Just Bread, Milk, Eggs.
“Not much sense in going all the way to
Daisy’s Food Mart for just eggs, bread, and milk,” Bob Ferrel
grumbled as he made a sudden right-hand turn into the Giga-Mart parking lot. What
with the price of gas these days, it was flat ridiculous to go driving all over
God’s creation when there was a brand new Giga-Mart only five minutes from the
house. Sharon refused to shop there. She claimed it was an abomination to turn
a perfectly good farm into yet another oversized grocery store. But as far as
Bob was concerned, anything that made shopping faster and more convenient was a
He found a parking spot, one that looked to be
more than a block away from the store entrance. Bob drove past it. A man his
age shouldn’t have to hike for miles just to buy a few small things. He
searched for a closer one by driving up and down the unbroken rows. Every now
and then he would see a car pull out of a space a row or two overbut by the
time he reached it, a shiny new SUV would be parked there and some young, muscular
person would be climbing out. Finally he gave up and drove back to the edge of
the parking lot. He took a space that was twice as far away as the first one he
It still wasn’t as much trouble as driving to
he told himself as he pulled his creaking
frame from the creaking car. The summer heat smothered him and roasted his
lungs. At Daisy’s he still would have had to park at the edge of the parking
lot, but the lot was much smaller and lined by shade trees. Still, the savings
in not driving so far was worth the extra discomfort.
And once he reached the sliding doors, he knew
he had made the right choice. A flood of air, glacial as a mountain stream,
tumbled over him. Daisy’s air was barely cool enough to keep the melons from
Just inside, he stopped.
His earliest memory, decades before, was of
the wonderful afternoon his mother had taken him to the most marvelous place on
earth, a store devoted to nothing but toys. Giant shelves stretching in all
directions held colorful boxes that whispered of great adventures. Reverently he
had walked up and down each aisle, in awe of the resplendent treasure. Never
again had he experienced such wonderuntil now.
Wide, clean aisles stretched back as far as
the eye could see, and pristine goods gleamed on either side. No shopper
staggered under heavy loads or had to push a cranky cart, for everyone had a
motorized cart with a huge basket on the front. Robotic arms reached from the
front of the baskets to lift goods from even the highest shelves, and it didn’t
even look as if the customers had to steer. This, Bob decided, was as close to
heaven as he could ever get.
And there wasn’t any obnoxious elevator music,
either. Heaven was a wonderful place.
A feminine voice purred at his side, “Welcome
to Giga-Mart. Please take this cart.”
Bob turned and saw no one.
“Please sit down. I will take you wherever you
wish to go.” The voice, Bob realized, came from one of the carts. Its video
screen flashed invitingly.
He slid into the padded seat. “I want eggs, bread, and milk.”
“Thank you,” responded the cart. It moved
smoothly forward. “Please do not reach beyond the perimeter of the seat while I
am in motion. I have been provided for you by Mastodon Entertainment.”
A cart with the voice of a sweet, young thing. Daisy’s was missing out on something good, Bob
thought as the cart slid down aisles of pastas, sauces, and canned vegetables. But
his smile dropped when they stopped in an corridor
bordered by bins of small plastic boxes. “What’s this?”
“Movies and music, all the
classics of the past and the future, distributed by Mastodon Entertainment.”
The mechanical arms unfolded. “Please state your selection.”
“My selection? I
didn’t come in for any of this!”
“Please state your selection, sir.”
He ground his teeth together and thought on
the stupidity of machines. “Look, all I came in for was bread, eggs, and milk.”
The console hummed, blinked lights, then said
with metallic regret, “I’m sorry sir, we do not have
the title Bread, Eggs, and Milk in stock. Would you like to pre-order
“No! I only came in for some groceries!”
“I’m sorry, sir, we do not have the title Some
Groceries in stock. Would you like to pre-order it?”
“No! It’s not like I even have one of those
Fancy- Dancy CD players, anyway!”
Apparently getting the message, the cart moved
on. A few moments later it stopped in an aisle of large brown boxes. “I’m
sorry, sir, but we do not carry the brand name Fancy-
Dancy CD Player. May I suggest the Giga-Mart Super-Saver
Model instead? The progressive scan, multi-format system plays all of the
following: DVD, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, DVD+R DL, DVD RAM, CD-R/RW, VCD, SVCD, WMA,
MP3, JPEG, MPEG-4, DivX, and XviD. The media slots
support a wide range of memory cards, and have 1080i upconversion
with HDMI. Would you like to hear more?”
Head swimming from all that alphabet soup, Bob
“Then shall I put it in the cart for you?” The
mechanical arms hovered in readiness.
“What? No! I don’t have the money to waste on
that sort of nonsense!” The tension in his jaw spread to a ring under his cap.
The console blinked. A second voice, this one
male and professional, said, “Please state your name clearly.”
“Please state your address clearly.”
The tightening band began to throb. Slowly Bob
counted aloud to six, then he asked, “Just what are
For could measure he continued counting to
Lights danced across the console. “I’m sorry,
sir, but there is no record of a Mr. What living at one-two-three-four-five-six
What Are You Doing, zip code 78910. Please restate your name and address, and
include your correct zip code.”
As bad as a telemarketer who called during
dinner. Bob crossed his arms. “No, thank you.”
“Which is your name, What
A telemarketer he could hang up on. “I refuse
to give you my name.”
The console blinked for several seconds,
apparently scratching its electronic head. “Sir, I cannot issue you a Giga-mart
Credit Account if you will not give me your valid name and address.”
The band now felt like a vice. “Look, dammit,
all I want is bread, milk, and eggs!”
A young mother with toddlers perched on the
arms of her cart sped past, and gave him a look of shock and disapproval. Her
basket was filled with groceries, though surgery cereals and candy
The feminine voice returned. “Would you prefer
a different sponsor for this cart?”
“I damn well would!”
“I’m sorry that I could not serve your needs
today. If you have any questions about this sponsorship, please call
1-899-555-4343, extension 1209. Have a good day, sir.” Lights and sound died,
and the cart stopped cold.
Now what was he supposed to do? Get out and
walk? An elderly lady sneered at him as her cart pushed past. She had cat food,
kitty litter, and a Karoke machine stuffed into her
cart. What a mess her house must be with all those cats crawling over her
counters after digging up the neighbor’s flowerbeds, Bob thought.
“Good day, sir.” His cart now spoke with a
young, male voice. “This cart has been provided for you by Clerkston
“Look, I just want...” Before Bob could
finish, the cart moved forward. He guessed it remembered his request, so he
settled back to enjoy the ride. They passed paper goods, car tires, fashion
dresses, and computers. Some aisles dead-ended into perpendicular aisles,
others curved back on themselves, and two ended at circular roundabouts. He was
completely turned around when they stopped before a display of lawn furniture
and garden utensils.
His headache returned. “Now, see here...
Ignoring him, the cart said, “Introducing the
new Stay-Put Leaf Pile Glue, the environmentally safe way to contain your leaf
piles! No more leaves blowing back onto your freshly cleared lawns! No more
piles spilling out into the street, to be ground to a mold-ridden dust that
will be tracked back into your home! Keep
your lawn and house cleaner with Stay-Put Leaf Pile Glue! Each can of Stay-Put
Leaf Pile Glue treats one hundred cubic feet of leaves. A necessity for every
household! Do not ingest, compost, or burn any leaf that has been treated with
Stay-Put Leaf Pile Glue, as high-heat and degradation may cause the chemicals
to convert to a highly carcinogenic form. How many cases of Stay-Put Leaf Pile
Glue would you like to buy today?”
“We don’t have leaf pick-up,” Bob shouted. “We
burn our leaves in a bonfire!”
The cart moved down the aisle.
“Introducing the new portable and completely safe, Indoor Electric
Bonfire! This faux fire is suitable for rooms of 2000 square feet or
more, and is easily...”
“That’s it!” Bob snarled, and climbed off the
cart. It continued to talk to itself as he stalked away.
There were no signs, and no order at all to
the store. Bob hiked from one side to
the other before he found the bread section tucked between plastic building
blocks and sewing notions. The eggs were in a refrigerated section next to the
prepackaged dinners, far to the back. The milk was somewhere in the middle, in
a case alongside refrigerated dog food. These three items in hand, Bob searched
for a straight aisle that led to the front of the store. He thought he found
onebut it ended in a wall of fishing rods.
With a sigh, Bob shifted the items in his
arms. They weren’t heavy, even for an old man like himself, but they were
awkward. A hand basket would be nice, but there weren’t any to be found.
Dasiy’s had hand baskets at the end of every aisle, he
remembered wistfully. Every straight aisle.
He turned right, in the direction that should
have been forward. Eventually he came to a corner, so he turned right again. The
chances that he would be going to the front were now good.
Bob found another corner. With a sigh he
turned right again. If the store was a giant rectangle, he would be headed
toward the front. But he was ready to believe that it was, in fact, a greater
polygon when an great expanse of glass windows and
check-out lanes came into view.
He paused to admire it.
“Hey!” shouted a voice behind him.
Bob turned to see a cart bearing down. Jumping
out of the way, he banged his hip into a stack of canned pumpkin. His groceries
slipped in his arms, and he lost the bread. It tumbled down and was flattened
by the rear wheel of the cart.
Looking at the crushed remains of the
loaf, and thinking of the long hike to find another, Bob
decided that Sharon could make do without the bread. He limped to the first
open check-out lane where he set his goods on the counter.
There was no clerk. A computer console blinked
“Hello?” Bob said. “Anyone
“Good day, sir” the console replied in a flat,
bored voice. Bob could imagine it doing its virtual nails. “May I summon a cart
“I’m trying to pay for my groceries. You want
the money, don’t you?” He pushed his eggs forward.
The console blinked rapidly. “I’m sorry sir. I
do not detect your cart, and therefore cannot verify your purchases. Please
select a new cart, and try again.”
“I have summoned a cart for you. It will be
here shortly. Have a good day.”
good day?” His headache boiled over, and came out in a
shout. “I’ve been pressured to buy worthless junk, lost in a labyrinth, and
assaulted by one of your carts, and you want me to have a
“Good Day Premium Dark Roast Coffee can be
purchased by the pound, the carton, or the case. Please inform your cart of
your choice after you have accepted your sponsoring offer. We...”
Bob turned and walked away, leaving the eggs
and milk on the counter. He paused at the door, looked back. The console was
still talking to itself. With a firm shake of his head, he went out to his car
and drove to Daisy’s Food Mart. Good old-fashioned, dependable, non-automated
Daisy’s Food Mart.
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