Some recent surgery had put Ralph on crutches. Regaining his strength, he sought to also regain some independence by getting out of the house a little more on his own. Ralph didn’t find getting around on crutches too difficult once he got the hang of it. However, it isn’t very easy to handle a shopping cart or carry your purchases while on crutches. He planned do his shopping with a, store provided, handicapped shopping cart.
As Ralph was coming up to the handicapped parking, he couldn’t believe his luck. Beside one of the empty parking spots was handicapped shopping cart. When he parked and opened his car door it was right there. It took no effort at all to get from the car to the seat of the rider. Not seeing an easy way of carrying his crutches on this particular unit, Ralph decided to leave the crutches in the car. The battery charge light on the handicapped cart was showing a full charge so he was confident that he wouldn’t need the crutches.
As Ralph left the sun warmed parking lot and entered the cooler temperature inside of the store, he felt the need for a restroom. His morning coffee had made the way south and was now pressing for a way out. In many of the modern department stores the restrooms are in the front of the store near the check-out lanes. This store was a much older version that had the restrooms in the back of store. This older design was more convenient for shoplifters but somewhat of a bother for the honest shoppers that just needed to pee.
As Ralph headed for the far side of the store for the restroom, his previously enjoyed good luck faded. The little light on the rider console started flashing. The bold print next to the light read, LIGHT MUST BE ON FOR NORMAL OPERATION. DO NOT OPERATE WITH LIGHT FLASHING. The first thing to go through Ralph’s mind was that, since he had to pee, this wasn’t to be considered normal operation.
Ralph stopped and looked about for the remote possibility of finding help. In the distance he spotted one of those vests that read, HOW MAY I HELP YOU? The trouble with this was that if Ralph could read the message then the store employee wearing it wasn’t looking his way so that he might get his attention. The message was on the back of the vest and the man seemed too far away to shout for help.
The light on the console had stopped flashing so Ralph continued toward the restroom. As soon as he started moving, of course, it started flashing again and the unit began to slow down. He was at an aisle intersection now and saw another vest to his left but some distance away. Ralph raised his hand to beckon her. He had no doubt that they made eye contact with each other and she saw that he was about to beckon for assistance.
She turned and walked the other way exposing the sign reading, HOW MAY I HELP YOU? Ralph thought that to be quite a coincidence being that he was about to answer that question for her. She took off at a double quick pace away from him.
Ralph’s need for the restroom wasn’t letting up. He thought about trying the cart again but then he didn’t want to give up his four-way vantage point if the thing died between two aisle intersections. Up ahead he saw another vest coming straight in his direction. He was about to be rescued… or not?
As soon as she caught sight of Ralph in the handicapped cart with a hopeful look on his face, her face took on a look of one in need of an escape. At the aisle intersection between them she took a right turn toward the back of the store. As she rounded the turn to make her run for it, Ralph caught glimpse of her vest reading, HOW MAY I HELP YOU?
By now Ralph was thinking that those vests should instead read, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN! That gave him an idea. He eased the cart back out of the intersection just enough that he could appear to be looking at the merchandise on the shelf next him. Then he spotted a vest coming toward him from the right.
Ralph continued to look interested in the merchandise until the vest cleared the last intersection coming his way. Then he eased across the intersection slowly while appearing interested in the merchandise on the aisle end-cap. When the guy was close Ralph looked up with a smile and said, “Hi!”
The rear of the cart was in his path but without missing a step or saying a word the vest sidestepped the cart and hurried around Ralph. (CATCH ME IF YOU CAN!)
“Whoa!” Ralph called out loudly to him before he could clear the intersection.
Shocked, the guy stopped and turned back toward Ralph. He was a young man probably still in his teens by look of the adolescent foliage on his face.
“I need some help. This thing stopped running before I got halfway across the store.”
“Uh… Yeah… But… but if I don’t get off of the clock I’m going to get yelled at for going into overtime.”
“Really? Well, if don’t get some help then somebody is going to get their ass kicked by a one-legged old man that has to pee so bad that it’s painful”
He looked at the brace on Ralph’s knee and then into his face to see how serious that he looked. Ralph wasn’t smiling. Then the vest turned and took off at a trot while calling out something unintelligible over his shoulder. (CATCH ME IT YOU CAN!)
By now, Ralph’s need for the restroom was urgent enough that if he had been stuck in the garden center instead of house wares then he would have watered a potted plant without hesitation. A set of a shining stainless steel pans caught his attention, where he was, and his mind wandered a bit. Nah… he knew that he’d better hold off a little longer. There was a box of pans on the shelf that had the seal broken. Just in case, thought Ralph, he put the box into his cart.
Another vest was approaching from the distance. As soon as Ralph, in his broke down cart, caught his attention the vest took a turn at the next intersection. There was no doubt that most of the store employees knew that the carts didn’t always work and they did not want to be bothered with them.
Ralph considered lying on the floor and faking a seizure. At least then he would have an excuse for pissing his pants. The trouble with that plan was that he would end up leaving the store on a gurney for a ride in the back of an ambulance.
Then Ralph had tamer idea. He laid his left arm on the steering wheel and put his head down on the left arm. He let his right arm hang unsupported beside him. This snare worked. In less than three minutes there was a voice close by and calling to him softly.
“Are you alright, sir?” Ralph felt a gentle touch to his shoulder.
With the most helpless facial expression that he could muster, Ralph slowly raised his head and looked into the concerned eyes of the woman whose name tag read Aimme. With feigned hesitation and confusion, he responded.
“This cart is broken down and I have to pee very badly. No one will help me. I don’t know what to do. I feel helpless and so embarrassed.”
“Do you want me to get the maintenance man over here to help you?”
“That might work if he could come very soon,” replied Ralph, “but maybe first you could go over to the sporting goods department and bring back one of those Coleman portable toilets for me. Just in case he takes too long, it would save needing to call someone to clean up the floor, too.”
The urgency took a more clear definition for Aimme. She had a two-way radio on her belt. Ralph listened to both sides of the conversation as the woman instructed the other person to bring a new handicapped cart right away.
“Bring one of the green ones,” she instructed. When the other person started to protest Aimmee cut her off.
“If you don’t have time to bring a cart then make time to call 911 as we won’t need the cart. This man is about to suffer an explosive hydraulic expulsion and the ramifications of that are more serious than you can begin to imagine. Do you want the responsibility for that?”
The reply was too meek for Ralph to hear but he was certain that cavalry was about to crest the hill. When Ralph first saw Aimmee’s name badge he was concerned the she was just another idiot as manifested by her parent’s inability to properly spell Amy. His attitude changed immediately upon witnessing her superb improvisation skills and hearing a vocabulary that had words in excess of two syllables. Satisfied that rescue was on the way, Aimmee put her attention back to Ralph.
“Okay, sir, let’s do what we can to close the distance between you and the restroom. We’ll try a combination of the cart power and I’ll push you at the same time.”
She leaned into the rear of the cart and Ralph pressed the FORWARD button. They moved slowly but the good news was that the cart was moving. Crossing the next aisle intersection the woman spotted another vest. She beckoned the other woman to also put her back into pushing the cart. It was a good thing because the power was nearly gone.
They had reached the back wall of the store and made the turn toward the restroom when Ralph heard the bugle sounding over his shoulder. The new cart zipped up alongside of him and he swapped mounts. He thanked Aimmee and told her that he owed her a hug but couldn’t risk it right now for fear of the she might be sprayed.
When he touched the FORWARD control this time it was like crawling out of 1965 Volkswagen Beetle and stepping down on a 1965 fastback V8 Mustang. This bugger would go. Ralph was at the restroom in no time. Entry was a breeze as the door was propped open by the trash can.
From inside the handicapped stall a cleaning woman looked around the petition at Ralph.
“The restroom is closed.”
“I’m very sorry but it just can’t be closed right now. Ma’am I really have to go.”
Probably the only thing that this woman had ever had any authority over in her life was the restroom and that had certainly gone to her head.
“No one is going to use this restroom until I’m finished!” The woman’s gravel-toned voice made Ralph wonder how many years she had been smoking.
There are people in this world that are simply too stupid to reason with. You have to out-maneuver them. In all of his urgency and panic Ralph did not miss the fact that this woman was in the handicapped stall and the door on that stall hinged outward. It was hanging at forty-five degrees to the closed position.
Ralph feigned concession and turned the cart around. The woman went back to her cleaning. Quietly, he eased the cart back until it touched the door and then he punched it a little. The door slammed and the inflexible cleaning woman was trapped.
Ralph pulled himself to his feet, unzipped and turned loose the source of his torture onto the floor. Inside the stall, the woman was screaming and roaring like a she-bear. You would have thought that Ralph had cub-nabbed her young.
Finishing up his business Ralph sat back down and punched the GO FAST button on the green Mustang. Over his shoulder he called out to the she-bear.
“Catch me if you can!”
With speed, skill and daring that would have made Steve McQueen proud; Ralph cornered the Mustang out onto the back wall aisle and didn’t let off a bit. The she-bear, in hot pursuit, cooled off at the first aisle intersection for lack of wind. Ralph laid the Mustang hard into the turn onto the main exit aisle without the slightest let-up in speed.
As Ralph came upon the exit doors, still at full throttle, they opened just an instant before he crashed into them. He came to a halt beside his car and abandoned the Mustang where he had found the broken down Volkswagen earlier. Ralph never returned to the store to give Aimmee the hug that he had promised her.