Folks have strong feelings about grocery store express lines. They have been "sharing" these feelings with me since I wrote a recent column telling how, when faced with a 30-minute backup at the only other open checkout line, I attempted to go through a 10-items-or-less line toting 13 items. The checker wouldn't ring me up. I stormed out of the store.
Basically there are two camps on the express-line issue. One camp believes I was absolutely wrong. Rules are rules, they say. They add that violators like me should be reprimanded for slowing down the line.
The other camp believes I was absolutely right. That the express lane limit is a guideline to be adjusted as circumstances dictate. They add that they expect to be treated courteously even if they are carrying extra express-line items.
Here are some representative missives I received on the express-line dilemma. In a lighter vein, this column closes with a letter on another spirited subject, chili.
* YOU WERE WRONG! STOP CRYING.
From Douglas E. Drake, Hampstead:
Dear Happy Eater, . . . I'm afraid I can't sympathize with you. The store I used to shop at has a cash-only lane for 10 items or less. The lady in front of me was not courteous. . . . After the clerk rang up her 16 items, she then took several minutes writing a check. When I asked her if it would be much longer, the lady accused me of being rude.
While my seven items were being rung up, I asked the clerk why she did not say something to to the lady. She informed me it was store policy not to do anything that might cost them a customer. By doing nothing it cost them one.
Express lanes are clearly marked. You should not have expected special treatment. When the store followed its posted policy you should have complied. The last thing you should not have done was cry about it in your column.
* GET YOUR REVENGE, BUY SALE ITEMS
From Peggy Myers, Timonium:
Dear Happy Eater,
(Ms. Myers wrote to say her reaction to rude treatment at one store in her neighborhood has been to do most of her shopping at two nearby competing stores. She mentioned stores by name. But since I did not investigate each express line incident, I figured it would be unfair to the stores to name them. She wrote:
. . . The only time I set foot in the [offending store] is to take advantage of an "offer I can't refuse."
I figure it is one way I can pay the store back for the rude . . . behavior of one clerk there. . . . If I only buy their extra special lead-ins and nothing else, they can't make money off me. The episode was that I had purchased three different items but four of each item. I too was chastised and refused service with people in line in back of me. Only three items had to be scanned. I left the items, walked to the office, and complained to the manager that this was insanity. He agreed, and said I could get checked out at the office. I declined.
In my . . . numerous . . . shopping trips [to other stores], I have never seen anyone refused for minor infractions. Generally, the check-out cashier will gently remind [the customer] that it is an express lane, continue to ring up, and hope that the message gets across for the next time. This is the fastest way since to argue or refuse service would cause a delay.
Eater Replies: In this dispute there is one area of agreement. Problems occur in express lines when clerks or customers lack common sense and common courtesy.
* TRUTH AND CHILI
From Judge Patrick D. Sullivan, Court of Appeals, Indianapolis, Ind.:
Dear Happy Eater, . . . Your statement [that all clever cooks lie about ingredients] reminded me of my decades-long effort to obtain the recipe of my uncle, the late H. Allen Smith. Although perhaps better known as a humorist, my mother's brother would certainly have preferred to be remembered not only as the consummate New York Giants baseball fan, but as the world's greatest chili-maker.
He once wrote an article for, I think Holiday magazine entitled "Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do." It totally discounted any validity to the claim made by Texans that they could and did produce chili worth its name. The ensuing explosions from El Paso to Beaumont and from Amarillo to Brownsville led to a challenge from Wick Fowler and the first annual World's Championship Chili Cook-off in Terligua. Uncle Bud, to his dying day, maintained that in the competition he trounced "Fowler's sissy Texas a--."
Be that as it may, like all true arteeests, he lied not only about his chili ingredients but about other things, too, including his sexual prowess and his capacity for bourbon whiskey.