Near and (Sort of) Afar - by: Monica Groth-Farrar

Because my about-to-expire frequent flier miles didn’t add up to a plane ticket, I redeemed them on magazines I ordinarily wouldn’t read.  While People informed me “What Ashley Tisdale(1) Ate in a Day (Snack: Peppered salami and ½ cup strawberries) and News China piled up in my recycling bin, I also lucked into Afar, a gorgeous travel magazine whose pages I’d rip out to use for wrapping paper.  A few months into my subscription, though, the exotic got redundant.  I was restless sitting on my South Side pink toilet perusing “The Island on the Edge of the World,” but without a boarding pass where within walking distance could I go to get my wanderlust on?  

My answer: Aldi.

Pulling into the parking lot of the German-owned Little-Store-that-Could (Save You Lots of Money) on Gravois Avenue practically feels like pulling into a different country.  It’s a place where grocery carts connect peacefully together thanks to the ingenious chain-and-quarter design that inspires shoppers to return them so they don’t wind up in the cemetery across the street.

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It also unfortunately eliminates the paycheck of a teenager whose job it would be to collect the carts, but I’m hopeful that kid gets hired at Bread Co or Ted Drewes, because it’s not just the carts that connect at Aldi: it’s the shoppers.  A stoic guy in Adidas sweats trots toward a Vietnamese lady pushing her empty cart waving at her with a quarter in his free hand.  The two meet over the Rent-a-Cart, nod with no nonsense, and for a moment, fulfill each other’s needs.  These carts don’t just move merchandise.  Sometimes they move hearts.

Once, I returned my empty cart and an older African-American gentleman met me halfway, digging his hands in his pockets with an increasingly worried look.  If there’s one downside to Aldi carts, it’s that they don’t accept nickels.  I told the guy to keep his change and released the cart.  He gave me a brilliant smile with remarkably straight teeth (in retrospect, dentures).  Driving away, I felt relatively happy with myself until a wrinkled white gal in a big Cadillac laid on her horn and gesticulated wildly for me to roll down my window at the Kingshighway stoplight.  Expecting her to berate me for cutting her off or some other imagined slight, I complied, having been raised to respect my elders, even the crazy ones.  She wagged her bent finger at me and said in a cranky tone, “You’re a very nice lay-dee.”  

Apparently, she had observed me giving the man my cart.  See what travelling around the Lou can do for you?


(1)=If only People profiled what Brian Dennehy ate in a day, a menu I suspected pound for pound had way more entertainment value than Ashley Tisdale’s strawberries.