing they’d misplaced their fresh items.
But on another look into my cart, I noticed that all the bread and pasta items I’d placed in my cart at the beginning of my shopping trip had gone missing.
“It happens ten times a day,” said John. “People switch carts all the time.”
“I wonder if I switched carts with someone or if someone took my cart,” I said, seriously worried for the potentially gluten-intolerant customer who may have purchased my three loaves of wheat bread and buttermilk pancake mix.
“Sometimes it’s a three-way switch,” said John, who continued to scan items from my cart as I noticed another set of discrepancies.
All of my frozen items made it to John at the checkout aisle. But a few additional items – a frozen tilapia filet and box of mini quiches – sat in the cart with my waffles, basmati rice and tempura chicken.
I felt awful. Had I been paying attention, I may not have abandoned my cart near the breads section, switched with someone else near the dairy section and walked off with a third person’s items from the frozen-foods aisle. I was culpable, and had no way to offer apologies.
To complicate matters, this was my second careless set of mix-ups at community-style markets in one month. In front of John of Trader Joe's, I vowed to be more considerate to fellow shoppers.
We’re a village, after all, in these small markets. In the larger markets, shoppers can bow their heads slightly, lose focus on myriad styles of ranch dressing and never once make eye contact with another customer.
For the most part, nobody speaks in those generic spaces.
The staff at those stores may notice if a customer appears lost will certainly direct us from ZIP code to ZIP code to find items we need. But we’re more likely to find ourselves in three-way collisions with shoppers visiting the larger stores than we are to engage in casual conversation or recipe sharing.
There’s something about the high-ceilinged, echoing surroundings that subdues shoppers’ spirits, renders us antisocial.
At the smaller markets like Trader Joe’s, and , regulars fill the aisles; the staff members always recognize us, and we know many of each other’s personal stories. Many of us shop on the same times and days each week, thus increasing our chances for interaction.
With little effort, we form communities of like-dieted shoppers who share so many lifestyle and cuisine habits that our shopping carts are interchangeable.
If you don’t yet know me personally and you like to shop at the smaller markets in Pleasanton, please stop and introduce yourself to the woman with the t-shirt emblazoned with, “Warning: This shopper likely to steal your cart.”