Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pick Right

Picking the Right checkout line at Kroger's is an art. When I'm ready to sack, pay and go I'm sure everybody in the store is thinking the same thing. Actually, there's a game theory that predicts shopping checkout behavior and I've learned that when I get that Spidey Tingle, it's time to head for the chute.

By now I know my checkers. There's the thorough, scholarly checker who's slow but sure. Never misses a code and is looking ahead for things like groups of cat food cans. Then there's the Newby they've stuck on the fast lane. Trial by fire I guess. Then there's the Old Hand.

I always go for the Old Hand for one reason: produce. The Old Hand will know the code for kumquats, South African dog chilis and that weird thing I have no idea what it is, but I bought it to throw into the chili for flavor, assuming, of course, it has any flavor.

The Old Hand will know the code for the Weird Thing and offer some commentary to liven the experience, like, "What the hell are you going to do with this?"

Today was no exception. I spotted my favorite Old Hand busily scanning cans and weighing Weird Things, his hands a blur. Although there were more carts in his lane (could it be that someone had stumbled on my secret?) I slipped into Lane 9 knowing that I'd be out in short order.

I hadn't counted on the dreaded shift change.

Just as my cart arrived at pole position, Spot Boy showed up and told Old Hand that he'd "take over." Frantically, I checked around but by this time I was trapped. Carts to the left, carts to the right and my escape back was blocked by several gum smacking amateurs who were too busy checking out the latest exploits of Britney Spears in the tabloids.

I was doomed.

Finally, Spot Boy got the register sorted out, exchanged his money tray with Old Hand who, no doubt, departed for a retirement in Tahiti, and I was up for inspection.

It was predictably slow.

Spot Boy held up a bag and asked me "What's this?"

"Carrots," I answered.

39 comments:

candy said...

so THAT'S what i'm doing wrong! i always go for the shortest line or, if at all possible, the x-items-or-less line. i have to be more discerning, do my research. thanks for the (very well written) tip.

ladymadaysia said...

Wow.

I've always hated going to Kroger. There is something wrong with that store.

But some people.

There was this one cashier that we normally got that was a girl that looked like a guy, but she was fast, and she was good. And she knew the codes to the weird things that we bought to put in other weird crap.

kenny said...

Brilliant post. Thank you. As a husband who does the grocery shopping, I can relate to the mental games we men play in the supermarkets. Like when waiting for the deli counter to call your number, you check out all the other poor saps waiting with you to see which, if any, might try to steal your place. Thanks for a chuckle. Found you via dooce.

Meg said...

I just linked to this via dooce, too. . .and have to say -- you struck a nerve! so funny. I have actually memorized the codes of a couple of things I buy regularly and which NONE of the crazy Latina checkout girls in my NYC grocery can ever figure out the code for. It always goes like this: "that's escarole, not lettuce. The code is 135. Trust me, try it." When I find one who knows the code, I am unreasonably grateful. . . makes up for the times I don't catch it and they charge me for lettuce, which costs double. Then I have to decide if I want to wait for the interminable VOID or just pay the extra goddamned less-than-a-dollar. (I mean, it's not the change, it's the principle.)

Meg said...

I just linked to this via dooce, too. . .and have to say -- you struck a nerve! so funny. I have actually memorized the codes of a couple of things I buy regularly and which NONE of the crazy Latina checkout girls in my NYC grocery can ever figure out the code for. It always goes like this: "that's escarole, not lettuce. The code is 135. Trust me, try it." When I find one who knows the code, I am unreasonably grateful. . . makes up for the times I don't catch it and they charge me for lettuce, which costs double. Then I have to decide if I want to wait for the interminable VOID or just pay the extra goddamned less-than-a-dollar. (I mean, it's not the change, it's the principle.)

Andrea said...

I can tell the Old Hands in Walmart from their vests. They wear nice burgandy ones instead of the cruddy, ordinary blue ones.

Most of the young kids at the check-outs don't know what 90% of the produce is. They've only eaten vegetables from a can, probably, and mostly only peas, corn, or green beans. FRENCH FRIES are vegetables to these folks :)

Give Heather at dooce.com a shout out for sending some people this way!

Kat said...

As a former "old hand", it stresses me out to no end to have the crappy cashier. When it comes to produce however, the generalizations of a newbie, "If it's green it's lettuce or red it's a tomato" can often save a good deal of money.

I'm here via dooce too, thank you for sharing.

a dooce lurker said...

Very funny. There's nothing worse than a SLOW checker. And my personal favorite is a cashier that can check you out without uttering one single word. People are so rude. Found you via dooce as well. I had a dream last night that I met her and told her she looks like she could be british. Strange.

alms said...

Great post! No Krogers in my neighborhood, but lots of Safeways and Giants. My husband and I have a huge pet peeve with them, and I wonder if anyone else out there shares it with us: When the grocery bagger uses essentially one plastic grocery bag PER ITEM. Drives us crazy! I can see they're trying to be considerate with not weighing the bag down and causing it to break, but come on! Two loaves of bread can be in the same bag, and I don't need a separate grocery bag for each produce item--the lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes can mingle, really. There's a laughable sign right at the registers of our usual Safeway that reads, "For environmental conservation, we only double bag upon request." As if giving me a single, separate, plastic bag for each of my salad dressings is somehow more environmentally responsible. You can imagine how much fun loading our car is, with all those stupid bags.

Anonymous said...

You have your technique, my friend Ryan has his:

http://rottenryan.com/archives/000348.html

Anonymous said...

i have an uncanny knack for picking the line where someone is using food stamps with a newby cashier. happens way too often to be a coincidence anymore.

Anonymous said...

hilarious....and so true!

Alex said...

Beautiful. Just beautiful....

I spent most of my life as an expat in various countries, and if there's anything worse than a Kroger's checkout line, it's an Italian checkout clerk hearing you speak English and subjecting you to a rundown (occasionally with pictures!) of all relatives in the US, as well as a vocabulary list of Known English Words.

Anonymous said...

I'm south african but I don't know what South African dog chillis are. What are they? Peppers? I'm curious.

sgip said...

Absolutely! At my own grocery - which seems to be run as an extra-curricular activity for the local middle school - I take small solice in the fact that the chain is losing a steady stream of revenue from all of the shallots and garlic keyed in generically as "ONIONS" and basically anything green with leafs as "LETTUCE". I don't usually get the "What's this?" question, as that would involve one of the kids actually talking to me, a customer. ..

Katie said...

God bless self-check out. I don’t have to deal with incompetent employees.

The only checker I ever go to is the lady who is the manager. I see her so often I notice when she gets a haircut, and I always compliment on it. I think we're building a real friendship.

The Junkie said...

Our local market is the Dyer's Shurfine. It took the old timer checkers about three years to warm up to me.

Now they point out when the item I grabbed is about to expire and do I want it at a reduced price or do I want BagBoy to fetch me a fresher one?

So much more personal than the Walmart Super Center.

Mrs. Wooden Nickels said...

Here because of Dooce too. My favourite check out memory is going thru the slowest check out (I always avoided this older lady months before) and noticing that she now had a brace on her hand. It must have been the lack of use of her wrist, since she was so slow!

Zazzy said...

Shop with me. It does not matter how long your lane looks nor how short mine appears. I have the knack for choosing the lane that will run out of tape, have three price checks, need manager approval, require a shift change, and argue about the 10 cent coupon. Shop with me. Choose any lane but mine.

Anonymous said...

4672, baby. (parsnips)

--Victoria (via Dooce)

caitlin said...

for me, it's the bagger that's important. i hate it when i have to worry about bagging and paying and telling odd vegetable codes all at the same time. i hate the new guys who give me the ├╝ber confused look when i hand them my bike panier- then they start putting things in plastic bags before loading it up... hello! what do you think the point is! or then they put the extras in paper bags, super easy to balance on your handlebars....

spygeek said...

It's mostly self bagging here so I get to screw up my own bags. And once at the local Festival Foods I bought an interesting-looking vegetable to give to my bunnies, and no one knew what it was, not even the manager. Turns out it was purple kale. I think they rang it up as Belgian endive, which it clearly wasn't, but at that point I just wanted to go home.

Christine said...

I live in Iowa -- the Heartland, the place where veggies are born and picked most months of the year. I am continually shocked by young check out clerks who don't know what type of produce they are scanning. Green beans or pea pods? Cabbage or head lettuce?! Cucumber or zucchini??!

Who in the !@#$% is raising these weird people? It's very sad... and somehow quite scary.

Sidney Ann said...

I think they ought to ban senior citizens from the Express Check-Out line, if you know what I mean.

Anonymous said...

Linked via Dooce too!

We don't hage Kroger or whatever the bloody thing is called in the UK, but we have spot boys in their legions!

My favourite response is when I buy a CD, spot boy, in a lame attempt to engage in conversation will usually say "oh great, my dad likes these!"

You bastard spot boy - I'm 30, get it. I cried when Cobain died - and now you're the one in the Nirvana shirt and you're associating me with your parents?

Gordon said...

Dooce, dooce, dooce.

Scientists reckon the quickest checkout is the one with the fewest people as it's the transaction that takes the longest. So even if it's two people with huge trolley fulls versus five with baskets I'll pick the two.

THEN I'll start to moan when the five baskets get through before me (usually plus another five). Damn scientists.

schmims said...

...via Dooce.

I'm all about the self check lanes. No waiting on slow ass teens who don't know the difference between a Red Delicious and an Empire. Plus, I LOVE getting to push all those buttons and scan all those bar codes.

quartney said...

...via dooce.

What about the checker who doesn't know what a lime is???

that girl said...

I was a grocery cashier when I was 18, until I finally got out at a significantly later age. What can I say, the pay was great and the insurance and benefits rocked.

I was the old hand, as you put it,... although I was the youngest employee. Call it being conscientious or just write it off to me being a foodie.

My customers were SO loyal I'd have the longest line- not for lack of speed, but because I could tell kale from collards, and I could give you an awesome recipe to try it in next time.

kilowatthour said...

oooh Weird Thing is my favorite! i like the green variety best.

David said...

Eyeing the checker is important, but the chances of finding an "old hand" is less than 1 in 10. I find it more helpful to scope out the customers and their groceries. The "I wanna write a bad check" lady with her 4,782 coupons will get you everytime.

I avoid the grocery store like the plague and usually go only late at night and this is why

Anonymous said...

via the Dooce ...

I hate the newbies at the grocery store so much, that I check for regulars at my 2 local stores before shopping...but best of all when I don't find one, I go the Albertson's and use the self-checkout lane...how utilitarian!

Anonymous said...

Try adding this variable to your problem of choosing the right check out line--I'm a high school teacher who has lived and worked in the community for ten years. I have to avoid all the regular problem people plus the bagger I failed for cheating, the talker who wants to discuss the lastest novel she's read, the one who skipped my class earlier in the day, or any of them when I buy booze and tampons. Fun.

Anonymous said...

Add this to the variables of shopping efficiently: I'm a high school teacher who has worked and lived in the community for 10 years. In addition to avoiding the regular problems, I have to watch for the bagger whom I failed last semester, the talker who wants to discuss the homework assignment (!), the clerk who skipped my class earlier that day, and all of them when I buy booze and tampons. No wonder I like to shop with my boyfriend who lives 20 miles away.

monkeybites said...

Dooce visitor, also.

Possibly my largest pet peeve in the world is grocery store baggers (Kroger & Publix). They put the fresh produce in with raw meats. (NO!) They put 1 baguette in its own bag. (NO!) And I really don't need a bag for the gallon of milk. I can carry it just as easily without the plastic bag.

We also happen to have an incredible international farmer's market here in Atlanta (Decatur, really). The checkout people know the codes by heart of every exotic vegetable and flower in the entire store. It truly blows my mind. This place might be larger than a Home Depot or Lowe's with tons of imported, organic and/or house-made pastas, cookies, crackers, produce, meats, cheeses, etc etc etc. The checkers are all foreign, with English as a second language, and they know every damn code. None of the grocery store clerks can do that. I love that place.

Anonymous said...

Crosslinked from Dooce...

I love the self serve check out lines they have now in my area. There's nothing more rewarding then watching the people in your community try and figure out the intricies of scanning each item, bagging it themselves, and then standing around waiting for hours on end for a clerk to help them because the self serve machine is blinking from a scan error or they can't figure out why the machine keeps shooting their nasty crumpled, taped together, worn thin dollar bills back out. Thank heaven for technology, what leaps and bounds we have made and how easy it has made things for us. Oh Frabjous Day!

Anonymous said...

As a cashier I'm not entirely sure how to take this ;) I get a lot of repeats, especially some of the restaurant owners in town. I've been there nearly a year, and I have relatively high seniority. Kinda scary.

Chimplet said...

We call one particular location "Slow-Ger." It's the one that doesn't have fans to expel the smell of the frying chickens, so even if you can get in and out in 10 min. (good luck!), you stink like you been fried yerself.

The Story Teller said...

That is hysterical. I bet store owners never dreamed it would be an Olympic Event when they started their business. I go to like 3 different stores depending on what I am buying. LOL. That way I can buy what I need from the folks that specialize in that. Sad uh?