I started writing this 15 years ago, when I first moved to California. It all started with a bumper sticker and an incident at the local Safeway.
“Mean People SUCK” was the bumper sticker. I saw it for the first time on a white ’87 VW Rabbit shortly after I moved to the Bay Area. I distinctly remember thinking, “well that’s a peculiar thing to say.” But a few days later, as fate would have it, I fell victim to the kind of people the ominous bumper sticker was trying to warn me about.
My roommate, Brett, and I had just signed a year-long lease on our new apartment in Mountain View. We went to the local Safeway (the equivalent of a Stop n Shop to you Easterners, or a Piggly Wiggly to you Southerners) to buy groceries for our cool new pad. For whatever reason, the store was fresh out of shopping carts. We had to hang out in the parking lot and wait for a shopper to load up her car before commandeering her cart. Once inside, we headed for the produce section and stocked up on fruits and vegetables. We then decided to divide and conquer and split what was left on the list. Because we only had one cart (and getting another was clearly not an option), we left our cart in the produce section and agreed to meet back in 10 minutes. I went left, Brett went right. 9 minutes later, I found my way back, masterfully juggling an armful of coffee cans, spices and canned goods. Brett was already there, juggling his own load, but with a peculiar, puzzled look on his face.
“Did you take the cart?” came out of his mouth at the same time as “where’s the cart?” came out of mine.
“I don’t know.”
Huh? But, we left it right here. Right HERE. Full of produce. In front of the towering pyramid of Fugi apples. Where the hell is it? We looked around thinking that surely we would find it one aisle over, or perhaps pushed over toward the wall by a shopper who needed to get by. But no. It was gone.
Vanished, without a trace. Except for one thing: the evidence.
Over by the broccoli, we spotted a bunch of produce - bagged produce, OUR produce - unceremoniously piled on top of a mountain of cucumbers.
“What the (expletive)?” said Brett.
“Who in the (expletive)?” said I.
We looked at each other, then over at our groceries, then back at each other, as if waiting for a perfectly reasonable explanation to pop up. And then it came to us. Someone had stolen our cart. And not just accidently taken it; but purposefully, calculatingly, and gallingly stolen it. Clearly unwilling to do the decent thing and wait by the door for a cart to become available like any other member of a civilized society would (or should) do, the culprit had made a conscious decision to take groceries out of a cart that was clearly still in use, and claim it as his or her own. An offense worthy of a public stoning? Of course not. An offense worthy of a verbal tongue lashing? Absolutely. But we never saw our cart again.
Half an hour later, as Brett and I were driving back to our apartment (still fuming), we stopped at a red light behind a car sporting a bumper sticker that I’d seen before - the same bumper sticker that, a few days before, hadn’t made much sense to me. That night, after all groceries had been put away and Brett and I were finally able to laugh about what had happened, I turned on my archaic Mac and began writing an article. An article that, until today, I’ve never made public. It was titled, simply, “Mean People Suck.”