Until I injured my knee playing tennis a month ago, I used to be one of Bend’s FitBit People. Now I’m a temporary member of the sedentary class. I know that some of the folks you see riding motorized scooters around big-box stores really need them. When I was 33, I was diagnosed with M.S. and for the first 2–3 years thereafter — when the disease was wreaking havoc on my energy level — I could have used a scooter or a wheelchair at times. But I could never bring myself to use one because I didn’t want people to look at me — a seemingly healthy, young person — and think I was a lazy shit who couldn’t be bothered to walk around the store.
In spite of this personal experience, I can’t help but sometimes transfer this bias onto others I see gliding around stores in these things. My sneaking suspicion is that perhaps as many as half the people who use them are lazy, not sick, handicapped or injured.
The industrialized world is now more sedentary than ever. A 2012 study led by professors from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil concluded that 43% of Americans, 35% of Europeans and 31% of the world’s total adult population are now almost completely sedentary. And researchers estimate that the average American spends more than half of their waking hours sitting on their asses — a dismal reality that also has dangerous health consequences.
Before my knee injury, I charted my steps, flights climbed and calories burned with my FitBit each day. Now I’m supposed to be staying off my feet so the less steps I take the better. Even so, when my wife suggested I ride around Lowe’s in a motorized scooter the other day, I laughed. Me in a scooter? Hell no! But my knee was hurting, and with my massive, clunky brace clearly visible, surely no one would begrudge me a ride around the store, would they?
I quickly realized that I liked the scooter. I really liked it. It was fun to zip up and down the aisles of this cavernous store — and I especially liked backing up because the Lowe’s buggy emits a loud beep, as though you’re a human 18-wheeler backing into a garage. I didn’t encounter any of Bend’s FitBit people and store employees scrambled to move things out of my way as I moved about the store. My only complaint was that the thing topped out at about 15 mph. I wanted to go faster.
At the checkout counter, I asked the cashier if anyone could use the scooters.
“Of course, anyone can use them,” he said.
“You don’t have to be sick, or handicapped or have some sort of injury?” I asked.
“Not at all. Some people just don’t want to walk the store.”
I was hooked. Perhaps I’d been making a big mistake walking around stores my whole life, when I could have been riding in comfort, if not in style. Perhaps I should join this worldwide movement of sedentary people?
But my mechanized scooter honeymoon was short-lived. I rode one at a Safeway, where I encountered more of the FitBit Bend demographic, and felt like everyone was staring at me — and not in a good way.
A few people shot me looks of complete condescension — what the fuck are you doing in a scooter looks. A couple of women gave me pitying half-smiles. One teenage girl looked at me and started laughing. Seriously. I needed a sign that said, “I’M NOT JUST LAZY, I SWEAR!”
After I ordered my coldcuts at the deli counter, the woman put a pile of ham in a bag and then said, “I’m not sure if you can stand up, do you want me to toss this to you?” Um, no, I don’t want you to throw my coldcuts at me, thank you very much. And in the checkout line, a man behind me huffed and seemed visibly annoyed that my scooter was momentarily blocking him from placing his items on the conveyor belt behind mine.
The world of motorized scooter shopping — I found out — isn’t nearly as enjoyable as I had first thought. At this point in the story, I should probably lay a small bit of wisdom on you. Something I’ve learned while becoming a temporary member of Bend’s Sedentary Class might hit the spot, right? I probably should stand up for all of my fellow scooter shoppers and tell you — yes, I’m talking to you, you judgmental bastard — not to pass judgement on us.
The truth, according to me, however, is more complicated. I still believe that some of these scooter-shopping-folks are lazy bastards and could stand to walk and burn a few calories. But that doesn’t mean we should laugh at them, or throw coldcuts in their general direction.