Mindfulness and Your Shopping Cart

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” was published last summer by HarperCollins.Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole,

In response to a question about whether it was OK to leave your shopping cart in the grocery store parking lot — isn’t that a perk we should be entitled to if we’re going to pay almost $10 a pound for a yellow pepper? — you wrote, “There is no shopping cart valet service.” Until I read your column (“Shopping cart valet,” March 30, 2014), I had long felt it was my right to abandon my cart near my car if I was going to pay premium prices for groceries. Since your column was published, I have been dutifully, and resentfully, pushing my empty shopping cart back to the store. I write in the hopes that you have revised your previous stance.

Confidentially yours,

Cart Conundrum

Dear Conundrum,

Well, I can’t revise my stance on a fact: It is still a fact that there’s no shopping cart valet service. Even if there was a valet service, valets (as I pointed out in my answer two years ago) expect tips. I’m never going to advocate a valet service that doesn’t involve tipping the valet — not in America, anyhow, where tips are part of the social contract with certain service workers. So in your ideal world, where there IS shopping cart valet service available, here’s the moral algebra you have to solve for yourself:

You pay X amount for groceries, and then Y amount for valet tip.


You pay X amount for groceries, and spend Z amount of time/effort returning your cart yourself.

What matters more to you, your money or your time? Are you a tightwad, or more of a slouch? This will determine the next equation: Y<Z?or Z<Y? Your call.

(If you understand that concept, thank a teacher. If you live on Martha’s Vineyard and understand that concept, be prepared to tip a teacher, as he or she might need a summer job as a shopping cart valet, in order to make ends meet.)

Anyhow, that’s all moot: There is no shopping cart valet service.

What I also wrote back in March 2014 was this: “If … you can prove that grocers are gratuitously overcharging and simply pocketing the extra, I will personally write to them asking them to provide valet service for their shopping carts.” Upon receiving this question in 2016, I contacted one of the store owners, intending to make this request, but did not hear back. So assume no valet service in the foreseeable future.

I realized there is more to your inquiry than the “easy fix” of creating a shopping cart valet service. There is the simpler issue of just leaving your cart in the parking lot, as a perk for paying premium prices (and to avoid resentment at having to return it to the store). A couple of comments on this:

First, if this minor imposition on your time causes resentment, then you either have an extremely low resentment threshold, or a terrible sense of where to direct your resentment. Save some of it for more important things, like town meetings.

If you have a surfeit of resentment, try something like mindfulness meditation, which — thanks to our capitalist society — has gone from free to overpriced in the past 18 months. (I can teach you mindfulness meditation if you like. But you’ll have to tip me.)

Second, there are two ways to “leave your cart in the parking lot.” If you mean just leave it wherever it’s convenient for you, heedless of other shoppers’ needs to park, drive, or walk, then you’re sort of a jerk, and I think you should be voted off the Island. (Town meetings are coming up soon, so tread lightly.)

But if you mean leave it someplace that is convenient and considerate of other shoppers, that’s different. If you leave a cart where it can’t roll anywhere, where in fact it will be helpful to incoming shoppers who can toss their bag or toddler into it as soon as they are out of their car, that makes you Mindful about the Art of Leaving Your Cart In the Lot, and that’s a good thing. That shifts the paradigm: You are no longer saying, “I’m paying too much for these groceries, so I expect perks” and now instead you are saying, “We’re all paying a lot and trying to get by, so let’s look out for each other when it comes to the little things. Like shopping carts.”

If that’s really what you meant, then I applaud you. And I’m so glad we’ve cleared up that little misunderstanding. The best part is, you didn’t require any mindfulness coaching to get there, which means you don’t need to tip me, and instead you can use that money printing handouts for whatever you care about at this year’s town meeting. You have gone from Civic Slouch to Civic Activist in one column! You don’t have to thank me. Or tip me.

That’s my take.