Aldi quarter. I keep it in the console in my car and every Saturday, I grab it to use to rent a cart for my grocery shopping. Heading toward the cart corral, I usually run into someone who is returning a cart. Rather than taking a new one, I hand over my quarter to the friendly stranger in exchange for the cart he or she has been using.
That's how it works. Rarely does a shopper pick out a new cart. But rather, the exchange of grocery basket and quarter between two strangers occurs in the parking lot.
Here in south St. Louis, where I have lived all of my life, the diversity of our residents covers the four corners of the earth. A great deal of our city's growth has come thanks to minority populations. "My" Aldi is a gathering of nations. While, St. Louis is relatively segregated, Aldi is not. It is as culturally diverse as you might find, next to the farmer's market in Soulard. And, I love it.
My earliest memories include a desire to understand those who were different from me. Perhaps that desire grew from feeling very different myself. I was drawn to other children who looked different or sounded different or dressed differently that I did. The process of engaging others and learning about them at a very deep level seemed inherent and I enjoyed it beyond explanation. My pursuit to understand various cultures, religions, ways of thinking, and ways of life continues to this day. I pride myself on my ability to adapt and "do as the Romans do" when in new situations.
The slow Saturday walk through the narrow, product-filled aisles of Aldi, satisfies my need for that which is different. This past week, a Bosnian man with an adorable baby fidgeting in his arms gave me his grocery cart as I entered the store. I placed my quarter in his dry, work-worn palm, saying, "Thank you." He nodded and smiled. Later, an older, tiny Asian woman asked me to help her find a cut of meat. We did not speak the same language but she did know she wanted a filet. I reached to the top shelf and pulled some options from which she could choose. She selected a package and smiled and nodded her thanks to me. "You are welcome," I said returning the smile. Once I was in line to pay for my food, the lines stretched into the aisles. Children of many cultures begged their moms for snacks and toys in various languages and one little boy threw a temper tantrum. As we each left the store, we handed off our carts to the next round of shoppers who obliged us each with a new quarter to use next week.
Often I wonder how many hands my quarter has passed through en route to a trip through the grocery store. My Aldi quarter, quite possibly, has experienced more culture than most people. I also often think that if the world took a lesson from my south city Aldi, we would find more peace. Perhaps we spend too much time talking when words are not always necessary. We must return to the simplicity of the human experience. Nod. Smile. Pass along your cart to the next shopper.