The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 26, 2013

Clear the aisles! I’m back in the saddle again

Michele Mikesic Bender

— Study this face carefully. If you ever … EVER … see me in your checkout line (with my walker or an electric cart), RUN … do not walk … RUN the other way.

My checkout curse surrounds me like buzzards in the desert. It affects everyone near me. Indoors or out, I’m a checkout scourge.

In a line, the first shopper would lose her coupons. The next customer’s check would bounce. The soul right in front of me would discover she had only 11 oranges instead of 12 (“Assistance on Aisle 4!”),  but by then the paper tape on the cash register would have run out anyway.

Our first Wal-Mart was roughly the size of Delaware, but I could still navigate with my cane or walker. Then they announced plans to construct a Supercenter with the acreage of Nebraska.

Many stores provide electric carts for seniors like me who are fast approaching our expiration dates.

When I realized “carting” would be inevitable, I chose Somerset (where no one knew me) to “train.”

Like now, it was almost Halloween, when stores can’t decide whether to put out witches, turkeys or Santas. The aisles overflowed with merchandise.

I made a discovery … NO BRAKES!

There’s “go” and “don’t go.”

I crashed into at least half a dozen displays before I learned to back off “go” and coast the remaining 6 or so inches to “stop.”

Then my purse strap tangled around “go.”

Full throttle and unable to steer, I careened toward the snack bar. Terrified diners abandoned burgers and fries to flee from my path. My rampage ended when I slammed into the service desk.

For the past three years or so, illness prevented me from entering the “Giant Eagle 500.” But I’m getting stronger and sensed the time had come to climb on again.

The carts stop quicker … but still no brakes.

Someone thought it would be a swell idea to decorate the carts with pennants on flimsy flagpoles.

Shelves have awkward paper tabs hawking “specials” about every foot or so.

I tore off about 10 tabs during my journey, and my pennant knocked four cans of Libby’s green beans off a corner display. (“Attention, shoppers! Scratch and dent sale coming next week!”)

My exit was even more memorable.

We hadn’t shopped in a month. My friend Leanne had already pushed a regular cart to the hatch of my car, Bailey, where a bagger helped her unload.

The electric carts have only bike baskets. For three weeks of groceries, you need both that and a regular cart.

All done, I happily headed for the handicapped ramp. Neon yellow guide lines had been freshly painted.

Leanne watched helplessly as I obliviously steered toward the high-curbed, unramped and unpainted ledge and crashed the front end smack in the parking lot.

A bagger and a stranger lifted the vehicle from its crouched position.

They examined the cart and ruled it safe.

It’s nearly Halloween, and I’m supposed to write a scary column for you.

Did that do it?

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and a member of  The Tribune-Democrat’s Readership Advisory Committee.