“A customer can’t find his cart.”
A couple of seconds later another announcement came over the store radio. “His coat was in it. And his wallet.”
My co-worker was taking a break so I had to stay at my post. I knew a couple of people would help.
A few minutes later a young man approached me. His brown eyes were huge, almost like the ones you see in cartoons. They seemed to get even bigger as he explained, “Can’t find cart.” He didn’t seem to have a strong command of the English language. He created fists with his hands and made a pushing motion.
He continued. “My coat and wallet.” Again, he made hand motions.
I asked him, “How long has it been?”
“Five minutes. Maybe ten.”
I work in security but because I was alone all I could do was call for a manager. As I radioed for help, I could see one of them heading toward the front of the store.
I thought about all of the people I had seen walking in and out during the past ten minutes. One guy had come in and out so quickly I wondered if the wallet had just disappeared as the manager approached the customer and they walked away.
About a minute later my co-worker returned. I told him what had happened and called out over the radio, “I’m going to help with the search.”
People continued to share information over the radio. The coat was black. The customer had spent most of his time shopping in the back. I turned to my right and quickly walked through the Accessories Department feeling pretty confident that the cart wouldn’t be in that area while also knowing that it didn’t hurt to look.
I turned left and headed toward one of the back corners where the racks are designed like huge combs. One comb runs halfway across the back wall, and the one I was heading toward sits perpendicular to it and runs halfway down the right wall. Two of the comb’s “teeth” create a shopping aisle that is about twenty feet long.
There are different kinds of aisles that create pathways throughout the store. An overhead view of the tiled aisles would look like a giant, mangled hashtag symbol. Those aisles circle the center of the store, running along the inside ends of the combs, and some of them cross and extend all the way to the walls. There are also walkways that surround the entire perimeter. When I make my rounds, I usually walk along those because I can move quickly and see just about everything. On the far ends of both of the combs, there are shorter display racks, and as I approached the one on the end close to me, I could only see a couple of customers there, so I shifted to the right and headed down the back walkway.
Five steps later, I saw a woman’s handbag sitting alone in a cart. I looked down the aisle and saw a woman at the far end looking at merchandise. I said, “Is this your purse?” She looked at me and nodded. I thought, Sometimes I have to wonder what people are thinking. Did I just save a purse while trying to find a wallet?
I looked up and saw the manager coming toward me. He was moving so fast, I knew he had walked along the back of both combs and hadn’t found the cart.
Logic clearly indicated that there wasn’t any need for me to head down the path he had just cleared. I should have stopped, turned, and started to look somewhere else. But I didn’t.
As the manager and I practically brushed shoulders, it struck me as kind of comical. Like we were the Keystone Cops running in circles. You could almost see the thought bubbles: Why is she heading that way? I just cleared the area. Why am I going this way? He just cleared the area.
I don’t have a way to explain what was happening in my mind. It was as if I was being forced to override reason. I was questioning what I was doing as I kept going.
When I reached a junction where one section of the tiled aisles extended all the way to the right wall, separating the comb on the right side of the store from the one at the back, I turned left. If I had continued to go straight, I would have ended up in the far right corner of the store. This time I didn’t continue along the path the manager had taken. I walked along the front of that comb instead.
After another ten steps I was at one of the corners of the tiled aisles that circle the center of the store. Taking a left meant heading back to the front of the store past the comb I had just scanned. But if I did that, I could start looking through some of the center displays. Heading straight would take me to the opposite side of the store where I knew the customer had been shopping. Taking a right would take me along a segment of the tiled aisles that ran to the back wall. It separated two teeth of the back comb, but I had decided I wasn’t going to the back wall just a few seconds before.
It didn’t make sense for me to turn that way. But I did anyway.
Because the cart was there and I was being led right to it?
That’s what it felt like.
One of those heavily trafficked corners is used for rotating displays. The tooth along that side of the aisle is only about ten feet long, and it sits on the end toward the wall, which leaves a large open space for seasonal merchandise. The tables that were being used that day were about six-feet long, so they left a four-foot wide space between that merchandise and the end of the short tooth so customers could comfortably walk between them, and that’s where the customer’s cart was sitting.
It took me less than a minute to make my way from the front of the store to the cart. I practically walked right to it.
At least five people had been searching for the cart for nearly ten minutes. I felt kind of like Wonder Woman, even swooping by to help another customer in peril before I flew right to it.
It certainly made me wonder.
“I found the cart,” I called out over the radio.
The manager saw me pushing it along one of the tiled aisles, and since he knew where the customer’s friends were, he flagged them down, but the customer who had approached me wasn’t with them. The manager didn’t seem to be aware of that so he left as those customers grabbed the jacket and pulled out the wallet, but I felt like I needed to wait for the other man.
After a few more seconds, the man with the huge brown eyes found us, and he moved so he was positioned between them. He didn’t seem to know how to say thank you. He stared at me, nodding and smiling as everyone acknowledged that he was a lucky man. He reached out and shook my hand, but that didn’t match the intensity of his gaze. This time, I didn’t shy away. It seemed as if we were supposed to connect that way, as though we were acknowledging something that we both knew was remarkable, but we weren’t allowed to talk about it.
Then I turned away and went back to work.