Remembering the Gen X Shopping Cart aka Buggy

Came across an article today about the “generation wars” between the shopping cart. Here in Pittsburgh, we tend to call them ‘buggies’ but that’s a geographic distinction. It seems the smaller, lightweight carts are being labeled ‘Millenial Shopping Carts’ as opposed to the tradition deep basketed carts we are most familiar with.

And that makes me think … is there a Gen X shopping cart? If so, would it be the one I most remember from my own 70s/80s childhood shopping adventures? Neither of the above; I’m talking about the big bulky rectangular carts with the fold down end panel and a huge amount of space on the bottom for kids to ride, er to put the bulky stuff.

As a Gen Xer myself (born 1970), I spent countless hours taking ‘my turn’ underneath the mammoth overhang of the cart OR clutching the side waiting for my turn while my mum admonished me not to tip it. Or unlatch the end panel. And no trip to the store was complete without being ejected toward the end for the super size pack of paper towels, large box of laundry detergent powder, and a bag of dog food.

Yes, most of us bought grocery store dog food in the 80’s.

More importantly, many of us spent hours of our time engaged in these rituals when we were young enough to be dragged to the store by our parents, that sweet phase between actual toddler and free range, latch-key child old enough to be home. Many of us endure more forced shopping because we had to help load and unload the car with brown paper bags.

I loved buggies. They were huge and made a satisfying (passive-aggressive?) clang when you shoved them into things like other carts or displays of canned goods. Grocery shopping in that time frame was typically not an inclusive sport because our opinions were not sought and our whining to buy anything extra was always met with a resounding “No, go get the egg noodles.” So anything that added a little excitement to the experience was a welcome distraction.

Shoving your fingers into the cart openings to see when you got stuck or until the indentations in your skin were really quite red. Finding just the right angle to cling to a buggy pushed at brisk no-nonsense mum pace so it was fun, but avoiding collision with other buggies, displays (see above), and the wrath of a sibling who wanted their own turn. Fighting with those siblings to unload the cart at the check-out counter so you could be the one to unlatch the end panel. The thrill of getting a turn to push the buggy so laden with generic items that you intuited many physics lessons trying to steer without careening out of control and being forced into the walk of shame – next to the cart, hand on the cart (not between the wires), and keeping a pace set by a pretty pissed-off parent.

The modernized deep carts do hold more items and reduce very-real safety hazards for children of the modern era, but for short people like me (5’3″), they are an issue sometimes. So I do like the smaller buggies. I don’t love baskets because they are bulky. These newer ones remind me of the big bulky experience without the trauma.

Each time I’ve written about grocery shopping, those big buggies come to mind. I was this many years old when I learned that they are technically described as ‘jumbo OTC carts’ hearkening back to a day when check-out registers were a big higher and the cart would line up at the front end, the flap was unlatched, and the groceries careened onto the belt in a smooth, efficient manner. This was when every line had a bagger who had another similar sized buggy at the other end of the belt ready to whisk our neatly packed provisions into an orderly, easy to unpack conclusion.

But I honestly never before considered that those Millenials were destroying our shopping experiences with these smallish carts. Or that the carts were associated with Millenials. So I researched the history of shopping carts – you are welcome – and came up with this handy reference chart:

Technically the Millenial cart I describe was the OG grocery cart (Boomer carts?) minus the telescoping back panel that allowed for folding and nesting. So it is really one style with lots of modifications and improvements.

The OTC cart stands alone, relegated to the back storerooms of grocery stores everywhere until they are dismantled and recycled, lost to the memory.

Sound familiar?


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