Losing the grocery cart quarter

There comes a time when a quarter is no longer just a quarter.

I’ve always subscribed to the “Pay it Forward” philosophy. I can do something nice for someone and not ask for anything back but ask the person to, perhaps, do something nice for someone else. There are no set requirements or expectations. The concept is to create a world of selfless acts. Well, philanthropy goes out the window when I’m down to my last grocery cart quarter.

It’s a thing, people. Some shops lock their grocery carts to “encourage” people to return the carts to retrieve the necessary deposit. A simple coin placed in the slot by the cart handle unclips the cart from the line. On the return, we insert the locking mechanism into the cart handle and recover our quarter deposit.

There was a time, back in the olden days, when I had a lot of loose change in the car. Now, “tap and pay” is used for most monetary transactions, so cash is limited. I also recently cleaned my car, which included emptying my loose change cubby. The one item of currency I don’t count as money is the grocery cart quarter. It sits on my dash as a reminder to take it and my shopping bags to the market. I usually add quarters to the pile as I receive them to stockpile my cart deposit fund.

I was recently at the grocery store, where I get most of my socialization. I chatted with friends and neighbors. I bought items not on my list. After loading the car with my purchases, I began to return the trolley to the grocery corral. Sometimes, I offer the cart to another walking into the store so they don’t have to pay the 25-cent fee. Other times, there may be a free-range cart untethered from the herd. I can use it and return it, unlocked, for someone to use. This time, as I returned the cart, a person was waiting at the store entrance. I couldn’t get by her to replace the cart without rolling over her. She took the cart and continued inside. I silently watched my lone grocery cart quarter disappear through the sliding door.

I did end up standing at the door for a few minutes, contemplating my following actions. Do I run after the person demanding the quarter’s return? Usually, a person will offer their quarter in exchange for the cart. At that time, you can either gift the cart or take the money. This time, there was no offer or exchange. Did I give the person the impression I didn’t want the quarter? My brain gives me mixed messages. One side of my brain wonders how long I’ll ponder over a single quarter. (Apparently, I’m neurotic enough to write a whole column about the experience.) The other side of my brain reprimands me for letting someone take advantage of me. This type of internal conflict is when a quarter becomes more than just a quarter.

There were probably other reasons, not involving my insecurities, why this person took the cart without offering payment. Perhaps she had never shopped at a place requiring a shopping cart deposit. She may have taken my walk toward her as gifting her the cart. Either way, it is inconvenient. But because I need to overcompensate, I’ll just add more quarters to my coin cubby.


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