Katharine and I undertook the Big Holiday Shopping Excursion after work last night. We went to the Fred Meyer store about a mile north of my house mainly because they take American Express, the method of payment we wanted to use. Also we could get the groceries and wine and beer and a couple of household items all at the same time and become living examples of the “one-stop shopping” mantra spouted by stores such as these.
So we drove into the parking lot at about, oh, it must have been 17:00 or so. We’d both left work early because we’d reached decent stopping points for the day and it’s the holiday season, when thoughts turn as far away from work as possible. But anyway, I was expecting we’d drive into a Crush From Hell of last-minute shoppers, but since we’d be sticking mainly to the grocery aisles, I wasn’t too worried about it.
My worries were unfounded, because the parking lot was probably only half full and the inside of the store didn’t seem at all crowded. When we walked in, in fact, there were enough checkstands open that none of them had lines, which sight nearly caused us both to faint.
But we had some serious shoppin’ to do, so we recovered our wits and leapt headlong into the produce department. Katharine was The Bearer of The List and I was The Procurer of Items: Katharine would read an item off The List, I Sought and Obtained the Items, and Katharine Updated The List Accordingly. The roles interchanged a bit here and there, especially when Katharine pointed out I’d left such things as “a turkey” off The List and if an item wasn’t on The List I wasn’t allowed to buy it, but I overrode that declaration with my Absolute Shopping Authority.
So we rocked and rolled and had all the shopping done in about half an hour, and then we had to check out. I was expecting the lines to lengthen considerably as we shopped, but no, a few checkstands had much shorter lines, and I found us a line that had just one customer ahead of us. He had about $120 of wine, a small package of chicken, and four candy bars, so how long could it take the checker to ring up his order?
Turns out, A Damned Long Time.
Our checker was Julie, an aggressively inattentive woman about five feet tall with a hangdog expression and downtrodden mannerisms that swirled about her like an almost visible miasma. She was the type of checkout clerk who would repeatedly wave an item over the scanner window until she heard the tell-tale “beep!” of a successful scan; if no beep, on with the waving, and usually without adjusting the angle of the item or checking it to see if the bar code was even remotely pointed at the scanner window. It took her about 10 minutes to ring up the man’s six bottles of wine and several other items, by which time Katharine and I had unloaded our shopping cart onto the conveyor belt and Katharine was giving me “Nice line choice!” looks.
And then Julie started on our order and the hangdog expression lengthened further, and the woe-is-me miasma actually coalesced about her, obscuring our view of her face as she gazed at the stack of items approaching on her conveyor. And she sighed, a rattling slumped-shoulder sigh that tore out the heart of the world and stomped it into small pieces and, deciding its work was unfinished, picked up the remnants and tossed them in the fire to enjoy the horrible sizzling as the flames consumed.
All this before she’d scanned our first item, mind.
“Leave the heavy items in the cart,” she said. I think she said it, anyway. I didn’t see her lips move, but I heard those words from her general direction. I was in the act of lifting a tub of cat litter out of the cart and onto the conveyor, but I changed direction and slammed it back to the cart’s lower rack as the checker went on to tell me how all she needed for heavy items was the bar code to be facing her.
And on she went, waving items randomly over the scanner until the register finally caught the bar code. A few times she had a successful scan but continued to wave the item long enough for the scanner to pick it up a time or two more. I think she wanted to be absolutely sure! the items were rung up.
Katharine and I made small talk for a while. We talked about baking and about kitchen tools—I didn’t have a ricer, and we’d need one for the mashed potatoes, and who knew what other kitchen items we’d find lacking as we prepared dinner Saturday—but eventually we were struck silent as we watched Julie Hangdog in her checkout machinations. At one point one of her two sets of plastic grocery bags became detached from its dispenser rack, and rather than realign the plastic tab that would have held the bags in place so she could open them easily with one hand, she repeatedly had to put down items and futz with the bags to get the damned things open, and then she’d have to pick up the items again and futz with the putting them in the bags and then with the pulling the bags off and too many empty bags would come loose and she’d sigh.
The sighing was just earthshaking.
I was about this close to bumping her aside and ringing our items up myself, because even though my last regular retail gig was more than 10 years ago, I’m certain I could have rung up the entire order in a quarter of the time it took her. Also with the poor stacking of items, both within individual shopping bags and in the cart overall.
Note to grocery-store checkout employees: A 15-pound turkey does not go into the shopping cart immediately after, and on top of, the bag with a cucumber and cauliflower and the dozen eggs.
Finally the moment of payment arrived. But then we presented the coupons, two little coupons totaling $1.25 off our order—less than 0.5% of the order total—and the coupons had bar codes that made entering them just beyond easy, and still Julie emitted a soul-wrenching sigh when she saw the coupons.
And then I had my Fred Meyer Rewards card out, so Katharine would get a rebate or whatever that program does, and Earth was jolted in its orbit by the sighing.
And finally the American Express card, and the sighing actually stopped all visible light for a full two seconds.
I was signing the credit slip when Katharine pointed out the two bottles of wine on the counter behind Julie, where she’d set them to bag them individually. Julie issued one more sigh that sucked 20 years from our lives, and she turned to put the bottles in paper bags to protect them from the clacking together and handed those bags to me in a plastic bag and finally she cracked a thin smile and wished us goodnight, and we fairly ran to the car to load up the groceries so we could go have a drink.