Friday, September 30, 2016

Checking Me Out

I have a love-hate relationship with the self checkout section at the local supermarket.

It frequently enables me to avoid long lines, which I appreciate. When others wheel up to human cashiers with four-hundred-and-seventy-nine dollars worth of groceries shoved into their shopping carts and I have only three apples, two bags of Oreos and a tube of Preparation H, it is a wonderful thing to drift toward the self checkout machines. A few minutes scanning, jam the credit card into the chip reader, and off I go on my merry way with boodle in hand.

Utilizing self checkout also makes me feel smart.

I realize supermarket cashiers don't have to earn a degree from some institute of higher learning to run the cash registers, but many of them become so proficient they don't even need to refer to cheat sheets to know the code for my Envy apples is 4167. That's a skill I value which is why, at times when I do have enough items to warrant waiting for a human cashier, I spend less effort searching for the shortest line and more searching for the seasoned veterans. Mary on aisle 9 with her head down, a grunted "hello" and the weathered appearance of a middle-aged chain smoker will get you through that line a hell of a lot quicker than aisle 7's Jimmy, who just called for a manager because he's wasted five minutes trying to figure out how to charge by the pound for milk.

When using the self checkout stations, I strive to be like Mary. I approach with the sticker pulled off the apple and stuck to the back of my hand for easy reference. I inspect the Oreos the moment they come off the shelf so I know where the barcode is and I know how to hold them when running them over the scanner because I've watched the people ahead of me struggle like amateurs until they got it right. The same goes for the Preparation H. In. Scanned. Paid. Done, all so quickly accomplished I could represent the U.S. in self checkout Olympics.

Every now and then, you do come across troublesome machines.

Some have bad scanners. No matter what you do -- invert the package, flatten out the bar code, hold the bar code close up or far away, slam the can down hard enough to cause a crack in the Earth's mantle -- it won't make a difference. The register will still give you the "wrong answer" buzzer sound and ask you to try again.

Sometimes you get a screamer, usually on a very quiet morning. You walk up and punch in produce code 4167 for Envy apples and suddenly the skies open up and it sounds like God himself is telling you and the rest of the hearing world what to do with your fruit.

"WEIGH YOUR ENVY APPLES!"

There's no option at this point other than plugging your ears and forging ahead with the rest of your purchases.

"MOVE YOUR ENVY APPLES TO THE BAGGING AREA!"

"PREPARATION H IS NOW 2-FOR-1! DO YOU WISH TO PURCHASE A SECOND FAMILY-SIZE TUBE OF PREPARATION H?!"

Other times your machine has a faulty scale in the bagging area. You've weighed your Envy apples correctly, entered the number of bags of Oreos you're intending to purchase and confirmed that, no, you really don't need a gallon of hemmherhoid cream, only to find every time you attempt to bag your items the machine argues with you.

"PLEASE REMOVE THE UNSCANNED ITEM!"

"But I scanned the apples."

"PLEASE REMOVE THE UNSCANNED ITEM!"

"They're Oreos. The screen says Oreos, two packs, and that's what I put in the bag!"

"PLEASE REMOVE THE UNSCANNED PREPARATION H!"

"I scanned the *!#@! Preparation H!"

"PLEASE REMOVE THE UNSCANNED BUTT CREAM!"

"Shut Up!!!"

The final insult -- perhaps not quite as humiliating as publicly arguing with a hearing-impaired computer about my alleged quasi-medical issues -- comes when the machine begins questioning my age. It thinks, in its programmed mechanized way, that it's being nice to me when it asks if I qualify for the senior discount. What it doesn't realize is that I'm on the other side telling it to go do something with itself in ways that aren't even remotely possible.



2016 Mark Feggeler

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