The Daily Heller: The Abandoned American Shopping Cart

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In 2008 I wrote about artist and designer Julian Montague’s comprehensive taxonomy of The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America, an incomparable documentation of this common fixture of the urban landscape that “helps us see the natural and man-made worlds—and perhaps even ourselves—anew.” Montague created a detailed classification system for identifying and cataloging an archeological category we did not know we needed.

Abandoned shopping carts are everywhere, and yet we know so little about them. Where do they come from? Why are they there? Their complexity and history baffle even the most careful urban explorer.

Montague writes: “The resulting Stray Shopping Cart Identification System consists of two classes and 33 subtypes that can be used singly or in combination to describe and thereby ‘identify’ any found cart. One of the unfortunate difficulties in implementing a situational taxonomy of this kind is that one is often required to speculate about where a cart is coming from and where it is going next. While this uncertainty can at times be vexing, it must be remembered that this system is the first attempt to categorize and analyze the transient nature of the shopping cart. The refinement of this system is an ongoing process.”

If you missed the first foray into this mysterious cart world, a revised edition is currently available. I will assert with certainty that once you’ve delved into the intricacy of this arcane system you will be engrossed by its curiously hypnotic powers and Montague’s magnificent obsession. You will never think of shopping carts the same way again.

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