I popped into Publix, one of our local supermarkets, yesterday afternoon. Local is probably not a very apt description as, according to a quick search, there are 17 Publix markets within five miles of my home in South Florida. As supermarkets go, Publix is a good one. They tend to be clean and customer friendly. They do not yet have self-checkout, so they seem to care about retaining employees. Their store brand tends to be of high quality.
I probably do about 60% of my shopping there. I also go to Winn Dixie (dirty, poor service, sale items frequently out of stock), Penn Dutch (good for certain meat and produce products), Walmart (den of Satan, but they carry a couple of things I can’t get elsewhere), and a smattering of ethnic and specialty markets. As a writer, I have a lot of free time, so I check all of the sale items on my computer and shop for bargains rather than geographic convenience. Also, I LOVE food shopping.
Whether riding on the cart as a child, or pushing it as an adult, the supermarket has always been a special place for me. I spent much of my childhood in the cereal aisle while my grandmother shopped. After I picked a favorite, I would stand on the end of the cart while she explained her purchases and her shopping strategy. She would teach me by asking me to compare prices and help with the choices. I quickly learned to use the sale prices to justify my arguments for obtaining goodies and treats.
Not all of my supermarket experiences have been positive. When I was about twelve, my grandmother entrusted me with getting a dozen eggs. She explained how I should open the carton and twist each egg to make sure that none were broken. I did as I was taught and on the very first twist, the top of the shell came right off, exposing the yolk. Immediately, a large employee in an apron called out “Hey!” and strode in my direction. As I alternately stammered and tried not to crap my pants, the employee pointed at my t-shirt and said “Admiral Farragut Academy, do you go there? I went there a few years ago.” Great timing, dude. It wasn’t even my shirt. My brother went there.
On this particular trip yesterday, I had the added shopping thrill of engaging in one of my favorite pastimes, messing with the cashier. He was a young nerdy-looking guy named Giovanny. The bagger was a tall African-American kid named Deron. As he passed the items across the scanner, Giovanny asked Deron if he was familiar with a particular item. It sounded techy, but was unfamiliar to me. Deron responded that it sounded familiar but wasn’t sure. I noticed that both young men spoke very quickly in a somewhat robotic tone, as though they were in some sci-fi version of Gilmore Girls.
Giovanny explained that the product was a phone application allowing several gamers to communicate simultaneously while, well, gaming. Deron said he had heard of it but didn’t use it, as his gaming was typically with just a couple of friends who get together for playing. “So?” said Giovanny, “You can still use the app.” At this point, I was taking my credit card out of the slot and said to Deron, “I don’t think that Giovanny understands that you actually interact directly with the other humans.” Deron looked appropriately amused, but not so much Giovanny. He handed me my receipt with a curt, “Have a nice day”, not unlike a perturbed robot.
The supermarket can be an awkward place as well. I did once find a cart where all four wheels touched the ground simultaneously, but only two of them turned. I’ve even had carts where only two wheels touched the ground, violating several laws of physics. I’ve also had the occasional slip and fall. I don’t know who is suing the store over this. I just sheepishly pop up and head to the next aisle.
My worst situation happened while waiting in line to check out. The cashier had a rather large stomach. She was too old to be pregnant, but her height caused her to rest her stomach on the scale when weighing a produce item. I had, years earlier, watched a woman pay $8.00 for three bananas when the cashier allowed a large can of Hi-C to roll onto the edge of the scale when weighing them. I tried to tell both the woman and cashier, who both chose to ignore me.
I simply could not think of a way to address the scale concern without embarrassing the woman. When I got up to the register, I handed her the bag of apples and told her I had changed my mind about them. Even my sociologist daughter was stumped by this one.
On one trip to the market with my kids, my daughter Abby was dancing or something and managed to kick her sandal off of her foot and onto the top of several bags of potato chips on the top shelf, about eight or nine feet above the floor. I had get a long-handled item from the next aisle, put my son on my shoulders, and have him pull it and several bags of chips down on us. They still laugh about it to this day. I do not recall laughing at the time.
Possibly the funniest and most frustrating version of food shopping is the rare occasion that my wife tags along. Since she does it so rarely, she’s pretty clueless with regard to basics like unit prices, product recalls, and how much things cost. I usually drop her off in Aisle One, which is what we call the health and beauty aids aisle, since that’s where it was when we first got married and went regularly to Shop-Rite in New Jersey.
We were in a store recently where I was able to witness her using the self-checkout for the first time. I should have intervened, but it was just too funny. She touched the screen like it was wired to several sticks of dynamite. She read each screen as though one false move would result in immediate destruction. We only had five items, but she seemed to think that she needed to hold them all at once as though someone was watching her from behind the screen.
My favorite cashier bit also helps to disarm annoyance with a difficult customer. Look, we’ve all gone through mental gymnastics to pick the lane with the shortest wait time. We’ve also had Karma blow up in our face by placing us behind someone with a problem. It doesn’t really matter whether the person has fifty coupons, or can’t read the circular, or has five overdrawn credit cards, or waits until everything is done before pulling out their checkbook in the express lane. Instead of huffing and puffing, I just carefully listen to as much detail as I can about the problem.
Once the episode is over, the cashier usually apologizes and seems quite happy when I smile and show patience. Then, I ask for exactly what the previous person did, as though I had no Idea what transpired earlier. The looks on the faces of the cashiers are generally priceless. I only wait a beat before saying “Psych!” or “Just kidding.” It never fails to give them a laugh.