A la carte

Many of us carry fond memories around like snacks, ready to be retrieved and savored at a moment's notice. Personally, I haul mine about, as they are weighted with years of both inspiration and some regret. They are substantial, redoubts against the daily volleys of insipid, inane verbiage that passes as "news." It is called life's baggage and needs to be inspected before embarking on any new venture.

I first learned to haul things physical while working the graveyard shift at a Goodyear tire factory in Compton, Calif., while attending UCLA. I pulled flatbed hand trucks (carts) laden with a ton of tires each from the assembly line to trucks and boxcars, where I would unload my cargo in a pre-ordained pattern that maximized space utilization. Six nights a week I would huff, puff, groan and grunt to ensure that the rubber hit the road.

I began by pulling one platform cart, but soon doubled my capacity by simultaneously pushing another one. The floors of the factory were not all level and, at times, going downhill meant jogging between the two carts. A few times, when things got dicey, I would jump to one side just before the carts crashed together. The work paid well, kept me physically in shape, though I did pay a price by tending to nod off in the lecture halls. It seemed like the entire student body worked graveyard, for many students dozed as professors droned.

When we opened our revised version of Lithia Grocery on the Plaza in 1972, everything seemed so simple to our customers. Little did they know that the reason their meals appeared was due, in part, to my weekly trip to United Grocers every week. The particular outlet was called "Cash and Carry," and it summarized the shopping method. Again I pulled a hand truck down the many isles and loaded the numerous needs of a high-volume restaurant. Due to my experience at Goodyear, I maneuvered the cart with a dexterity usually reserved for Tango champions at a world competition. I would round corners with the flick of a wrist and needed only a few millimeters of clearance to sail past obstacles at speed, while the rest of the shoppers struggled and strained with the weight of their needs.

Recently I went to Costco, something I do a couple of times each year. While entering, I reached for a shopping basket, but was quickly redirected by my wife, Annette, to latch on to a flatbed hand truck, for she had a clear plan of purchase while I was along for the long haul. I offered to tote two, but she said one would do.

As you all know, once you learn how to ride a bicycle, you never forget. In a similar vein, once I grabbed the cart, the dance was on. I took off like a mad lynx and slithered and swirled down the myriad aisles like a ballroom dancer, spinning while I loaded and striking the occasional pose. The wide-eyed, non-plussed and perplexed gaped at the exhibition, but to me it was an effortless example of form and function.

As we exited and headed through the parking lot, I became inclined to believe that the asphalt was not level, for the cart pushing soon became ponderous and my breathing somewhat labored. Unlike Ashland, nobody stops for pedestrians at Costco; such is the frenzy induced by the prospect of bulk purchasing. I sprinted with my cargo between racing cars, varying speeds frequently and even skidding to a stop or two when clearly outgunned.

Back at home, after unloading the last of the load and stocking the larder, I sat down and thought of the many years I have pulled or prodded merchandise or ideas down the road of life. I smiled, then laughed at the day's waltz and the dazzled stares that accrued to my a la carte shopping.

(Lance was last seen doing a foxtrot with a rototiller and will appear on the garden dance floor again, as soon as winter wilts. You have a carte blanch to reach lance at lance@journalist.com, don't ya know.)

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