In early November I was given the green light for crutches – a milestone in itself – which meant that I could finally drive to a store and climb onto one of the electric shopping carts. My first time, Wayne escorted me into the Winco in Medford and carried my crutches. The stores all have different styles of carts; some which run faster than others, and some offering more bells and whistles. They’re usually parked right in the front of each store like a livery. They’re plugged into outlets, and it’s your job to unplug them and stow the cord. Then, if you’re considerate, plug them back in to recharge when you’re finished.
There are several things all mobility carts have in common: they’re totally hand-operated. Since they’re electric, they start when you apply the throttle, and stop when you let go. Switching to reverse is announced by the same loud, annoying beep that trucks have, prompting me to shrink from the unwanted attention.
The experience of riding one also suggests that most supermarkets are in fact, infiltrated by zombies. The frequency of the glazed-eye, spaced-out shopper can be startling to someone traveling at the eye-level of an eight-year-old, creating somewhat of an obstacle course as they shuffle listlessly up and down the aisles. They don’t watch out for you (or anything), so the horn often comes in handy. But we live in Oregon, so for every zombie there are at least a half-dozen people who will offer to get something off a shelf that you can’t reach, or hold a freezer door open for you.
I’ve rated these in “carts,” with five being the highest. Some stores had multiple versions of the following carts, all seeming to operate at different speeds, so there’s a variance due to age, wear and tear, and of course, my own prevailing psychological condition at the time of my visit:
There are several different versions of this cart: The Amigo EZ Shopper, the Amigo ValueShopper, and The Amigo SmartShopper. I’m giving these four carts because of their all-round maneuverability and speed, although their consistency can be spotty. The Amigos turn on a dime in the middle of the aisle, allowing you to do a quick 180 to pick up something you forgot. (Watch out for those zombies, though.) There’s a reverse function with the annoying beep, and the horn has this same shrill alarm. The speed is controlled by thumb levers. Not too slow, but not so fast as to get out of control, knocking things off the shelves. These seem to be the most popular brand. Remember though, they’re rentals, and just like ski equipment, some may be in better shape than others.
Costco offers this extra-large version, enabling the rider to carry a heavier payload of groceries. The basket is much larger and the motor is bigger, although I did find that the overall speed was a bit slower. They have a cute little orange pennant flag on a pole at the stern, though.
This is the Home Depot version. It’s got the proprietary HD orange trim, and a really cool pole in the back with an orange light on top. The reverse-beep is loud enough to attract the attention of those shopping in the nearby city of Grants Pass. It also has a horn, and a safety function requiring the rider to lower the side arm rests in order to power the vehicle. But even with a fully charged model, the speed was less than satisfactory, moving me at a snail’s pace through a large, cavernous store.
Slowbi-Wan-Kenobi! You would think a slightly more upscale store might have something fancier, so I was disappointed by the sluggishness of this cart, along with the lack of attention by storekeepers. Although the Winco version of this cart is much faster, as is the Walmart version (yes, I do make the occasional foray into the dreaded WallyWorld as they seem to be the only store in this area that carries Topo Chico, the best sparkling water on the planet), I was puzzled as to why Fred Meyers’ were so slow, even when fully charged. Do they calibrate them to move at a more leisurely pace? Another friend of mine who has ridden the carts divulged to me that she’d often get stranded in the aisles of Fred Meyer when the battery power ran out before she finished shopping. Inquiries brought me a bemused, slightly suspicious look from the customer service agent. Also, appropriating an available cart from a wall-eyed, lounging Smartphone user was a bit distressing.
Whoo-hoo, hang on for this one! Shop n’ Kart in Ashland, and the next-door Bi-Mart offer this brand. These are both relatively small stores on a slope, so the Mart Cart is zippy, perhaps to adjust for riding back up the hill to return the cart. Our tiny corner of the Northwest may be susceptible to crime, but most places still let you drive a motorized cart out to the parking lot to unload your groceries. That said, the aisles in these stores are small, so getting the Mart Carts out of their cramped berths can be tricky. It took several bumps, grinds and a few minor bashes to get my cart moving, and the turnaround in the aisles often required a three-point turn. The tiller is the forward and back wrist movement type. Still, the carts themselves are power-movers, and a visit to the Mart Cart website proved them to be an upbeat, hip sort of company.
Another five carts for the FFL version of Mart Cart! Food For Less is a giant non-membership warehouse that covers several acres, giving me the chance to really open up the Mart Cart and see what she can do! The spiffy little yellow one I tested had the power to propel me through the gigantic aisles with the speed I prefer in warehouse grocery shopping: get those groceries and get out! I must say, of all the places I tested the carts and shopped, FFL is the only place that was a little scary. First, I had to go into a special “cart corral” to get one. Then I had to maneuver it out of the herd of other mobility carts, into the fray of shoppers who don’t seem to have the capacity to look where they’re going. The FFL Mart Cart maneuvered neatly and sweetly past packs of wandering zombies, through the checkstand and out the door in record time. Comes with a groovy orange pennant flag at the rear.