The law of the checkout


By Jim Beales - Contributing columnist



It happens to me almost every time. I’ll bet that it happens to you, too.

What am I talking about?

It is the time we spend in the checkout line. In our attempt to get through quickly, we are thwarted every time. You might call it “a macho thing,” but, by whatever name you call it, it never seems to work. We inevitably end up in the slowest line.

We make our choice logically enough; we select the line with the fewest patrons, or, to finesse that, we select the one where it appears that the shoppers have the smallest number of groceries.

That logic never seems to work, either. Even picking the shortest line never works.

I’ll tell you why: often when I work my way to the front of the line, the cash register jams, or new tape has to be inserted. Worse, I’ve even had the checkout clerk go “on break” just as I approached the checkout. This means a new clerk has to bring her tray with money to the cash register, the relieved clerk has to count her money, sign a receipt, and depart. This usually takes five minutes, minimum.

Meanwhile, the line that I had spurned moves speedily along. It happens every time.

Also tying up the proceedings is the customer in front insisting that she has the exact change, and spends minutes fishing into her handbag for those elusive pennies. “I just know what they are in here somewhere!” she exclaims, digging furtively.

Line strategy is even more a lost cause at the post office. Inevitable, when I am in a rush, I avoid the line of patrons with packages to mail; for I know that line will move slowly. Choosing a long line of customers with few or no packages, I congratulate myself on my strategy.

Then, to my chagrin, the person in front of me doesn’t ask for stamps at all. She requests several money orders. These need to be made out individually, and each requires a signature.

Meanwhile, the line of folks toting packages has sailed through. Defeated again.

At other times I congratulate myself on picking a speedy line at the post office, only to have the person in front of me ask for mail, which has been set aside. The clerk retreats to the bowels of the building, gone for five minutes at least, to retrieve the stack of mail. Once again, I have snatched defeat from certain victory.

As crushing as these consistent defeats seem to be, my failure to pick the fastest line does not deter me; I keep on trying. The most ignominious failure of all, though, is standing in a long line where there is only one checkout operating. As the line inches slowly forward, others join behind me. Just when I have reached a point where there are as many patrons behind as there are in front, suddenly a new checkout person emerges; “Over here, please, I’ll take you,” she announces. Everyone behind me scoots to her in reverse order, fulfilling the Bible prophesy, “The Last Shall Be First.”

The Law of the Checkout has proven itself once again.

I have, however, one more trick up my sleeve. Its secret was given to me years ago when it took more time to shop than to check out.

A busy executive, who was charged with the grocery shopping chore for his family, said that his strategy was to whip into a supermarket, walk the aisles quickly, and find an unattended basket containing what he guessed would be about right for a family of four. Quickly commandeering the basket, he’d dash to the checkout, and be on his way. Chuckling to himself, he said triumphantly that, “it cut his shopping time in half.” Even more satisfying was discovering what products he had commandeered from his unknown victim.

On second thought, that ultimate solution is wrong. It would be stealing. Tempting, you bet, but stealing, nevertheless.

Wait until next time; I’ll see you at the checkout.

By Jim Beales

Contributing columnist

Jim Beales lives in Laurinburg.

Jim Beales lives in Laurinburg.

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