Smoker's littering left her steamedby Sasha Aslanian, Minnesota Public Radio
She looked right at me for a split second as she dropped her cigarette to the parking lot and ground it out with her foot. Then, the well-dressed, middle-aged woman walked into the grocery store.
My daughter and I pulled up next to her car and got out.
"We should pick up her cigarette and put in on her car for her," I said to my 8-year-old daughter.
"I triple-dare you!" she said devilishly.
I reached down, grabbed the still-smoldering cigarette the stranger had taken a few puffs from, and clipped it under the wiper of her Mini. We tore into the store for milk and butter.
I confessed my butt vigilantism on Facebook.
"... saw a lady forget her cigarette in the grocery store parking lot after she stomped it out so we tucked it under her windshield wiper for her."
Sixty "likes" sprouted on my screen.
"I wish there was a 'love' button," wrote my friend Ali.
"I have to physically restrain myself from picking up the butt and handing it back to the person. 'Here, I think you dropped this!'" wrote Valerie. "So if you ever hear of me being attacked in a grocery store parking lot, you'll know what happened. ..."
Even the friend whose family owns the grocery store chimed in, asking what people are thinking when they dump entire ashtrays onto parking lots. As the owner's kid, she spent a lot of time cleaning those up.
Inside the store, the checkout lines were jammed up. A few lanes over, I could see the woman. She smiled vaguely at us.
I started to feel bad. What if she took the butt under her wiper as an antismoking message? It wasn't. My mom has smoked all my life. When they stopped equipping cars with ashtrays, she began carrying a small artichoke jar with a screw-on lid in her cup holder.
Mom's not a litterbug, but I asked her what goes through the minds of smokers.
"There was probably no receptacle," she said. "And she probably couldn't smoke in her car because her family's on her case for smoking." Mom said she sees a lot of people driving down the road holding their cigarettes out the window.
I mainly see those butts go flying in a trail of sparks, and wish I had an effective response. Honking and scolding might encourage more vengeful butt-slinging.
"I took my Girl Scout troop out one spring to do some clean-up — most of it was cigarette butts," wrote my friend Paula. "They DO NOT deteriorate!"
I paid for my groceries, hoping the lady was either way ahead of me, or way behind so we wouldn't reach our cars at the same time. I sent the 8-year-old out as a scout. What if the lady was waiting by my car, with nunchucks?
"She's gone!" my daughter announced.
I felt a wave of relief at avoiding a confrontation.
"You'd be busy in France, that's all I've got to say," wrote my friend Chris from France. "Cigarette butts like snowdrifts."
They're your lungs, people, but please, take the butts with you. Merci.
Sasha Aslanian is a reporter for MPR News.