It wasn't until I was halfway through checking out that I realized I'd have to fit three bags of groceries into two in order to walk home, and Fred Meyer paper bags don't have handles. Everything went fine with one stuffed bag under each arm as I waddled across the parking lot, but my arms were starting to go by the time I reached the public sidewalk. I veered left toward home.
The bridge across I-84 stretched out long ahead of me. I noticed that the guardrail was about the right height to rest the bags on and readjust. But as I made my way over, I felt more than heard the bag under my left arm start to rip.
It began to settle in that this was going to be an adventure. I started shuffling the stuff around between bags to lighten the load on the ripped one, but it was no good. That bag was finished. So I just tried to wrap up some of the bigger, lighter things in the shreds of the bag and hold it against my body while I carried the intact bag under one arm. I made it about 20 more yards, and then the jar of salsa rolled out of the dying bag and smashed on my shoe.
I put everything down. I was halfway home. My only choice was to jam everything into the one remaining bag, but I knew even as I tried that this would be at least a failure if not an outright catastrophe. The ice cream was melting, the spinach container was crushed, I had so many cans of beans and tomato sauce that the paper would surely disintegrate under the weight.
I considered places to stash some groceries — in nasty bushes next to the street — so I could hustle home with the rest, turn back, and retrieve my cache. But that was a desperate plan, and I didn't want to risk the food. Slowly, I began to despair.
But then a car pulled into the driveway right behind me and stopped. I heard the parking brake ratchet down. A man with curly black hair stepped out and went to open the trunk. "Do you need a bag?" he said.
"My god. Yes," I stammered. "Thank you. Yes."
He produced one paper bag — a Target one with handles — and one kind of grimy, blue fabric bag that I knew I could over-stuff. "Happy Halloween," he said, and he handed them to me.
My arms throbbing, my fingers fumbling as I repacked the bags, I thanked him again as he got into his car. The phrase "First World problems," a very hip and self-aware notion the elite like to use to congratulate themselves with a touch of self-deprecation, scrolled through my mind.
I watched the man who helped me pull out of the driveway and turn left without looking. I heard the blare of a horn and a screech of brakes. A car skidded to a stop inches from the driver's-side door protecting my rescuer. He must have been preoccupied thinking about his deed. I watched him peel off. The driver who almost hit him stayed still, stopped in the middle of traffic, for a while. I watched him, trying to see his expression. He must have been shocked.
After he drove away, I hoisted my new bags and carried them home. As soon as I put them down on the counter, the paper bag from Target fell apart, but by then I could laugh.