The Awful Responsibility of the Check Out

I always feel such a grave responsibility at the supermarket check out. I feel it is my solemn duty to be fully paid-up and effectively gone from the end of the conveyor before the next customer is ready to be checked out.

Don’t ask me why this is. I never mind if the person in front of me dallies, messes up on their packing or even doesn’t start to contemplate paying the check out person until their goods are practically out in the back of their car.

Whatever the guy in front does, I’m pretty cool with. But, when it’s my turn, I might as well be going on stage at the bloody London Palladium – the pressure comes on.

I’m pretty good at it too. Usually , everything is packed neatly in the trolley before I have to enter my PIN.

Then I can wheel away with a warm sense of accomplishment. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

On those black days, you will witness me wheeling away from the back of the checkout, bags everywhere, receipts trailing like renegade toilet paper, trying to get to a neutral place where I can organise myself in peace.

But, I will console myself, the person behind me did not have to wait on my account. This consolation remains unabated even if the person behind is a ninety year old barn owl of a lass who hasn’t even managed to heave her Steradent multi-pack up onto the conveyor yet.

One interesting side effect of this unnecessary (and frankly a bit scary) super-market compulsive disorder is this; I will rarely go to a vacant checkout with my trolley.

If there are two checkouts to choose from, and one is completely free, and the other has an auld wan unloading her gear, I will happily fall in behind that auld wan and wait.

I know how mad this sounds – I feel feckin’ dodgy just typing it out.

But the simple fact of the matter is, if I go to the vacant checkout, then the checkout guy/gal will have practically all of my stuff rung through before I even get it unloaded.

And then, when I’m desperately trying to catch up on the mountain of packing on the far side, there is no doubt that an emotionally damaged soccer mom will arrive at the checkout behind me and she will glare at me all the time that I’m fecking around with my veggies.

And, as you’ll probably have gathered by now, I hate that.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ken, I surfed on here via The Nook of Oz and was LOL at what you wrote here. It seems we all have our little idiosyncrasies where the grocery store is concerned. I have never written about mine though. I truly enjoyed your thoughts ;)

Wendy said...

Boy, does this ever sound familiar! I never really thought about it, but I always look for the line that has no one in it, then have to race to keep up with the cashier and feel like I can't unload the cart fast enough to keep up. Nothing drives me crazier, however, than the woman that waits until her items are all rung up and then digs around in her purse to find her chequebook.

Anonymous said...

Ken, that is kooky and cute. Not only because I suffer from the same weird idiosyncrancies (to use lumpy's word) but because it's nice to know that I'm not the only one in the world who actually cares about the impact they make on someone else's life - whether they realise it or not.

And if nothing else, it makes for a decent blog topic ;P

Anonymous said...

I've learned to be patient with the little old ladies in front of me who can't even FIND their checkbooks (I wish someone would tell them about debit cards). And I don't dawdle so rarely find myself enduring the withering glares of deranged soccer moms in a hurry.

No, what makes me want to scream are the sweet young brainless things who pack up my groceries for me. "No, no... DON'T put the bread in the same bag as the soup cans!" "No, no... DON'T put four 2-liter bottles of soda in the same bag!" (THEY can't even lift them. How the heck are my arthritic arms supposed to manage?)

Oy. Grocery shopping. Where's my Valium?

Kat Mortensen said...

So true! When I'm trying to keep up, I get the sweats as if I'm playing "Gran Turismo" on the Playstation. It's worse still, when you're trying to pack your goods in environmentally -friendly cloth bags that keep flopping over, making it impossible to get the stuff into the corners and maximize the space (I have British Army training-by osmosis).


P.S. Ken, I've an award for you at my blog (don't know if you do this sort of thing, but there it is.

Kathy said...

This is so funny. I have my own little practices. I am a master at the self-checkout. I often scan faster than the machine can keep up. I also pack well and fast. Everyone should love to find themselves behind me in the queue. Yes, it's a little scary how awesome I believe I am at the grocery store. But everyone should love to be good at something in there lives.

Jena Isle said...

For me, it is similar with this , a queue in the post office, or in the municipal hall (filing for income tax returns, etc) when I have several things to prepare - picture, some papers, documentary stamp.

I'm a klutz and at times papers fall from my hands.

As usual this was a funny post. Thanks for sharing.

Beamer said...

I guess it has to do with being married forever (did I say that out loud), But I have never put anywhere near the thought into grocery shopping finishing type stuff as you. Compared to you, I am a rank amateur.

I think I understood most of what you were trying to convey, uhm, a trolley is a grocery Cart?

Wow, I'm not going to be feeling quite as happy go lucky next time I go shopping. Yikes.


Anonymous said...

Amen! It is so good to see people who are conscious of other people. It is so rare! I am with Kathy - self-check out seems less stressful - unless it is a bad day for the scanner.

Dave King said...

I always go for the empty aisle if there is one. The checkout person usually sits there drumming his or her fingers on the till and asking periodically, "Can I start now?" I nearly always say "yes" too soon. Nothing works, so why worry about it? Isn't that some sort of metaphor for society at large?

Guia Obsum said...

hahaha! that was a funny one. it's a bit nice to know that in some other parts of the world, there are people who do feel the pressure of hurrying up in the grocery counter line just so the next person wouldn't wait long before unpacking her stuff. that's the way it goes for me too. even if i hadn't put my credit card and receipts back in my wallet yet, i'll move along so that the next customer can go on with her purchases.

although, when i see a vacant counter, i do go there, because here in the philippines, more often than not, our major grocery stores have male baggers who unload the carts for us, especially if they see women, moms, and little old ladies. so i don't have to worry about hurrying up unloading my stuff just so the cashier can already start ringing up my purchases. :)

Matthew S. Urdan said...

You are so silly.

Margaret said...

I prefer the self checkout stand to having someone else handle my groceries. Who knows what ELSE they've handled!! ICK!

And, like Kathy, I scan them faster than the machine can keep up which drives my husband batty.

We don't often go food shopping together as a result.

Dave King said...

I think you well describe two almost universal instinct here. I go into panic mode if I think I might beholding up the next customer. And like you I will not patronise the empty checkout if there is a nearly empty one. However, if the difference is too great between the two we get redirected to the empty one at our supermarket. They gets yer in the end!

Unknown said...

As usual you are too funny. I on the other hand have no patience at all. I hate to wait for some dodgy old woman to fish around in her huge bag for the coupon she forgot. Then to watch her struggle to write a check. I need to learn patience!

Sofia-Free Ads said...

Patience is a virtue my friend:-)

hope said...

I'm also in the land of, "No dear grocery boy, please don't put the eggs in the bottom of the bag then try to stack cans on it." Sigh.

Guess we depend on someone else to bag our groceries in my neck of the woods...otherwise they'd be more orderly when I got home. The worst part is some stores INSIST the grocery boy push the cart to your car and unload it for you. I hate small talk. I quickly found out how to end it.

Grocery Boy: "I'll get that for you Ma'am."

Me:[after looking around to see who Ma'am is] "No problem, I've got it."

Grocery Boy: holding onto the cart diligently, "No, it's part of my job."

Me: "No thanks," as I reach for the cart he refuses to let go of.

Grocery Boy: "But I insist."

Me: "Unless you plan to get in the car and carry the groceries into the house, I've got it."

Grocery Boy, horrified at the thought of being kidnapped by a customer, lets go and disappears.


zorlone said...

As I finished reading your story, I quickly clicked the comment button to leave some trace of myself in your guest list. BUT, as soon as I started reading the comments, it felt like I have placed myself in the last line of a queue to see you, rather to be seen by you.

I just wanted to rush to the innocent looking and empty "leave your comment" space for me to vandal, but, I restrained myself and started reading all the interesting comments these nice people had to say.

I lived through your story and I told myself to be patient and let other people finish what they needed to do.

So, here I am currently last in line. Hoping that the next guy/gal leaving a comment also went through the same ordeal as I did before typing furiously on the comment space.

Great piece of work!


Jim Murdoch said...

My own trick is to shove the stuff in bags any which way and then having paid I'll find a quiet corner and rearrange everything at my leisure. Not that I shop very often these days. Since we've discovered that Tescos (amongst others) will deliver I've not done a proper family shop in about five years, perhaps longer. These days if I have half a dozen items at a checkout that's about me: flowers for the wife, wine for the wife, cakes for the wife ... you get the idea.

La Rousse said...

This honestly made me laugh (congratulations!). Oh my goodness... I thought my brother and I were the only ones who were manic about that sort of thing. Good to know we're not alone.

Laura Brown said...

I never really thought of someone like you when I was a cashier.

There would be the old folks counting their pennies (which you think is an urban myth until it happens to you). There are the psycho types who can't look at your face in case they somehow are forced to acknowledge there are other people on the planet, other than themselves. There are the totally and randomly upset people who just want you to tell them they are flucked so they can finally reach over the counter and deck a cashier and have crowds cheer at how right they are, vindicated at long last! There are the bargainers, the sneaks and the cheap types who want to niggle over a penny until you give in just to spare yourself any more time spent with them breathing on you. There are the sick people, those who find retail therapy helps a cold even though they took the day off work cause they were too feeble and didn't want to spread their plague around. (Cashiers don't count in those who are spared the plague). There are parents with charming children, just ask them, they will tell you how charming the children are as they climb up the counter and try to suffocate themselves in the plastic bags as you pack them. (Why do these very same parents never seem to tell the rugrats to bugger off and get down? Do they want me to kill their children? I did have weird dreams about it.) There were the men who tried to be flirty and occasionally drop change behind your counter, expecting I'd bend over and pick it up - they were disappointed as I just left it there to use for coffee on my break.

I even had a customer who was a convicted serial killer, later found to be not guilty after years in prison. He was very sweet and so happy to just chat a bit. I

Anyway, there were men who plainly did not enjoy shopping or just wanted to be champions of the check out line, doing everything like a professional shopper to win a gold star at the end. Being prepared had nothing on them! If anything unexpected happened it threw them right off. They ceased to function for awhile until the gears got back in line and started to turn again. It was kind of cute. I bet that was you, expect for the standing in the long line part. You might give those other guys a tip about that one.

Ken Armstrong said...

Lumpy: Thanks Lumpy. :)

Jennifer Robin: Yup, try the busiest checkout next time, it's a more laid-back experience.

Fragileheart: *I* am kooky. Not cute though, oh my no. :)

Kelly: I have a soft spot for young brainless things... but that's best left for another day. :)

Kat: Military training by Osmosis, eh? I think 'osmosis' is a great word, don't you? :)

Kathy: You should read Laura's most insightful contribution down near the bottom. You and I share some checkout attributes, I think. :)

Jena: I am sure if paper falls from you hands, it does so with pretty amazing grace. (I'll be singing that now) :)

Beamer: I wish I could think of a really left-field suggestion for what a trolley is, (A trolley is a type of white fish, did you not ge that?) but, of course, you are quite right.

L S King: I always have a bad day with the scanner.

Dave King: Girl drumming saying can I start now? This evokes a long buried memory, 'can't quite put my finger on it... :)

Ettarose: Nope, you need a gun, only a fake one mind, but it'll perk the old biddy right up. :)

entrepgirl: I grab receipts, cards, bags, everything and retire to a quiet place to sort it all out.

Matt: I'm not! :)

Margaret: What else have they handled? A whole new paranoia is born. :)

Sofia Free Ads: One of many I have to work hard at. :)

Hope: I am now terrified for the poor grocery boy. :)

Zorlone: Are you finished commenting now? For pity's sake hurry up, I have to get home and make dinner! :)

Jim: I do a bit of that too. Anything to get away from the checkout.

La Rousse: Glad you laughed, it still echoes around these halls.

Laura: You could make a(nother) really great blog out of the comments you leave me here - I always enjoy them. "...doing everything like a professional shopper to win a gold star at the end" You've got me there, I think, I so want to impress the checkout person, not in a sexual, pick-up-my-coin-babe way, you've got it perfectly, I want them to see me as good-on-the-checkout.

Sad I know...

Laura Brown said...

It's not sad. It was kind of cute. There were some days I really did appreciate people who were ready and speedy too. The only type that really did bug me were those who wouldn't look me in the eye. Even if they did mumble something as they handed over their bank card. It just seemed so... rude in some mild, uncaring way. On a good day I could laugh at all the silly people with kids, pennies and flirting. Just those who couldn't acknowledge my presence would annoy me.

I bet you charm the cashiers with a smile every time. You could take an extra minute in line and still get your gold star at the end. :)

Laura Brown said...

PS - You have the only blog I'd dare to type the word bugger in context and not be worried someone would get the wrong idea. lol My Dad was a Scot and bloody and bugger were often heard on any standard day, more often if he was doing home repairs.

Kat Mortensen said...

"Old barn owl of a lass" - that had me howling!

With the advent of reusable bags, came the ever more slack checkout person, leaving you to your own devices while they tally you up. I end up sweating like I'm driving in the Grand Prix for the first time. I am a meticulous packer and will be at the end of the conveyor/counter trying to fit everything in "British Army" ship-shape fashion while the stuff keeps coming at me like Lucy's chocolates in that episode - you know the one - only I can't stuff the groceries in my face to take up the slack. Oh, it's awful! I'm in a sweat just thinking about it.

Oh, and try doing it with a purse that you're attempting to keep in sight while packing the goods. It ain't easy, my friend!

I'll be looking for that old barn owl next time. Thanks for the tip!

Unknown said...

"Whatever the guy in front does, I’m pretty cool with. But, when it’s my turn, I might as well be going on stage at the bloody London Palladium – the pressure comes on".

Oh hell yes...I suddenly feel so much less alone.

Another place of anxiety is the gas station.

And Starbucks.

I like to appear like I have my shittake together,too :)

Found your blog through Entrecard.
Happy surprise!

Peace - Rene

Susan at Stony River said...

Uncanny. Can I post this on my blog and just change the name?

I miss my old routine; I can't drive anymore so my husband takes me shopping and he drives me nuts. He scatters things like colds and non-foods instead of organising the trolley, goes for the empty checkout (ACK) and what I hate most of all, he'll stand there just staring into space while I pack, and THEN when the checkout girl tells him how much it is, then he slowly begins looking for his wallet, checks his pockets, opens it, looks in it, feels in a few more pockets for change...

By then I'm ready to run the trolley over him, the poor thing. But I used to feel good when I had the trolley packed (packed WELL, organised into tins/cold/toiletries/dairy, whatever) and my wallet was open, waiting for that total, I hand the money, she hands the change, I thank her and off I go. I felt like I won.

I felt so efficient, so competent (sad? probably!) Now I feel disorganised and inconsiderate when we're all standing around waiting for my sweet happy clueless husband patting his pockets and wondering where his wallet went to.... while I'm wondering (NOT) who put all the beer and chocolate biscuits into the trolley. I don't know why it's stressful, but it is.

For Father's Day I'm getting him a car DVD player and maybe I can convince him to just stay in the car...

Don't even mention coupons! LOL