Impatience and intolerance for others seem to be hallmarks of 21st century American culture, as well as a general lack of awareness of others. Nowhere are those trends more evident than at the local supermarkets.
I am probably just as guilty as others when it comes to supermarket impatience. When I only have a few items, I’ll make a beeline to the self-checkout lane. It bothers me, however, because I wonder if I’m ultimately contributing to the elimination of jobs.
But if I have a substantial load, including fruit that needs to be weighed, I’ll seek out one of the standard lanes. (There were once “Ten items or less” lanes, but they seem to have disappeared, or migrated to the self-checkout section). Perhaps it’s because people abused the concept by blatantly going through with 30 items or more!
Without hesitation I admit to the practice of “profiling” and unabashed discrimination when it comes to choosing a checkout lane.
My lane selection is not simply based on how full the carts are ahead of me. I analyze the people in line and how organized they appear, in other words, do they have it have together? Do they seem distracted?
You don’t want to get behind someone whose credit/debit card doesn’t work, or a person who insists on using a checkbook in addition to a mountain of paper coupons, some of which have expired—that they insist must be honored. You can sometimes discern which items ahead of you are going to require a “price check,” and quickly avoid such a line.
Lane selection is critical because by the time you realize you are behind a disorganized customer, another three to four people have queued up behind you, imprisoning you with a tabloid newspaper library on one side and a wall of candy on the other. I call this “supermarket death valley.” At this point you are officially trapped and committed. No amount of glaring, eye rolling, coughing or foot tapping can dislodge the nightmare customer in front of you.
If you are extremely unfortunate, you may also encounter one of the many people who space out their items on the conveyor belt in such a way that you can’t put down your own stuff. These are the “This conveyor belt belongs to me” people.
If you find yourself trapped in “supermarket death valley” there are usually some Payday or Snicker bars for sustenance.
Or, you can do like others: get out your iPhone and pretend like you’re texting, phoning or otherwise doing something important.
Self-awareness seems to be something we are losing as a species. Grocery stores are prime locations to witness this disturbing trend. I notice more and more how people seem to be completely oblivious to other people around them and the inconveniences they cause others. It’s usually not worth the energy expenditure to call these people out. They seem to be incapable of comprehending the fact that the world includes other individuals with shopping agendas.
Finding your items: Stores sometimes employ product grouping strategies that defy logic. Bread, for example, is not located near bakery products. Ice cream cones are not found on the end caps near freezers that contain ice cream. Coffee filters are placed with paper products rather than near coffee. And for some fiendish reason, some stores like to periodically move their products around – perhaps to make customers visit different parts of the store and purchase products they previously might not have considered. I can’t resist thinking store managers are just having fun playing with our heads.
The parking lot sprawl: It’s generally a no-holds-barred, Mad Max, free-for-all situation. Alaskan winters render painted lines useless…effectively halving the overall parking lot capacity. This only serves to increase the frenzied atmosphere.
Carts haphazardly left by fleeing customers become navigable obstacles. Parking spot “campers” clog up the lot waiting for someone to load their groceries so they can take their spot. On top that, there are parking “snipers” who zoom in and cut others off to secure a spot three spaces closer to the door.
Or, as you attempt to pull out of your spot, the family parked adjacently decides to search for a lost toy under their seats. With their car doors ajar, you are now stuck in your spot, praying they find junior’s toy before your perishables perish.
Customer counseling: Perhaps the Customer Service counter should add a highly trained staff person who is solely dedicated to counseling shoppers and tutoring them on supermarket protocol and behavior, parking lot etiquette and of course, patience and tolerance for others.
But through it all, I still prefer the visceral, tactile experience of shopping at the brick and mortar store as opposed to ordering everything online—which seems to be the direction Americans are headed. I dread the day groceries are delivered to our homes by drones whirring through our neighborhoods.
Finally, my lovely wife put forth a much-needed reality check: She shops for about 95 percent of our groceries, so I have no earthly reason for complaining about supermarkets.
Frank E. Baker is an Echo team member and freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired school teacher. He thanks his son, David Baker, for contributions to this column.