Noah's Cart

A time Mother Nature wasn’t on your side...

Ben Hollman | 8/15/23

It was October 2009 when I graduated from college, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to start my illustrious career. It was also October 2009 when the U.S. economy hit its lowest point since The Great Depression. It was November 2009 when it sunk in that my empty resumé accounted for little more than a blank sheet of toilet paper next to the wave of newly unemployed veteran software engineers with decades of experience whom I was competing against, and December 2009 when I ran out of cash, swallowed my pride, and scored my first job out of school as a seasonal cart pusher for Costco.

It wasn’t all bad, I told myself. Plenty of exercise, idyllic southern California weather, they paid a respectable (back then) $16/hour, and after all, it was only for a month. A bit of easy pocket cash to keep me afloat while this whole “Great Recession” thing blew over, and maybe even afford a few Christmas presents for the fam. A way to, as I stated it, weather the storm. A statement soon to be soaked to the brim in irony.

The first week went well enough. The sun shone mildly, the temperate coastal breeze blew gently, carts were wrangled, new walking shoes and a bag of epsom salt were purchased, cordial conversations with coworkers over various nerdy pursuits were held, $2.99 chicken bake lunches devoured. As far as menial labor went, indeed, it really wasn’t all bad. Cathartic, even. I was losing weight and gaining a tan. Dare I say, I was having fun.

Then, on the first day of my second work week, it began to rain.

A Pacific coastal storm, nothing too crazy, no hurricanes, no tsunamis or tornadoes. Just a day or two of showers before it would pass, then a return to paradise. I didn’t mind it, really. It wasn’t cold, just a steady tickling of raindrops to help build character and pass the time. 

On the second day, it rained harder. Not a big deal, time to bust out my rain jacket and boots, though the boots never did fit me correctly and started to scuff after a while.

On the third and fourth days, it poured. The storm stalled, hovering dark and heavy like an alien mothership over our little patch of heaven. As it sat on us, fresh storm-stuff swept in from the tireless ocean, reinforcing and building its power. A proper Pacific winter storm, now. But those carts weren’t going to wrangle themselves, no sir, not during the holiday rush. I ended each shift soaked to the bone, but it would surely be over soon. Surely!

On the fifth, sixth and seventh days, it deluged. There were mudslides in the mountains, sinkholes in the cities, floods on the freeways, but the flooding was nowhere so bad as in the bottom of my boots. The jacket, the boots, the standard issue poncho, they did nothing. Water made its way into and under my clothes, snaking its way down my legs, pooling at my feet, squelching with every footstep. My poor, poor feet. It was hard enough on them to spend eight to ten hours at a time plowing the parking lot, but at the end of the day I’d remove the worthless boots and peel off my spongified socks, to reveal skin with a texture something akin to a PB&J sandwich that’d spent too much time squished at the bottom of your lunchbox, the heel scuffed down to nearly an open wound.

“This will be my claim to fame,” I thought, “the first recorded case of Trench Foot in the industrialized world since the Battle of Marne”.  To continue using the epsom salts was unthinkable. Spend even another minute with my feet soaked in water? Are you mad? By this point I’d given up on the boots. At least my walking shoes had drainage, so I could suffer comfortably.

On the eighth, ninth, and tenth days, it rained.

“A Once-in-a-Decade Storm”, they called it on the news. The Sun was a distant memory, washed away to some far shore. All sensation converged into various states of ‘wet’. Any hope I had that this would come to an end had long since drained out of me and was circling a nearby gutter, but the gutter was overflowing and refused to take it. I resigned myself to my new life as an aquatic mammal, determined to grow webbing and gills.

And on the eleventh day, it let up. The storm had finally worn itself out from beating us up. Yes, there was a rainbow, and no, I didn’t care. A colorful mockery of everything it had put me through. A week later it was Christmas, the management thanked me for my service, and my brief tenure at Costco, a third of which was spent underwater, had come to an end.

I’ve never been the superstitious sort, and wouldn’t expect the Earth’s climate to put itself on hold for the three weeks in time that I happened to have an outdoor gig. I can’t even say what I took away from the whole experience, other than a strengthened resolution to get a desk job.

What I can say, for a certainty, is this: Nature is not on your side.