A Fish, A Bird And No More Fast Lane


April 12, 1992|By ROB KASPER

The pet food made me do it. Without the three items of pet food in my grocery cart, I wouldn't have stormed out of the grocery store the other morning when the clerk in the 10-items-or-less express line refused to check me out.

But the goldfish needed food, and the parakeet seemed not just hungry but depressed, so I bought the bird a seed-covered bell treat, as well as a box of bird food, to lift its spirits.

The pet food items, along with a handful of groceries, put me three items over the 10-item limit, and the young woman working the cash register at the grocery store wouldn't ring me up.

In my anger I wanted to name the store where this happened. But later, cooler heads belonging to my editors and my wife said that such express line incidents are a problem of the grocery store industry, not just one store.

But the incident still has me steaming. It was mid-morning of a weekday. I had swung by the store, a few blocks from where we live, on my way to work. It was a desperation run. We had no bread. We were almost out of milk. And when the kids came home from school they would be hungry. And, of course, the family pets -- the bird and the fish -- were running low on eats.

The store was not crowded. I almost ran through the aisles pulling items from the shelves and tossing them in my cart. When I got to the front of the store, two cash registers of the six cash registers were open. The non-express line had two shoppers, their carts burgeoning with groceries, waiting in line.

The express line had one fellow in it.

I started counting my items. I knew I had 13, but I didn't want to wait another 20 minutes to get through that backed-up line. I felt a little guilty. As I got in line, a gentlemen who had two items got in line behind me. I waved him in front me.

Over the 10 years I have shopped at the store I have become familiar with some of the employees, chatting with some of the older cashiers as I helped them bag the groceries.

I didn't recognize the young woman working the express line. When I got in line, she seemed in a good mood; she was chatting with a fellow worker about what she was going to do when she got off work that night.

Her mood seemed to change when she saw that I had put my groceries in a cart, not a small, hand-held basket. "Sir," she said loudly. "Ten items or less."

I looked at the other line. There was still a two-cart backup. There were other clerks in the store, but they were stocking shelves. No one was opening up another cash register. By now one or two people had queued up behind me.

"Look," I said gesturing toward the backed-up other aisle.

"Sir, 10 items or less," she repeated, this time even louder.

There were lots of things I could have done. I could have said fine, just ring up 10 items, and forget the fish and parakeets. Let 'em starve. I could have told her how in my years of shopping at the store, I had waited in that express line many times and seen people ring up as many as 20 items.

And I could have pointed out to her that if the store were really interested in speed, they could have opened another checkout stand.

I didn't do any of those things. Instead I got mad.

I stormed out of store, leaving my 13 grocery items sitting in the express lane.

Later when I spoke by phone with officials at the grocery store and the store's area headquarters about my express line experience, they were most apologetic.

They said they do get some complaints about customers who take an excessive number of items through the express lane. But they said they try to teach their new clerks to handle such situations tactfully. And they said the 10-item limit is a guideline, not a rule cut in stone.

When I was still in a huff, driving out the grocery store parking lot, a fellow waved at me. I drove up to him and rolled down my car window.

He told me I had done the right thing by walking out. He said the clerk was being highhanded.

He looked familiar to me. He was the guy I had waved ahead of me in line.

The two people in line behind me might have felt differently.

But all I can say is, storming out of the store sure felt good, even if the parakeet and goldfish had to go on a diet.

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