“Let’s go to the opera!” my lovely wife, Grace, suggested as she studied a brochure for the Spoleto Festival. This is a declaration she makes each year as Spoleto approaches. She enjoys scheduling a plethora of performances for us to attend. I knew I was cornered and couldn’t object to the opera.
“Sure,” I replied but added a quid pro quo: “How about we also go to a NASCAR race?”
“We’ll see,” Grace sighed.
Based on this lack of enthusiasm, I figured that women don’t do NASCAR.
The following Saturday, however, I discovered how wrong that assumption was. No, I wasn’t at Daytona. I was at one of our local warehouse club stores. Grace had sent me on a mission to buy bottled water. I thought water was sort of free, from the tap, but Grace wanted me to get several hefty cases. She expounds on the advantages of hydration, and these bottles are a necessity for car rides and walks.
I arrived at the warehouse store in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The place overpowers me. It is huge. The carts are enormous. The sizes of the items they sell are gargantuan. For example, last fall, Grace wanted shaved almonds for a dessert she was baking. I bought a fifty-pound bag. We ended up mulching the trees with the excess. The squirrels loved it. I retrieved a cart from a rack in the parking lot. The back wheels wobbled, just as they did on most of the other carts. I made my way toward the store to find a long line of ladies-in-waiting with their carts two abreast, facing the front door. Most wore sneakers and colorful sweatshirts. Some were doing stretching exercises or deep knee bends. Their carts were decorated with signs, stickers, and numbers. I took my place at the end of the line.
One woman was pushing her cart vigorously back and forth in a zigzag fashion. The lady in line in front of me noticed how intently I was observing the spectacle.
“Heats up the tires,” she explained.
“Excuse me?” I replied.
“Makes ’em handle better in the corners. Name’s Dale,” she offered, extending her hand. “You must be Duke,” she added, pointing to my sweatshirt.
Before I could respond, she inquired, “You new here?”
“I guess so,” I answered sheepishly.
“Hey, girls, we got us a rookie here at the back of the grid,” hollered Dale.
Soon the swarm of shoppers surrounded me and my shopping cart with comments and questions coming faster than I could respond.
“Them factory tires?”
“Where’s your decals?”
“You need a restrictor plate with them wobbly wheels?”
Finally, I asked, “You girls come here often?” pulling up a line I recalled from a very different time and place.
“Every Saturday!” a hefty, elderly lady with blue hair chortled. Her cart was at the front of the line on the left. I sensed that she was regarded with some degree of respect and fear by the other women. Dale introduced me to Blue Hair and the other regulars.
As we waited for the store to open, the flock engaged in animated conversation about the sale items, the layout of the store, and strategies to secure their stuff in the least amount of time. I began to realize this was no ordinary shopping errand. In a few minutes, a store employee began to raise the big metal door. Women tightened their grips on their cart handles. Shoes shuffled nervously back and forth; no one spoke. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one lady cross herself. Finally, the door was lifted high enough for a person and cart to slip underneath. Blue Hair was off like a shot. The pack followed fast, speeding straight for the cosmetics section.
“Hurry up or you’ll be a lap down,” Dale called over her shoulder. I took off in rapid pursuit. I reached cosmetics and picked up a twenty-four-pack of dental floss and a plastic tub of ten thousand Q-Tips. The crowd was already headed to canned goods. I dashed behind them, adding a twenty-pound jar of olives, a gallon of peanut butter, and a 256-ounce box of cornflakes to my cart. I was feeling the rush of the shopping frenzy.
Blue Hair passed me and headed back to the front of the store. Her husband was positioned at the checkout line. Blue Hair pulled alongside him, gave him her full cart, grabbed the empty cart he was holding, took a slug of his Mountain Dew, and was off again. The whole exchange lasted six seconds.
“Quite a pitstop, huh?” mused Dale.
“She’s the best at splash ‘n go.”
Blue Hair then led the crowd down a wide aisle toward frozen foods and beverages. I hustled to catch up. I pulled up closely behind a lady in a turquoise and orange sweatshirt. I have since learned that this is called “drafting.” As we approached a stand where a store employee was handing out samples of pigs-in-a-blanket, I pulled out and passed.
“Nice slingshot!” yelled Dale as I headed for the bottled waters. I took on three cases (the maximum allowed per customer), grabbed a deep-fried pork rind from another sample stand, and headed for prepared foods. I was moving up. If I could make up time here, I might catch the Blue Hair special. I quickly snatched up a bag of one hundred dinner rolls, a side of beef, and a cheesecake the size of our patio table. I then tore off back down the main aisle toward the checkout line.
I was gaining on Blue Hair and believe I could have caught her…until the last turn. At the end of the aisle, she cut sharply around the corner. I followed, but my cartwheels wobbled. I skidded, then veered to the right, and crashed into a rack of phone cards. My cart flipped over several times before spilling its contents. I first thought it was a clumsy blunder. I now realize that while I assumed I could follow the groove, my cart was too loose to hold the line. My tires wouldn’t bite, and I probably hit some marbles above the groove and ended up with a Darlington stripe and a bruised ego.
The entire field passed by me as I reloaded my purchases into the cart. I checked out and slowly made the way to my car. Dale was waiting.
“Tough break, Duke,” she offered.
“Yeah, I thought I had her for a while there.”
“She was running a rail,” Dale smiled. “And she hung you out to dry. You’ll learn though,” Dale added, patting me on the back. “You did well.”
“Yeah—for a guy!” cackled Blue Hair, leaning out the window of her pick-up truck. With that, she smoked her tires and sped off.
When I got home, Grace asked, “Find the bottled water okay?”
“Yeah, no problem.”
“Was the store crowded?”
“No, not really,” I calmly replied.
I didn’t try to regale her with a replay of my cart-racing experience. I don’t think she likes that stuff. But I did have some explaining to do about those other purchases.
So, we will go to the opera in May. It is Romeo and Juliet. We will watch the Montagues and the Capulets duke it out. But secretly, I can’t wait to duke it out with Blue Hair next Saturday at the warehouse club. This time, I’ll come prepared. Perhaps I’ll purchase my own custom cart and adjust the jacking screws for weight distribution. I might even add a spoiler. I know it would handle great and I’d be dialed in. That would keep the fat lady from singing. I’ll just have to drink a lot of bottled water between now and then to justify my return visit to the warehouse store.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish