Monday, August 31, 2009

The Physics of Costco

I've been in Costco twice in the last couple of days to get supplies for the Star Party. Everyone who comes gets a free five-gallon jug of mayonnaise and we're raffling off a case of 800 mini-quiches.

Not really. It's just for soft drinks. You guys can get your own eight-pack of hair gel.

But I love going into those places, just to watch. Because everything is in bulk, people shove these giant overstuffed carts around. The backstories you can build by watching a 5'2", 95-lb elderly woman balance a month's worth of bacon and 200 yards of garden hose on a 52" plasma TV will keep you in giggles all the way home. Try it.

Still, today wasn't about stories. Today was a harsh lesson in basic physics.

There was a standard shopping cart filled to overflowing. I didn't inventory what was in there, but what I noticed was meat-based. The 20-something woman pushing it was a little heavyset, but nowhere near the equivalent of the cart. She was clearly frustrated in dealing with this quivering food mass.

She starts pushing, and it moves. She keeps pushing, and it moves faster. Faster. Faster. She was a woman possessed. Got the thing up to about a slow jog or medium mall-walk.

I'm no physicist, but I do have a minor in physics and a passable amount of familiarity with how inertia works. There are a lot of ways this cart can stop, almost all of them hilarious.

She had aimed well, but apparently forgot that she has to stop so the Costcestapo can check her receipt. (My least favorite part about Costco. How am I going to fit a 55-gallon drum of milk in my jacket anyway? Where's the trust?)

The poor girl tried to stop. She could have done it with a little more of two things: friction and upper-body strength. She actually slid for a couple of feet before the cart tore loose from her hands. Then everything else froze as the cart trundled out the door and into a concrete column. The top 20% of the contents slid to the sidewalk.

It was hard not to laugh. At least, I think it was hard not to laugh. I didn't try. But it could have been tragic -- that cart could have hit a child or someone in a wheelchair. Or my car.

Okay, the wheelchair would have been kind of funny.

All was well. When I walked out, she was trying to rebalance everything in her cart as the CostCop ticked things off her receipt. No lasting harm done, and she learned a basic principle of the universe that she should have picked up in high school -- and she wasn't the first: that was a well-scuffed column. Some people just have to see things in action.

I hope all of you reading this can take a little something from this. Always be aware of your surroundings at Costco. Being mowed down by 450 pounds of yogurt cups and dishwashing soap would be a hila-- horrible way to die.


Artful Dodger said...

And what will you do with the eight-pack of one gallon jars of Vicks Vaporub?

The Man Version said...

Oh man. I am apparently allergic to Vicks VaporRub - which I didn't realize until Maria had slathered it on me when I had a cold. Thought I was going to pass out before I could get into the shower to wash that crap off.

If there is ever eight gallons in my house, it means I am dead and Maria most likely did it. I will trust you folks to avenge me.

Carolyn said...

My Mister teaches science. We also have a dog. It never ceases to amaze him, or me, that a canine has a better intuitive sense of physics than a person does.