The check-out process at the grocery store is a very stressful event for me. That’s because I treat it like a competition. The ultimate end goal is to get all my stuff in line and through the line, in the most organized fashion possible and packed up as fast as possible– because there’s nothing I hate more than holding up everyone else in line behind me.
But the thing is, because I am totally anal about where my stuff goes and how it goes in there, I always end up holding the line up anyway. Let me explain:
The process starts while I’m still shopping for my goods. I always bring my own reusable bags with me and I use my Granny Cart instead of the regular store cart because I need to make sure that I can preplan how everything is going to fit back in there once I’ve paid for it all. (Click here if you don’t know what a Granny Cart is). As I select each of my food-stuffs I will put it in the same bag that it will leave in, or with the other items it will later be packed with.
Once I finish the actual shopping, its time to select the most expedient line possible (which is determined by a complex calculation involving the number of people in line and the approximate number of items per person). As I approach my turn to load up on the conveyor belt I must now organize all my items on it so that when each item comes out the other end it effortlessly goes in succession into the right bag, with the right stuff, and fits perfectly by leaving as little air space as possible in each bag so that I use as few bags as possible.
Oh, and did I mention that this process needs to happen as quickly as possible too? That conveyor belt moves fast, man. The little plastic separator thingie used to distinguish where one customer’s items end and the next’s begins is essential in this process.
The entire time I’m putting my items on the belt I think to myself, “Ok, well the greek yogurt, block of swiss cheese and organic milk need to go together because they are all refrigerated items and if placed together will stay colder longer. But the milk is also a beverage, so maybe I should put it in the beverage bag instead. I need to use my green bag for the beverage bag because the beverage bag always gets heavy and the green one fits best over my shoulder, and my shoulder is the best place to put the beverage bag because that makes it the least difficult to carry… Now, I should put my Kashi Go Lean cereal with my couscous because they are both boxes. Boxes are rectangular so the seven total I have should fit nicely together in one bag. I’ll make sure that bag goes on the bottom of the cart because it will be sturdy enough to handle the weight of the rest of the bags… As for this bag of Tostitios, I’ll have to put that back at the end of the conveyor belt so that I can put it on the top of the produce bag. All that stuff in the produce bag is easily damaged so I want to make sure I don’t put anything too heavy in there. And the pineapple will have to go on the bottom of the bag because it’s unwieldy and I don’t want to bruise my bananas.”
Once it’s my turn in the que I scan the bagging area for paper bags. I gave up using plastic bags long ago and, unless given no other option, will never use a plastic bag again. If there are no paper bags in sight, I will ask the cashier if there are any available. Unfortunately, this inevitably adds approximately 7 – 12 minutes to the process. The cashier must leave her post and walk around to all the other lines to see if there are any stowed away at those registers. Because there are not, she must now go into the back stock room to obtain more paper bags. Of course there are paper bags back there but she’ll have to pull an unopened box of 8000 bags down, alone, from the top shelf, in order to get them for me. And because she’s a petite Asian woman, this requires finding a step stool, which is no where near the location of the paper bags.
Meanwhile, I am still standing at the register as the line grows behind me. The natives are getting restless. To ease any potential tensions, I will make casual conversation with those around me. I mean, we’re all crowded in here together; why should we stand around staring at our feet, pretending like each other do not exist? I generally comment on someone else’s items to break the ice. “Oh look, you got a red bell pepper. I was thinking about getting one but then I thought to myself that I never get the orange ones so I decided to go a little wild and get one of those instead.”
Usually by the time the cashier returns, the other patrons and I feel like old friends and I’m cracking jokes left and right. I downright entertain the people sometimes. Heck, I took tap dance lessons for a month when I was 12. I’m not afraid to pull it out of my arsenal if the need arises.
However, sometimes, there are people who do not care about my attempts to appease the masses. They just get irritated. One time I was next to this tall, almost Amazonian, woman who was very concerned about her ice cream and the probability of it melting while she waited in the (air conditioned) line. She said that she was in a hurry and hoped that the cashier didn’t take too long. Once it became clear that the cashier was, indeed, “taking too long” she began to shoot me angry sideways glances.
Then she brought up the subject of paper versus plastic.
She told me that she loves plastic bags and uses them all the time. “I put them in my trash cans and use them as little trash bags. I never seem to have enough plastic bags around.” Clearly, this was a jab in my eco-friendly direction.
What Ms. Amazonia didn’t realize was that she picked the wrong girl to instigate with on this particular subject.
I talked to her about the ease of going greener, which can be as simple as reusing the plastic bags in her trash cans. I noted that all she would have to do is dump out the contents of one trash can into a larger one at the end of the week and the plastic bags could serve as a reusable protective liner for her trash cans.
I mention that I also recycle my plastic bags, and hint that she can do the same as there is a bin specifically for plastic bag recycling right outside this very grocery store.
I then told her about how I switched over to using biodegradable dog poop bags because, “it just doesn’t make sense to put world’s most biodegradable substance into world’s least biodegradable substance.”
At this point we were nearing fist-fight levels of ire.
When I had finally had enough of her rabble-rousing I exclaimed, “thankfully, because of people like you, they are making plastic bags that are biodegradable anyway. In fact, I bet you’re one of those people that take your food scraps and put them in one of these little plastic bags and tie it up real tight, just so it won’t mess up your trash bag. You just really wanna make sure those suckers never make it back into the earth, don’t you? And you know something else, lady? I take you for one of those people who would request to be extra embalmed when you die, because you’re worried about becoming a pile of bones in several hundred years. Noooo, you wouldn’t ever let that happen. You want to stay fresh as the day you were buried. Well guess what lady – it doesn’t matter how fresh you are because you’re DEAD.”
Ok, so maybe I didn’t really say ALL of that, but I definitely thought it in my head.
Potentially preventing a melee, this is right about the time the cashier will return, with no less than 500 bags in tow. But before they can start ringing up my items, they’ve got to visit the other registers to drop off paper bags to each and everyone one of them.
After I hand the cashier my Super Savings card, they will begin running each of my items over the red laser and the continuous bleeping of a successful ring-up commences. Standing in the bagging area, I’m at the at the ready for the fury of goods as they start heading my way.
As the cashier gets to about the mid-point, they almost always encounter one of my bags already prefilled with items and are not sure how to approach this. “Do you want me to keep these in the bag?”
My answer is always, “yes.” Why else would I have put a prefilled bag on the conveyor belt? This, of course, takes longer than usual because they must remove each item, run it over the scanner and place it back in the bag. For what it’s worth, I always feel relief when the bag makes it way to my end and is already packed and organized appropriately. It’s one less thing I have to stress about.
The cashier is usually done ringing everything through before I’m done packing it up. When they give me the total I hurry over to the payment area to swipe my card. As the cashier waits for my bank’s approval they will begin to help me bag my items.
This is also why the conveyor belt strategizing is so crucial. It has been my experience that if my items are already grouped together as I would like them bagged, this increases the likelihood that the cashier will bag them that way. So far, I have a pretty high success rate.
But heaven help the cashier that haphazardly throws my food into any old bag without any sense of logic. I start to get all frantic as I have to explain:
“No, I’d like my cans and bottles in the same bag.”
“Please use as few bags as possible.”
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t wrap the paper bags in plastic ones, thanks.”
Once I’m paid up, bagged up and ready to go, I feel a rush of relief. It’s over and I can finally get out of here.
Then I hear the cashier say, “Oh, I’m sorry Miss. I forgot to scan the only coupon you gave me… the one for 25 cents off a bag of frozen vegetables. Do you still want to use it or do you want to save it for next time?”
Me: “Actually, I’d prefer to use it. Thing is, on the rare occasion that I remember to bring a coupon I almost always walk out with it still in my pocket. So it’s, you know, kind of a personal milestone that I remembered to give it to you. Can you just give me the quarter?”
Cashier: “No Miss, since you paid with your card I have to put the refund back on your card. Store policy. And in order to do that, I have to call over the manager.”
And that’s why you never want to get stuck behind me in line at the grocery store.
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