So I went grocery shopping tonight. I don’t know why I put myself through things like that.
I turned into the the soup aisle to grab a couple of cans. Right next to me, an elderly woman sat in a scooter. She was close to my favorite soup, but not too close. After a moment of indecision, I grabbed a can. At this point, other people were starting to snake through the aisle, so I moved my cart a few feet inside the aisle. I decided I wanted another can of soup, so I turned to walk back to the shelf. By then, a group of three middle-aged people had crowded the end of the aisle. They were loading several cans of soup into a box. They were directly in my way, and the scooter woman remained static in her spot. So I decided to just hang loose for a minute. No point in being aggressive about it, I thought, and I’m in no hurry anyway.
Just then, a nice older couple I’d passed earlier turned into the aisle. They asked the blockers if they’d let them through. Through the mumbling, I heard the blockers say, “That young man needs to move.” Well, gee, thanks a lot!
I did move, of course, as I would have even without that bit of passive-agressiveness. As polite as I was, the nice old man nevertheless shot me a scowl as he slid through. Granted, I did hesitate a little, but only because other shoppers were starting to clog the other side as well. I decided to forget about this situation and grab that second soup can later, and headed for the other way.
But I found myself completely boxed in. The three blockers continued to block the entryway and box their soup haul, the elderly lady in the scooter still had her brakes planted firmly and another shopper or two made for insurmountable traffic on the opposite end.
This was just getting weird. Not to mention, awkward. At this rate, I was going to be hopping in a circle within the next 10 minutes. The gridlock was so perfect that it seemed like it had been drawn up in a playbook.
The woman on the scooter, perhaps sensing the impatience in my face, turned to me and said, “I’m just sitting here waiting for somebody.”
“It’s not you,” I said quietly and politely, albeit with a hint of exasperation. “It’s everyone else.” Meanwhile, the people actually blocking the aisle continued their slow task as if they were the only people in the world, utterly unaware of the now-considerable traffic jam. Life’s like that, isn’t it?
I took that opportunity to reach over scooter lady and grab a second can of soup, hoping I didn’t come off as rude in doing that. I’m an almost terminally polite person in most situations, but there’s something about being swarmed by selfish and rude Midwesterners that makes civility very difficult for me. I’d like to think that my manners toward the one nice person in this situation overcame the deafening hostility chafing its way through my head.
I returned to my cart, and it looked like I might have a clean way out after all. At that point, I was more than happy to be finished with this miserable situation.
But just then, another woman sped through on her scooter. She looked at me with the stinkeye they apparently issued at the aisle’s endcap and barked, “EXCUUUSE ME!” Like many drivers in this city, she wasn’t about to slow down just because she was drastically in the wrong — we’d just have to make way. (She either was or reminded me of the woman who, a while back in nearly the same spot, had blocked the aisle and when I muttered a muted “excuse me” and snaked through, snapped, “EXCUSE YOURSELF!”)
I knew we were all headed for a very bad situation. Unstoppable force, meet immovable object. I just know you’ll be good friends; you both suck. Discuss.
I managed to turn my cart around, headed toward the blockers, but I still had no room to maneuver. I was going to have to do what I dreaded most: talk to these people.
This might surprise some of you, but I can be a very shy person. I’m often reticent to ask people to move even when they’re in the wrong and it’s a good day. And in Missouri, there are only occasionally good days. To this southerner, the standoffish quality of your average Ozarker is something that apparently takes more than four years to get used to.
This encounter would only reinforce that notion.
Emboldened by the scooter diva behind me, who had still barely broken stride, I called out, as politely as I could muster, “Excuse me, please?”
The blockers didn’t even turn their heads. “Uh, hi...excuse me...”
Still nothing. Why does this happen so often in this area? Do these people have switches they need flicked on?
“EXCUSE US, PLEASE, SOUP PEOPLE?” That got their attention.
Now, at this point, you’d think (or at least I would think) that it would immediately occur to them that three or four people with shopping carts and scooters are backed up and are trying to pass through, and they’d scoot over without hesitation. They might even say, “oh, I’m sorry,” but you don’t hold it against them if they don’t. No harm, no foul. Just move over and we can get on with our respective evenings.
But they didn’t move. They barely broke stride with their painfully slow selection.
After a moment or so of silence thicker even than their heads, the guy holding the soup box gestured at the woman holding his group’s cart (who had her back to us) and said, “you’ll have to ask her to move.”
“WHAT?! SHE’S WITH YOU!! WHY DON’T YOU REACH OVER SIX INCHES, TAP HER ON THE SHOULDER AND PERHAPS ALERT HER TO THE FACT THAT SHE HAS BEEN CLOGGING TRAFFIC FOR 10 MINUTES FOR ABSOLUTELY NO REASON!! SURE WOULD SAVE ME THE TROUBLE OF REACHING OVER SEVERAL FEET TO APPROACH A TOTAL STRANGER AND ASKING HER TO DO SOMETHING THAT SO FAR HAS YIELDED ME ABSOLUTELY NO SUCCESS AND HAS ONLY MADE ME MADDER BECAUSE I CAN FEEL THE GENETIC DEFECTIVENESS AT PLAY HERE,” I should have said.
"We're just trying to shop here," Box Ass said to me. Oh, OK then!
"So are we," I snapped back, trying not to accurately convey the intensity of my dumbfoundedness and disgust.
To my surprise, he didn't punch me or threaten to do so. Instead, Box Ass came to his senses and tapped the woman on the shoulder. She turned around, gave an audible sigh and jerked her cart the exact amount of inches necessary for us to pass through, provided none of our wheels vibrated at all. After an exasperated jaunt to the orange juice cooler, I had to park in a deserted aisle for a few minutes to collect my bearings.
In the four years I’ve lived in Springfield, encounters like this have been a recurring problem. And whenever I’ve complained about it, I’m told that it’s my problem, as if it’s so naive of me to expect people to not be inconsiderate dicks. One of my friends from Illinois says Springfield is the friendliest place he’s ever lived. That’s just depressing.
And no, of course it isn’t everybody. But it’s enough people in enough situations to where I fear it’s starting to change me. And that’s worse than the attitude itself.
So my message to anyone reading this is, please, be a kind and considerate person. I know it can be hard at times, but you just might make someone’s day. If nothing else, you won’t make their blog for all the wrong reasons.