Though I hate to admit it, I am a slow, indecisive mess in the grocery store checkout lane.
Since I am an extremely cheap person, I watch the prices scroll up on screen like a hawk, often saying things like “Oh, I thought that was on sale,” or, “Actually, I don’t really want that anymore,” forcing the cashier to call in price-checks to the unresponsive produce department or find a temporary home for the pack of melting Fudgsicles I’ve decided to leave off my list last minute.
And because I’m watching the screen so closely, I start late and take forever to bag my groceries and pay, awkwardly leaving my shopping cart blocking the lane for the next customer, a metal criss-crossed castle knight enforcing a firm “Thou shall not pass” law in its trademark silence.
Yes, I clog up the line and annoy everybody behind me. I’m one of four People You Don’t Want To Stand Behind in the grocery line, together with:
- Fidgety Grandma, who on cue dumps a pile of warm nickels on the counter to pay and then slowly counts them out by sliding them across the counter with her index finger
- Flyer Guy, who hands the cashier a dog-eared flyer from home, forcing him or her to manually tear out all the coupons while everybody waits
- No-Math Jack, who sneaks in piles of extra items onto the Express Lane and acts like it’s no big deal
Yes, those tense, winding checkout lanes can be a pretty rough go sometimes. It’s not easy out there. You have to watch the anxiety levels, keep that blood pressure in check.
That’s why there are few things better than a spritely new cashier hopping onto the scene, grabbing the ‘next lane please’ sign from the end of the belt, flicking on the lightbulb above their station, and offering a loud, beaming “Next customer, please!,” to the scowling, stressed-out masses.
When that cashier lightbulb goes on, a bright warm glow showers down upon everybody waiting. People like me feel less guilty about holding up the line and folks at the end win the big front-of-the-line jackpot. Yes, it’s one, giant mood swing, one massive swelling of goodwill, complete with buzzing chatter, a few laughs, and even the occasional crinkly plastic sound of a tightly wound frowning turning upside down.
And sure, there’s a bit of line etiquette to sort out. Who gets first dibs on this new empty lane, after all? But it’s almost always better for everybody, regardless of what happens. So most of us, we just smile and enjoy the ride.