I was in line at the CVS near my house.
There was just one register open. Well, one, plus the two self-service ones they put in a few months ago when they eliminated two (I think it was two) live-person registers. So now there are two self-serve and two employee-manned registers.
I refuse to use the self-serve machines. I don't use them at the grocery stores or at Target or any other stores that have them. For one thing, I have a job, and I do my job at MY place of employment. I don't go shopping so I can work for free at someone else's place of employment. I used to use the self-serve checkout things when they first showed up. They were a novelty. If I was in a hurry, they were a quick option. And when my kids were little, I'd let them bag the groceries or do the scanning – it was fun for them and made things a bit smoother for me.
But. Over time a few thoughts took shape in my head. First, if I'm going to do the work, then shouldn't my reward be some sort of discount on my grocery bill? It wouldn't have to be much, but just something that says "Hey, we at This Big National Store realize that we are tricking you into doing the work of cashiers and baggers by making it seem fun and speedy, so since we're saving money on the deal, we'll share that savings with you and knock some tiny percentage off your bill. Thanks for playing along!" But of course that's not going to happen, at least not that I've heard. Second, the self-service, self-checkout kiosks operate in place of actual people. Of course, there are always some real live cashiers available. And in the off hours, either way is fairly speedy if you're in a hurry. But when it's busier, the do-it-yourself checkout seems the faster option. Of course, they could open up more registers and have more real cashiers handy to keep things moving, but this way is cheaper.
Incidentally, the grocery store I cook at, which is NOT a chain, does not have a single self-checkout register. Not a one. And we are very proud of that.
So anyway, I've already gone off my original path.
Back to CVS.
I was in line. There was only one cashier. There was one customer already at the register, and two women who were ahead of me. They were older and didn't seem to mind the wait because they were deep in a conversation about how one of them had just come back from Ireland, visiting family, and she'd gone because life is short and her husband had passed away earlier this year and if not now, when? I also learned, unintentionally, that she's got 8 grown kids (between her and her late husband's first marriage), something like 21 grandkids, and even a few great-grandkids. The conversation between the two women was initially about the gorgeous cardigan this same woman was wearing – made in Ireland – very warm, this one was a dark green, and she's got another one in, I want to say dusty rose, but that's not the term she used, though it's the color in my memory…and I think she also brought back one in periwinkle.
While the women in front of me continued their conversation, a tall, thin, dark-haired man came up beside me, excused himself as he cut the line and went to one of the self serve stations. The current customer at the register in front of me finished up and the other two ladies and I each took a step forward.
I wasn't there to buy anything.
I'd already been there about half an hour earlier. I bought a box of Raisin Bran. I just found out Julia actually likes a relatively healthy cereal after all, and Raisin Bran is it. So I picked up a box while I was there.
I hadn't gone in for cereal, though. Julia was working on a project and needed some pictures printed from her phone. So, she'd sent them to me earlier and I uploaded them on the CVS app and was told they'd be ready in about an hour and I'd get a text. An hour went by. Hour and a half. I went over, figuring they'd be ready – only ten pictures – and picked up a box of cereal INSTEAD OF the ice cream that was far more tempting to me right there in the store but would only do damage once I got it home.
I brought my box of cereal up to the register and mentioned to the two women behind the register that I was also hoping to pick up some prints….? They spoke almost in unison. No, there weren't any prints. Their internet hadn't been working in a week.
I explained that I hadn't had a problem and I'd even been given a message that the pictures would be ready in an hour. They shook their heads and one said maybe I'd picked a different store? Their photo printing equipment wasn't working either…. They were polite and had probably gotten tired of having to repeat this story over and over for the past week.
I don't know why I was SO annoyed by all of this, but I was. I pointed out that no, I wouldn't have picked a different CVS because THIS is the only CVS I use. And I grumbled about how it would have been nice if there had been a message to let me KNOW the prints wouldn't REALLY be ready in an hour, or EVER…(I didn't say it exactly like that, but my petulant little brain was thinking it all, much to my embarrassment) and as I behaved like a cranky baby in need of a nap, I put my box of cereal down and my keys, and while I was saying some other grumpy stupid thing the woman who was cashiering rang up my box of cereal and I said I knew it wasn't their fault, I was just really frustrated – which is kind of like saying "I know you didn't hit me first but I'm going to punch you anyway." The Better Me was apparently locked in a room and could only pound on the window while Grumpy Baby Me hurried out of the store, So Inconvenienced Was She.
I zipped home, annoyed at the hour and a half I'd waited for no reason, and annoyed at myself for being such a bad sport for something so trivial. I called another CVS not far away and their photo-printing equipment was working fine, so I got back in the car and went over there, with instructions from Bill and Julia to bring back something "snacky and dippy." I uploaded the pictures, the machine printed them, I bought tortilla chips and queso, and headed back home.
But first, I stopped at the original CVS and got in line.
I have worked in customer service jobs of one kind and another most of my life. I've waitressed, I've worked retail, and I've worked in a "quality assurance" department and spent a lot of time on the phone trying to fix stuff that had gone wrong all over the country and way out of my reach. In every one of those jobs, I've dealt with people who didn't get their steak cooked properly or were unhappy that the item they wanted wasn't in stock, or that a service person was late and hadn't called, or maybe they were just unhappy about something else going on and took it out on me, or maybe they were just miserable grouchy people all the time. I don't know. I learned not to take it personally. (Unless it was my screw up and then yeah, I took it personally and apologized and tried to fix things or make them better, and then beat myself up about it for a few days.) But that didn't mean it didn't hurt, at least just a little, because in the majority of these situations, what had gone wrong wasn't due to my error or even within my control. When I was a waitress – I'd put in an order for medium rare, but the kitchen sent out medium well. I'm so sorry, I'll have the kitchen cook you another one, unless you'd like something else? I had no control over the inventory in the book store once it hit the sales floor. There may have been ten copies on the shelf yesterday, but we didn't know Oprah was going to mention it and it sold out. I'd be happy to order you a copy…. I could go on, but the point is, I've spent a lot of my working life apologizing for things that weren't specifically my fault. (Although at one job we were told that saying "I'm sorry such and such happened" is not admitting fault. Maybe not, but it still felt like it a lot of the time when the words came out of my mouth. Even when I used my manager voice.)
So, to go back to CVS, I was mad at myself for behaving like a grouch earlier because I really, REALLY know better, and I'd gone back to apologize.
The line moved up again.
Behind me someone's cell phone started playing this kind of jazzy ringtone and I heard an older man behind me finally answer it and at first it seemed he knew who he was talking to. "Tara? Is this Tara? Because Tara just called me….Yeah….Are you anywhere near the Newport Bridge?…Hang on…"(I hear him shifting something around, probably switching what he was carrying from one arm to the other)…."What?…..I'll be there soon….No?….Are you….Are you on the Mount Hope Bridge?….Well…why don't you go and take a flying leap off it……"
And I waited for what I assumed would be a hearty chuckle, because it had seemed like he was talking to someone he knew, though I couldn't figure out in what capacity, because it was a weird conversation. But then he spoke to someone else in line.
"Yeah, I like to give them a hard time. They call me and give me a hard time, so I give them a hard time right back. I gotta get something out of it." And whoever had been on his phone must have had an accent because he went on to speculate where they were from – in such a way that made it sound like he held that whole country responsible for all the hard time people have given him by telephone. Some other guy in line chimed in that yeah, he liked to keep telemarketers talking a long time too, sometimes. It was fun.
And I get robo-calls, of course. I've spoken to my share of telemarketers. I argued with one, once, and he actually hung up on me, which made me proud, a bit.
The calls are annoying. So I don't answer them. And I've been trying to separate the existence of the marketing technique (or scamming technique) from the people making the calls. Because some of the time, it's just people doing a job. Just trying to earn a living and pay rent and buy groceries and have internet access and a phone. They are just doing their job. Their job may annoy or frustrate me, but it's not personal. I try – and fail – and try again – to remember that. Same thing when I call some big company's customer service department, and the person who takes my call and then has to transfer me to some other person, who has to put me on hold to talk to a supervisor because she can't just do what I'd like her to do because she doesn't have the authority to make that decision. She's just doing her job. It's not about me.
I can't even get into the part about the older guy behind me blaming the telephone person's entire assumed country of origin for the annoying spam call. The prejudice in his voice – it made me sad, because it's so pathetic and ugly and wrong and small-minded and backwards-thinking and oh, it dredges up memories of other people I've worked with over the years that I just couldn't believe would talk like that and at the time I didn't say anything because I was the new girl and shy and then I would say something but it didn't change the way some people think because they've been thinking that way their whole lives and aren't about to change just because I helpfully point out that they're wrong.
It was my turn at the register. The cashier – same one as before – looked at my hands to see if I was holding something to buy or return, and I said "Hi, I was in here earlier, about the pictures, and I just wanted to say I'm sorry for being a miserable grouch before – "
The woman shook her head, interrupted me and moved as if to pat me on the hand, "Oh! No, no, don't worry about it!"
And I shook MY head and continued on "I really had no right to be like that – "
"You weren't – !"
" – and I should know better – "
And the other woman who'd been there earlier showed up too, to open the other register, because I guess the line had been getting longer, and she looked at my cashier like there was a problem, "Is there – ?"
And my casher started to explain "She was apologizing for – "
"I was being a big baby, is what I was doing when I was in here earlier – "
"Oh, no! Don't worry about – "
"Anyway, I just wanted you to know I felt bad about it. Have a good night."
They were smiling. I was smiling.
And then I went home.