Please welcome today’s guest writer, Sam Tuit. Sam graduated from Calvin in 2021 with a degree in film and media. He enjoys working as a sound tech, making food for friends and family, and thinking about the stories our culture is telling.
On an early spring afternoon, I set out to get groceries. All my supplies were gathered: my shopping list (I am prone to forgetting what I need) and enough reusable bags to carry everything. To my dismay, it wasn’t until I arrived that I realized I had forgotten a vital item—my Aldi Quarter.
The Aldi Quarter didn’t come into my life until a few years ago when my family started shopping at a new grocery store (which will remain unnamed). Sure, there had been change rattling around the car’s center console, but it was usually dimes or nickels—not anything with as hefty a monetary value as the twenty-five cents carried by a quarter. The Aldi Quarter now lives in a specific slot in my parents’ car, eagerly waiting for someone to make the weekly grocery run when it will be used as a deposit to get a cart. (The store in question can pay workers more because they don’t have to do stuff like gather up loose carts from the parking lot)
When I started getting my own groceries last year, I spent a few weeks shopping at different stores before settling on the same place. There were a few reasons. I was able to pick up everything I needed for around thirty bucks, and it also allowed me one impulse purchase a trip without breaking the bank. Although the tea selection left something to be desired, there was a familiarity in seeing packaging I recognized from my parents’ house, and there was also a connection to fellow shoppers in a way I didn’t expect.
As I walk up to the doors, if someone’s putting away a cart I’ll offer to trade my Aldi Quarter for it and the quarter they used as a deposit. Often, they’ll readily accept. The Aldi Quarter is always in motion, and I usually leave with a different coin than the one I arrived with. Once a woman who didn’t have a quarter insisted on handing me exact change for my cart even as I offered it to her free of charge. Once, when I forgot my quarter, an exiting patron offered me their cart without worrying about the change. These interactions don’t happen anywhere other than this store’s entrance, where they are made possible because of the need for the Aldi Quarter.
In a pandemic year, these scraps of human contact were all the interaction with strangers that I got. It was more people in one building than I usually saw, and even though I had no idea who my fellow customers were, it was nice to know there were still people who got groceries. We were all in the store together, most of us following the path of arrows marked on the floor.
After a few times forgetting a quarter, which meant having to take a trip home, I started carrying around my Aldi Quarter in my pocket. As well as making sure I didn’t forget it when I went to get groceries, it was a good fidget. Sometimes, as I played with it, I would wonder where my first Aldi Quarter was. Did the first person who had it have a designated place in their car for it? Did they bring it back the next grocery run, maybe pass it on to someone else? Or was it, for them, a piece of change like any other?
I’m back living with my parents for the moment, meaning I don’t carry my Aldi Quarter in my pocket all the time anymore, but I know that when I leave and am once again in charge of my own groceries, it will become a mainstay of my pocket again. At least until it ends up with someone else.