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First, let me stipulate: I'm a big fan of Food City.

I like how they sometimes take generic hamburger buns, load them with sliced turkey and package them beside the hummus in the deli case. It's low-brow, but right down my alley.

I also like that they stock vine-ripened, Grainger County, Tennessee, tomatoes in their produce department.

Too, I like that their packaged hamburger meat usually weighs in at a little less than a pound, which is just the right amount to make three, good-size patties.

There's something unpretentious about the Virginia-based grocery chain that just feels comfortable to me: from the '80s Top 40 music (well hello, Mr. Mister) to the speedy checkout clerks.

I've also noticed that the managers at Food City are often middle-aged, which makes me think it's a good, stable place to work. I interviewed the president of the chain once, and he was extremely nice.

I even enjoy Food City's old-school advertising jingle, with a twangy women's duet singing: "Value every day, Food City." It has a retro vibe that sounds like it's right out of midcentury AM radio.

I volunteer to do most of the grocery shopping in our family because I find my trips to Food City relaxing. Plus, it helps me toward my goal of logging 8,000 steps a day.

Recently, though, I had an experience that was quite bizarre. In fact, it was almost as strange as the time my wife accidentally hugged a man from behind (thinking it was me) in the checkout line of a Bi-Lo supermarket (Food City's predecessor).

A few days before Christmas, I stopped by my neighborhood Food City to pick up a few dozen items, including hamburger patties, cheese cubes, Bomb Pops, pretzels, frozen pizza, milk, Cheez-Its, Mayfield ice cream — snacks for our two still-growing young men at home.

About two-thirds of the way through my shopping, I parked my cart on the aisle with the dish soap (I think?) and circled back to pick up some hamburger buns on the other side of the store. I even remember squaring up the cart near the shelves so it wouldn't block traffic while I was momentarily gone.

I was only away for about five minutes, but when I returned my cart was missing.

"Hmm," I thought. "There are three possible explanations here: dementia, theft or space aliens."

At first I thought I was misremembering where I left the cart, and so I started to systematically walk down every aisle. By the time I made two complete passes of the store, I realized that my half-full cart was not going to materialize.

The next phase of my search was a little trickier. I decided that another customer had probably taken my cart thinking it was theirs. I've actually pulled that trick myself a time or two.

This triggered an awkward 10 minutes when I was walking through the store peeking into everyone carts. I learned that people do not like you to look into their cart. It invades their dietary privacy and makes them think you are a weirdo. Asking, "Did you happen to take my cart," does not help the situation either.

After another 10 minutes of this, I was about to lose my mind.

I actually thought about leaving the store and starting over at another location, but I couldn't bring myself to give up. So I approached two managers who were stocking shelves and told them my problem.

"Excuse me, my cart just disappeared," I said, lifting my arms and knitting my fingers behind my head as if I were surrendering to authorities.

"Let us look," one of the managers said, and they walked off briskly in opposite directions.

Minutes later, they returned. They apologetically explained that a Food City employee, thinking my cart had been abandoned, had restocked all of the perishable items and left the others near the checkout to be returned later.

D'oh!

So, while I was frantically looking for my cart, another person was putting away my groceries. Well, at least I wasn't crazy, I thought.

I would like to take this moment to coin "Kennedy's law," which will state that: Two humans, moving with resolve inside a retail store, might not encounter one another.

Every parent who has chased a lost child around a Walmart knows this phenomenon. A busy supermarket is like a corn maze during a third-grade field trip.

There's a first time for everything, and this is a first time I've ever completely lost a shopping cart. It took me a few minutes to restock my cart, but I got a story out of it. No harm done, and I logged a few more steps.

The silver lining is that it wasn't dementia or space aliens. Although Bomb Pops do look like little rockets.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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