Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The More Things Change...

...the more I stand behind some woman who is overcompensating for deficient arithmetic skills by micromanaging her grocery purchases.

I've expended a lot of calories over the years by ranting about my Safeway. It was a nexus of incompetence, wilted vegetables, long lines and short fuses. Now, it is freshly made-over. It's spit-shined, glamorous, and full of cheese bars and nut bars and shiny floors. They even sell wine. And the produce no longer looks like it was grown in a freeway underpass and watered with moonshine.

But let's get back to those nut bars. They're not just a kind of food, they're a way of life at my Safeway.

See, in all the reconfiguring, nobody really came up with a way to make over the customers.
Sunday, I was swanning about my fancy Safeway, skipping my way down the aisles and shopping for fancy cheese. By the time I got to the register, I had a heavy basket and somewhat diminished patience.

Line selection at an urban grocer is a do-or-die proposition. If you choose poorly, you'll lose hours of time. You'll get the folks who want to haggle over prices, or, one better, the people who don't realize that money is exchanged for goods or services. So they stand there, numbly, not sure when or how they should pay. (Hint: Now. With money. Your magic beans are no good here.)

I stood behind a woman who seemed relatively organized. Her cart was neatly lined up. She had her wallet in her hand. I was reassured. That is, until I saw what she was doing. Mayonaisse. On the conveyor. $2.99. Nod approvingly. Bread. $1.79. Total $4.78. Nod approvingly. The cookies can go on the conveyor, too.

I know that game. The customer slowly, gradually, infuriatingly puts one item on the belt, checks the total, and stops when they hit the amount of cash they are carrying. Then the player will scatter any leftovers around the register area, creating an obstacle course for the patrons and a cleanup job for the staff.

As a Nats fan and divorcee, I know when I've been defeated. So I moved to the next register over. There was one woman ahead of me. Yogurt. $.79. Lunchmeat. $3.50. Total $4.29.

Spectacularly, impossibly, I had stumbled into the Urban Grocery Olympics. The I Have Exactly $30 on Me for Groceries Event. And the women in both lines were going for the gold.

On a more comforting level, it's nice to know that gentrification hasn't changed the basic character of my neighborhood.

In the comments, tell me about your favorite event in the Urban Grocery Olympics.

The usual caveat: Lots of you know where I live. That doesn't mean you should mention it in the comments (lots of creepazoids out there.)


Jamie said...

Awesome post. And I feel your pain. Though I have gotten pretty good at profiling the customers using my television-developed Jedi/CSI skills.

This typically comes down to "choose lines with guys, preferably youngish, whenever possible." I admit it is gender/age profiling, but guys generally seem to put "getting the hell out of the store and back on their couch" as the highest of any priority. They have their credit card swiped before the first item's even been scanned. They never use cash, which takes longer because it must be located and counted.

Many women, on the other hand, wait until the end of the process to even begin looking for their payment method in their large handbag. A payment method which (shudder) may actually turn out to be a checkbook. Honestly, I don't understand why anyone (male or female) does not take advantage of the 10 or 15 minutes they spend waiting around BEFORE their items are completely rung up to get their money ready, but that's just me.

Yes, this is a generalization, and it is not always true. Obviously you are an important exception to this rule. But it has served me well in choosing lines.

FoggyDew said...

It doesn't matter where I am, I always get stuck behind the person trying to pay for something with a third-party check drawn from a Second National Bank of Bishkek (capital of Kyrgyzstan). I have accepted this as my lot in life.

Malnurtured Snay said...

This is why I do my grocery shopping very early in the AM.

Shannon said...

Jamie - I admit it - I also avoid getting behind women with carts and big handbags, because I know it's going to be an ordeal. Especially if she has kids with her - because then she'll spend her time arguing with them about candy purchases, ignore being rung up, and then DISPUTE THE PRICES.

Foggy - Is it sad that I actually know where Bishkek is?

Snay - I am so nonfunctional in the mornings I would come back with a cartful of diet soda (which I'm allergic to).

IsmeSon said...

"Now. With money. Your magic beans are no good here."

OMG that KILLED ME! loved it, gave me the chuckle i needed so badly today.

I will admit that as a young guy I'm terribly efficient and quick at the checkout. I even sort the goods on the conveyor belt by size, shape and weight in advance to speed up the bagging process. Yet have you noticed that at some Safeways if you bring your own reusable bags, the checkout clerks make you bag it yourself? They just stand there, watch you make your payment transaction, and continue to stand there open mouth breathing while you're bagging your own purchases. So inefficient!

Brando said...

I would have no problem with a grocery store establishing "terms of use" and banning for life any customers doing the following:

1) Exceeding by a long shot the maximum items for an express line;

2) Not having their money out and ready when it is their turn;

3) Trying to pay by check;

4) Haggling over coupons/sale items with the manager--everyone is allowed to be wrong twice but the third time, banned!

Dagny Taggart said...

This is from a distinctly SUB-urban (heh) supermarket experience, and I maintain that Wegman's in Fairfax is its own little circle of hell (albeit one with delicious bakery and kosher deli items), but.

Every shopper there, except me, is a mother with multiple, adorable, curly-haired, tow-headed toddlers. Every shopper there conscientiously brings her own adorably-patterned reusable bags. and Wegmans has apparently instructed all of its cashiers to roll reusable bags down prior to filling them, and roll them up as the groceries within pile up. Customers do NOT bag their own groceries, ever.

You cannot imagine how long this takes. As the adorable, curly-haired tow-headed children are waiting for mama to pay for the (delicious) organic brisket and pastrami. Said children must, invariably, be allowed to punch the green button after mama has entered the PIN - and of course, when they miss, the whole payment part of the transaction must be redone.

There is no escape.

Shannon said...

IsmeSon - I haven't noticed anyone making me bag my own groceries, but I have seen the ones who must shake out and inspect your bags to make sure they pass muster.

Brando - I personally love when people bring coupons that are insanely out of date, and everyone KNOWS they are out of date, but the patron tries to bully the staff into allowing their use. This increases the wait time by approximately one million years.

Dagny - There is a special place in hell for parents who delegate their financial transactions to small children. It's right next door to the hell for parents who let their kids record the answering machine announcement because they think it's cute. "Ba ba ba bah BAW!!!! WAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! You have reached babbabbababblebabble..." I can never tell if I'm in the right place, or if I've accidentally pressed the buttons for Dial-a-Cult.

Dmbosstone said...

Wait a minute- people actually ring stuff up one at a time because they don't know if they have enough cash to pay for it all!?!?

Thank goodness I'm a guy.

Bateshorn said...

As somebody who had a part time evening job once and did the stay at home Dad thing, the best time to shop is 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday at a Suburban grocery store: stay at home moms, who have their shit nailed down, their shopping list squared away, and exactly one, immobile infant who sleeps through the entire experience. They are usually upscale, use credit, wouldn't be caught dead with coupons, and in a hurry, because yoga starts in half an hour.

Really full carts though.

I don't like the quick check out line at urban stores. Too many people buying a banana, a diet coke and a pack of parliaments with single bills and pennies. It's like all the single people in the city use their change jar in the express line.

Bateshorn said...

Whoops, 10:30 AM. Morning. not night.

Bateshorn said...

It's actually sad when it's an obviously poor family and you can see the Mom trying to figure out if she's going to be able to stretch the budget enough to feed the whole house or having to choose between soup and soap.