Monday, December 7, 2015

South Louisiana: Buggy Mayhem

Within days of making South Louisiana my temporary home - back in November 2013 - I noticed two things:
  1. Parking lots strewn with shopping carts (aka "buggies"), abandoned willy-nilly by departed customers, taking up valuable parking lot spaces, even handicap spaces; and 
  2. That maddening phenomenon in which an individual squats like a fat spider in a parking lane, waiting for her target parking spot to free up, when the customer hasn't even quite arrived at his vehicle yet, much less unloaded his purchases or got into his car, thereby said spider jamming up traffic for everyone else. 
Dear South Louisianans, I love you, and I'd like you to know that the above behaviors are NOT universal. In most communities, inhabitants actually park their carts in the corrals designed precisely for such a purpose. As for the squatting, I see this happen in other regions, but usually it's restricted to prime holiday-shopping times.

I mentioned the buggy abandonment to a native South Louisianan recently. She looked startled for a moment, then said, "Oh, I do that all the time! I never even thought about it. I don't know why I do it."

Sometimes, when looking out upon the field of scattered buggies, I consider theories of how this custom might have originated: 
  1. Someone Else Theory: "It's someone else's job to put the buggies away, not mine." (Or you could substitute "someone else" with Mom.) 
  2. Job Protection Theory: "If we put away our own carts, someone might lose their job." 
  3. I'll Be Damned Theory: "I work hard all week and I'll be damned if I'm going to put away the buggy. Let the store do it, by God, they take enough money from me as it is."  
  4. Everyone Else Does It Theory: "Everybody else does it. If I put away my buggy, I'll look stupid / weak." 

Is the buggy-abandonment tradition tied to the sad litter problem in South Louisiana?  I don't know, but it seems possible. On the other hand, New Mexico also has a litter problem, but based on my anecdotal observations, New Mexicans put their carts away. (According to this article, Louisiana is one of the 11 most littered states in the country.)

I met a woman once who makes a practice of herding abandoned carts into the proper corrals. She does it as a way to give anonymous service to others, which helps her in her personal growth. Frankly, this would never have occurred to me as something to do, but ever since she told me of her practice, I follow it on occasion, too.

Oh, and here is The Parking Lot Jesus:




When I encounter a habit that appears irrational on the surface, I remember a story.

Some years back, in a village in South Africa, the elders dug a well in the middle of town. There was much gladness for the well because girls and women no longer had to walk a long way to the nearest stream to gather water. The close-by well saved time and energy that could be devoted to other pursuits.

But shortly after the well was dug, vandals broke the mechanism designed to draw the water up. The village made repairs, but again, vandals broke the mechanism. Why someone would do harm to such a wonderful amenity was inexplicable! This happened one or two more times before the vandals were caught.

The culprits were adolescent boys. Why did they do it? Hahahaha - they did it because the well had closed off their opportunity to flirt with the girls when they walked down to the stream to get water. What had appeared irrational on the surface now made sense.

So I'm guessing there is - or was, at one time - some rationale for buggy abandonment in South Louisiana.


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