The Handicapped Lane


(photo by Cameron Russell)

I had never used the handicapped lane at Shoprite or any other grocery store before. I thought it was off limits to me, but the young cashier beckoned me, “Come on, I’m open.”

“Oh, I thought it was only for the handicapped. Well, I guess I fit in if you include the mentally handicapped.”

She smiled, her long brown ponytail swinging like a pendulum.

“It’s a guideline, but other people use it all the time,” she said.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I said.

I unloaded my groceries quickly in case real handicapped people showed up and needed the lane. It was Friday night, not a very busy one at Shoprite.

“Paper or plastic?” she said.

She had prepared a couple double bags, paper inside plastic.

“That’s fine,” I said, “or all plastic.”

I know it’s environmentally un-PC, but I need them for cleaning the kitty litter boxes.

Behind me was a heavy couple in flannel shirts and overalls who didn’t appear to be handicapped either.

They glanced at me as if to say, “You don’t belong here, imposter.” Perhaps I was being paranoid.

I wondered what their handicap was.

The handicapped lane was a lonely one, I would imagine, especially for the cashier.

I wondered how many people used it on a daily basis.

Are there other shoppers who never use it for fear it’s off limits to them too?

I try to only use the express lanes when I have the requisite number of items, but I’ve gone over by at least a couple items at times. The express lane cashiers have never beckoned me. Perhaps they’re less lonely; they seem to be an insular group, and chatty.

Express lane vs. handicapped, fast vs. slow, efficient vs. wobbly or more deliberate.

More express customers than handicapped ones, I suppose.

Does fast always win?


Panic in ShopRite

blog for mental health

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”
–Tallulah “Lulu” Stark

shoprite at night 2pill-bottle
photos: Erica Herd

The problem with being in a hurry or multitasking is that you lose things. For example, I lost my meds in Shoprite last night. At least I think I did. I don’t know where else they could be. I keep the bottle in my purse and take a pill every morning at the office after breakfast. Today they were gone. They could have fallen out of my purse in the car—still have to check tonight—or in the parking lot. Maybe my cats incorporated them into The Hide & Retrieval Game, which consists of shoving various objects, such as paper balls, toy mice and keys under the sofa, stove, and dishwasher. Then they go about the business of retrieving the objects, reaching their furry arms under the furniture and appliances and sometimes getting them stuck! That’s where I come in. Judging by the dozens of paper balls, toy mice, rubber bands and paper clips I find when cleaning behind the sofa, their retrieval attempts have not been very successful.

You might ask what kind of meds I lost, and why don’t I simply call my doctor for a refill. Well, I could. The pills are of a delicate kind, not your garden variety blood pressure medication, migraine pills or acid reflux reducers. They are of a psychotropic nature, something one might want to keep private, especially in a small town. I have long abjured medication of this nature, as I witnessed my mother’s life-long relationship with psychotropics that seemed to do her little to no good; I always thought that taking pills was the sign of a weak mind, and that wasn’t me.

My first panic attack in New Jersey occurred in ShopRite. When we first moved to NJ from Astoria seven years ago, I was unaccustomed to the vast aisles of food and frenzied shoppers. Why the frenetic energy and so many scowls on suburban faces? It made Key Food in Astoria seem downright mellow.

First the attacks came on once a month, then once a week, then they escalated from every other day to almost daily. Enough! I’d wake up with one and could barely get dressed for work—a sense of dread overcame me, clammy hands, palpitations. I was diagnosed with “panic disorder.” And yes, the “crazy” gene seems to run in the family. My maternal grandmother was a “nervous” person and endured electroshock treatments back in the day.

Of course I can call the doctor—actually the nurse practitioner—for a handful of pills to tide me over till my appointment on Saturday, but I wonder if she’ll think I sold the “missing” pills. Probably not, but I wonder. The stigma still exists around people dealing (I don’t like to say “suffering,” sounds weak) with mental illness. Too bad we can’t treat it like a physical condition or disease that simply requires chemical intervention. We aren’t living in that world yet.

Back to ShopRite and the search for meds. My husband works an earlier shift than me, so he went to ShopRite and asked, but no dice. It could be: (a) I didn’t lose them in the store, (b) I dropped them in the parking lot, (c) another shopper found them and kept them, (d) another shopper found them and threw them in the trash (see my earlier post, “Runaway Shopping Cart”), or (e) none of the above. Hopefully they are on the floor of the Pathfinder or under the sofa and the cats are having a ball.

Well, there you go, I found them in the passenger’s seat of my car. Thank goodness for small blessings, and meds.

To learn more about the Blog for Mental Health 2014, please visit A Canvas of the Minds. With your help, we can continue the path towards de-stigmatizing mental illness.

Runaway Shopping Cart

shopping cart 2shopping carts

photos: Erica Herd

A few months ago, I was in ShopRite one night after work. My husband Lorin waited outside in the parking lot. I made my purchases and called to let him know I was waiting outside so he could pull the car up. We were loading up the car and one bag remained. I turned around, and the cart had vanished. At first I thought it might be one of the over-eager teenage cart wranglers who didn’t notice the bag. Then I wondered if someone had actually stolen the bag of sodas—two 4-packs of Boylan’s, one pack of root beer and one of cream soda—made with cane sugar and no corn syrup—Lorin’s favorite. Why would anyone steal 8 bottles of soda, though? Maybe they thought the bag contained more precious cargo, but wouldn’t it have been obvious at first glance that it was soda? I thought, it’s okay if it’s someone poor or homeless or a family of 8. At least they would have some delicious beverages to drink, made without high fructose corn syrup, one of our nation’s ingestible evils, responsible for obesity, autism, cancer, liver disease, tooth decay and even Alzheimer’s, because it isn’t fully metabolized by the body. Our soda was saving lives!

Lorin thought differently, though. He said, “Someone grabbed your cart because they were in a hurry.” In such a hurry that they would grab the nearest cart at hand and not notice the purchases inside? He said, yes, and added, “they wouldn’t care.” In my naiveté, I could not imagine someone grabbing a cart containing a fellow shopper’s groceries and not returning the cart immediately upon realizing what they had done. So they take our sodas and keep shopping, I asked. No, he said, they’d dump the bag out first. Have we, as a society, sunk so low? Forget world peace.

When it dawned on me that what he was saying could actually be true, I became incensed and wanted justice. That’s the Libra in me. Lorin locked the car, and we stormed the “Customer Care” desk, telling the young woman manning the desk what had happened. I pulled out the receipt and circled the Boylan’s soda entries. She made an announcement over the PA, “Shoppers, please check your cart for a bag of groceries that isn’t yours, and return it to the Customer Care desk.  Thank you.” No one came. Then I asked to speak to a manager, and told him the story. I asked if we could get a refund, a total of $7.38. It wasn’t the money I cared about, it was the principle of the thing. The manager said that that ShopRite wasn’t responsible for purchases once they left the store. So I could be shot as I exited ShopRite , and they wouldn’t be responsible for bodily harm to my person (I realize I’m not a purchase, so that makes sense) or to my grocery items that might get caught in the crossfire, say like a quart of milk riddled with bullets? Some policy. Lesson learned. I will never turn my back on a shopping cart again.