After 12 years of of working at the supermarket, I’ve decided to call it quits. I came to the realization last week that working a full-time job, being a part-time graduate student and working part-time at the grocery store was a bit overwhelming. I wasn’t getting enough sleep and I couldn’t devote the appropriate amount of time to school work. Something had to go, so I decided to bid adieu to the first job I ever had.
I started working at the supermarket when I was 16 years old, and I’ve met some great people and had wonderful experiences along the way. I’ve also encountered my fair share of crazies and been placed in highly stressful situations. Nevertheless, my time there was well spent and I have no regrets.
I’ve been telling my “regulars” (i.e., customers I ring up on a consistent basis) that this is my last week and many of them have said “this place won’t be the same without you” and “I’m going to miss you.” Hearing this made me realize the impact I’ve had on certain customers and the impact they’ve had on me. Yes, I may not be best friends with these people outside the store, but, in some cases, we’ve spent the past 12 years together and with it came a lot of laughter and memories. Some of these people have shared their most personal triumphs and failures with me and I’m honored that they felt comfortable doing so.
While I look forward to catching up on sleep and hitting the books, I’ll miss certain elements of my time at the supermarket. Thankfully, 12 years behind the register has provided me with a plethora of humorous and touching stories that I look forward to sharing with you. Similar to my supermarket stories blog posts, they will capture the essence of my memorable encounters with customers and colleagues. Stay tuned for more details.
“Have you gained weight?”
“Are you married?”
“So, do you want my number?”
“Do you carry milk?”
“I need condoms now! Where are your condoms?”
Some have been flattering, some have been insulting, but they’ve always been entertaining. This is especially true when it comes to the illogical questions. Speaking of which, I had two customers ask me what I classify as the most perplexing question of all time. But before I reveal this astoundingly bizarre question, let me provide some context.
I work in what most would call a “traditional” supermarket, and directly across the street is an organic food store. For many customers – and employees – having these two stores next to each other is extremely convenient. Many of them shop at both stores and those who drive park in our lot or the other store’s garage. However, sometimes people leave their cars in the organic store’s parking lot when they’re shopping in our store and don’t come to this realization until after they’ve bought an absurd amount of groceries.
This brings us to the strangest question that’s ever been uttered: “Do your elevators go to the other food store’s parking lot?”
The first time I was asked this question, I was stunned. The person that asked it seemed intelligent, and as far as I could tell the individual wasn’t drunk or high. The same goes for the second person. Let’s think about this from a physics perspective. For our elevators to reach the organic food store’s parking lot they’d have to do the following:
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound feasible to me. And even if it was, that seems like an awfully dangerous way to travel. This isn’t Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While I would love to take a ride on the Great Glass Elevator, I’m fairly certain it’s not at the local supermarket.
In the great book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, the author mentions suspecting that, when in retail stores, adults act like children because their children act out at home and they have no other place to vent. Whether these acts are conscious or unconscious is anyone’s guess. But it’s an interesting idea that I see played out each time I’m at the food store – parents acting worse than their kids. They do all sorts of ridiculous things, including putting items they don’t want in the magazine rack (I’m pretty sure pickles don’t go there!), spilling something and telling no one and leaving their trash at the register.
In addition to trash, many customers leave their shopping carts at the end of the line. This used to bother me, but as long as it’s not in the way of the next customer, I let it slide. However, once in a blue moon I’ll get a shopper whose stupidity and rudeness is off the charts and he or she will leave the shopping cart at the front of the line. Yes, you read that correctly; after emptying their grocery cart, some customers will back up and leave their shopping cart in front of the cashier’s line or in front of a display. I had the great fortune of ringing up one of these clueless individuals today.
After emptying his cart, he said to the woman behind him (who was waiting to put her items on the belt), “Excuse me, would you please back up?” She gave him a bemused look and got out of his way. Then, as he was about to push and leave his cart in front of a Tide display on the end of an aisle, I said very loudly, “Excuse me sir! Would you please bring your cart though here?” motioning to my line where he previously was standing.
He obliged, and I glowered at him as he approached. And I couldn’t help but notice how his massive gut was testing the elasticity of his shirt. Once he got to register, he said in a southern drawl, “Oh, I didn’t know these had to come through. Is that a rule?”
Without hesitation I said, “Yes. That’s a rule. You have to put it back where you found it.”
Beer Belly Bob responded, “Well, I didn’t find it here.”
I said, “I know. You found it over there,” pointing to where the carts belong.
“What’s your name?”
“Michael,” I said.
“Is this your full-time job? Is this what you do for a career?” he asked.
“No. I work here part-time, I have a full time job and I’m in graduate school.”
Beer Belly Bob responded with, “What are you studyin’?”
I said, “Communications, which is why I like to be clear. Any more questions?”
He didn’t have anything else to say. Like any customer, I thanked him for shopping, gave him his receipt and told him to have a good day. Once the encounter was over and he left, I was proud of myself. Not only did I get him to do the right thing, but I remained composed when he tried to push my buttons and get me to say something he could report. While it’s sad that he feels the need to determine someone’s worth by his or her job, that’s his problem.
If you learn anything from this story, it should be this: Always put your shopping cart – and pickles – back where they belong, and don’t judge others because of their job title. The world is already overpopulated with condescending, myopic twits. Be open-minded and happy, and most of all, have respect for others.
This past weekend at the supermarket was incredibly busy. The time sprung forward and the weather was beautiful. On top of that, it was the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Philadelphia, which meant lots of jovial people walking – and stumbling – in and out of the food store wearing shamrocks, beads and anything green. However, it wasn’t the men in kilts blowing bagpipes or the old, mustachioed lady with shamrock antlers that caught my eye. It was Viagra Man.
While ringing up waves of customers at my register, I longingly look at the front door, especially on a beautiful day, thinking about what it would be like to be outside. I also enjoy people watching. My eyes lit up and I guffawed when I saw an older man wearing a NASCAR-inspired jacket emblazoned with the Viagra logo on the front and the back. Immediately I wondered why he would be walking around in public in such garish attire. Was he a proud user of the popular drug? Was he being paid by Pfizer to wear this garment because he was an influential member of the geriatric social elite? There was only one way to find out why this man was OK with being a walking punchline.
In between orders, I kept my eye on him as he traversed the aisles, secretly hoping he’d come to my line. But then I realized, how would I broach the topic of his ludicrous jacket without making him feel self conscious? After pondering this for quite some time, I looked up and saw that he was in someone else’s line. “Damn,” I said aloud to no one in particular. But then he disappeared and I didn’t see him anywhere nearby. I assumed he left without me noticing and my dreams were dashed.
Approximately 10 minutes later I looked at the back of my line and spotted him. I almost yelled out, “Viagra Man!” But, thankfully, I contained myself. Once I starting ringing him up I said, “Are you a NASCAR fan?” He pointed to an illegible signature on the left breast of the jacket and I said, “What’s that?” He responded with a racer I never heard of before and told me the jacket was “a gift” and that he didn’t watch NASCAR because it was boring. I nodded my head in agreement and Viagra Man was on his way. I expected that an old man wearing such an outlandish piece of clothing would have been brimming with charisma and a bundle of energy. But he wasn’t. Viagra Man was simply a person who felt obligated to wear a jacket that was given to him by someone he loved. Either that or he was a damn good liar.
I was at the supermarket today and I spotted a box of Fruity Pebbles and noticed something different about them; instead of Fred Flintstone being on the box, I saw WWE superstar John Cena with Bam Bam.
For those unfamiliar with wrestling, The Rock has had an ongoing feud with John Cena. “The Great One” told Cena that his colorful attire made him look like a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Over a span of several months they traded barbs and had an epic battle at WrestleMania last year. Their rematch is taking place at this year’s WrestleMania in New Jersey.
Partnering with Post to have John Cena replace Fred Flintstone on boxes of Fruity Pebbles, leading up to WrestleMania 29, was a brilliant way to promote the event and tie it back to WWE’s product. Well done, WWE. Well done.
Being on your cell phone in the presence of another individual when he or she is providing you with a service is rude. At the supermarket, I encounter countless people who lack any modicum of social decorum and find it perfectly fine to chat away while I’m checking them out. Not only is this rude, but it’s foolish behavior. I don’t know about you, but when I give money away, I like to pay attention. Many times people who aren’t on the phone give me too much cash. When you add the distraction of a cell phone, anything can happen.
When people first enter my line, I give them a chance to hang up. If they don’t, I say “Hi.” If they fail to respond, then I provide them with sub-par service. If they aren’t willing to give me the basic level of attention that is warranted for such a social situation, then they’re on their own. Conversely, when people acknowledge my existence, I’m more than happy provide them with excellent customer service.
Today, a customer was in my line and on his phone. He was calling a bar to report that he left behind his debit card. I laughed to myself because the kind of aloofness he was displaying at that moment was, more than likely, why he lost his card in the first place. So much for learning from our mistakes.
I’ve had other customers that have had the temerity to apologize to the person they were speaking with on the phone. They have literally said, “I’m sorry, I’m checking out at the store right now.” Part of me would love to say to these mental giants, “You’re apologizing to the wrong person.” But I grin and bear it.
The bottom line is this: Talking on your phone when a service is being rendered is rude. Don’t do it. In this digital age where we’re all literally and figuratively tethered to our devices, let’s make a vow to not let our manners fall prey to these gadgets. It’s OK to silence our ringers, turn off our phones and interact with other humans. Give it a try. You might even like it.
Almost all of my shifts at the supermarket are six hours. To kill the time I regularly engage customers in conversations about a variety of subjects – music, dating, the stock market, and, sometimes, food. Doing so has helped me gain a reputation for being one of the nicest cashiers at the store. Besides praising me for being good at my job, some customers – both male and female – will compliment me on my looks. This doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m grateful that people of different ages, races and sexes find me attractive. On a crappy day, having some old lady tell me I look “like a movie star” makes me feel like a million bucks. However, when customers cross the line, it can get creepy.
One night, several years ago, I was in the express lane ringing up countless customers. My line stretched all the way to Egypt, and I was doing my best to get them in and out as quickly as possible. Even though I get paid by the hour, and not per customer, I still take pride in being efficient and establishing a quick, rhythmic pace. This results in me getting lost in the moment and time slipping away like grains of sand.
After the rush of customers had gone home to have dinner, I let out a sigh of relief and took a swig of water. When my eyes landed on my next customer, I instantly recognized him; he lived in the neighborhood and, based on the scrubs he always wore, worked at a hospital. We’d never spoken outside the store and I didn’t know his name, but I still “knew” him. However, this time he was accompanied by another man, whom I didn’t know.
After placing his items on the conveyor belt, I greeted him and he drunkenly slurred, “Hello handsome.” His friend, who I quickly deduced was his partner, yelled at him: “Jack, stop that!” Jack continued by saying, “I’ve seen you outside the store. You look good in regular clothes.” Needless to say, I was mortified. This customer was drunk and hitting on me, in front of his boyfriend no less – who kept yelling “Jack!” every time he said something inappropriate. All I could do was say, “Do you have your savings card?” and get him out of my line as quickly as possible.
After he left, I never saw Jack at the supermarket or in the neighborhood again. Either he and his partner broke up and he moved away or his partner killed him; I’m not sure. I’m just thankful there wasn’t a sequel to that incredibly awkward experience. One encounter with Jack “Daniels” was more than enough for me.