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.
During my nearly 12 years as a cashier, I’ve been asked many interesting questions by customers, including:
“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:
Propel the customers upward
Disconnect from our elevator shaft and turn in mid-air
Burst through the cement and brick wall of our building
Float across the street
Smash through the organic food store’s edifice
Somehow connect to the other store’s elevator shaft
Arrive at the floor where the customer parked his or her car
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 Dimedby 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.
The RIGHT PLACE to leave a shopping cart.
The WRONG PLACE to leave a shopping cart.
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.
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.
Today was a typical Sunday at the supermarket: insanely busy. However, I was quick to get people in and out of my line. When the lines are long, the only thing to do is keep my head down and establish the highest level of efficiency possible. From time to time, problems will occur that throw off my alacrity.
The first problem during my shift was a man with a bad check. Having encountered these kinds of situations before, I knew what warning signs to look for. Once I saw that his personal check was in the name of a “business” and that his shoddy-looking state ID expired two years ago, I quickly told him we couldn’t accept his check and he was on his way.
In addition to personal checks, which I despise, people pay for groceries in a variety of uncommon ways. Sometimes I get customers that pay with two-dollar bills, silver dollars or travelers’ checks. Occasionally, people will pay with change, which isn’t a big deal as long as the total is less than five dollars.
Unfortunately, halfway through my shift, I rang up a customer who didn’t get the memo on how much change is acceptable for a grocery bill. After telling him the bill was $14.50, he said, “I’m paying with quarters today,” and dumped a massive amount of silver coins on my conveyor belt.
As I started to count the change, I looked at my line of customers, which was bending into oblivion, and apologized for the delay. I then proceeded to count the change. But as I was counting, he added news coins to the pile and threw me off completely, so I had to start again. And while I was doing this, his moronic friend – who should have been bagging the groceries – was filling him in on all the celebrity gossip from a magazine he wasn’t even going to buy. Once the counting was complete, I realized Mr. Quarters gave me two too many, so I gave them back to him with his receipt.
If you think paying for groceries with an excessive amount of change is acceptable, it’s not. Mr. Quarters could have simply visited the bank, which is directly across the street from the grocery store, and turned his sea of quarters into dollar bills, or he could have done the same thing at customer service. Please take this story to heart. Not only will it help you avoid the derision of others, but not carrying around several pounds of metal will also significantly lighten your load.
This past weekend I rang up one of the strangest customers I’ve encountered during my time at the supermarket. For the purpose of this post, let’s call him “Rubber Band Man.”
Sunday is typically the worst day to work at the supermarket because it’s when most people take care of chores such as cleaning, cooking and shopping. Considering shopping and cooking go hand in hand, the odds are against me every Sunday.
After working for several hours and ringing up what felt like hundreds of customers, I was hoping the end of my shift would be relaxing and free of crazy customers. To my dismay, Rubber Band Man foiled my plans.
The first thing I noticed about this curious individual was that he was sweating profusely. Beads of sweat the size of raindrops were all over his face. This was startling because it wasn’t hot outside or inside the store, and what made it more disturbing was they just hung there, not moving.
Once his items were rung up, I told him the total and he pulled out a money clip secured with at least 10 rubber bands. Then, he reached into his pocket full of dirty, wrinkled plastic bags and pulled out a blue one wrapped in – what else – rubber bands. After purposefully removing each rubber band from the bag, he pulled out four dollars. Considering his bill was $3.75, this was his lucky day.
While this plastic bag and rubber band show was going on, a woman that works in the meat department got into my line and gave me a frightened look after observing this poor, rubber-banded soul. The good news is, other than shocking me with his copious amounts of sweat, rubber bands and plastic bags, Rubber Band Man was harmless. I’ve never seen him before, and I have a feeling that I’ll never see him again.