When I was a child, every shopping cart was made of metal. They were industrial things that were meant to take a beating, not to be replaced no matter how much they rattled over that one broken wheel, no matter how hard they pulled left against the straight line you needed to travel. Supermarkets sold ad space to realtors and lawyers on them. They weren't convenient and they weren't pretty, but they did the job.
As far as I knew at the time, shopping carts were safe.
There was a thing that we had to do, my siblings and I. To keep from getting separated in the store, the four of us had to keep contact with the cart at all times while my mom steered, four little hands hanging precariously onto the side. It was a game, almost, except that if we broke the rules we’d be in real trouble. The cart was the safe space in this game. Letting go was dangerous.
As far as I knew at the time, shopping carts were fun. Babies got to ride at the front, in the seat. I was not a baby, but if I was good I was allowed to ride beneath the cart bed. It was like a little cockpit, enclosed, propelled. I could pretend I was in a racing car, or a spaceship. I never once thought of it as a mouth.
This was so popular among children my age that the local supermarket actually added seats in the undercarriages to make it more comfortable. It was great.
One day, a friend of mine, riding in this way, holding tight to the sides, got her hand caught between the wheel and the wheel guard. It took a real bite out of her, breaking fingers, tasting blood.
The underseats were gone that week. I wonder if maybe her parents somehow got the number for a lawyer from somewhere... There was suddenly a new policy that children could no longer ride on the bottoms of the carts. We did anyway.
We didn't understand the warning behind that “accident.” We still thought the carts were safe, fun. Oh, how little we knew.
There are still metal carts today, of course but more and more of them are plastic, and most of those are the same bright red as my friend’s bloodied hand. They don't have to be built to last anymore, you see. We finally managed to push them too far, and i things keep going the way they have been, they won’t be serving us much longer.