I know better than to go to Walmart on Saturday afternoons. Really I do. But darn if it isn't the most convenient time of the week to go grocery shopping. And when I go, and circle the lot 27 times just for a chance at a parking spot a quarter mile away from the door, and dodge traffic on my way into the store, I sometimes fantasize about my grocery shopping routine of years past.
In college, I would go to Walmart after work, which sometimes meant after midnight. And hoo boy, I'm here to tell you – THAT'S a convenient time to go to Walmart. I had my pick of front row parking spaces, never had to play chicken with other shopping carts in the cereal aisle, and rarely had to stand in line to check out. No "patiently" waiting while the lady down the aisle from me (whose cart is casually positioned diagonally, carelessly blocking BOTH lanes of shoppers) meticulously decides between brands of chicken broth. No carefully stepping around a Mom having one of "those" days wrangling a cart full of toddlers pulling sugary cereals off the shelves whilst shrieking to the heavens a barely distinguishable jumble of "not fair!" and "puleeeeeeeze".
That was the life.
Nonetheless, I brave the store almost every Saturday afternoon while The Boy takes his nap. I take my list. (And I still forget things.) And I follow my usual route through the store – toiletries first, then back across to the grocery side, shoot up the side through the meat then back to the front going down each aisle, back and forth - small detour over to the Baby Department for diapers and butt paste – then back to the front to check out this week's People Magazine. Riveting, I know.
Every week is more or less the same. Sometimes I bump into someone I know and chat for a minute. Sometimes it's a holiday weekend and the aisles are double crowded. But nothing really bothers me about this process – grocery shopping. I have my routine down to a science and I stick to my list and my route.
I have carefully considered every last detail, including the checkout. Especially the checkout. You see, the checkout at Walmart is a sociological experiment, of sorts. The checker I choose is far more important to me than the length of the line at each register. Meaning, I will NOT get into the shortest line if it means I will have to deal with the wrong checker. Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.
I'll admit, it took me a while to learn this lesson. I used to scan the front of the store for the winning combination of shortest line and emptiest carts and make a bee line for the prize. But no more. I've been burned too many times by the mirage – the shortest line. It's not all it's cracked up to be.
And I've learned to make The Checker Decision very carefully. I've learned to respect the fine line that exists between being old knowledgeable enough to understand that I don't want my hamburger meat to share a bag with my milk or dish soap yet not so old as to think my reusable shopping bags are newfangled nonsense. I've learned that teenage-ish boys do not appreciate the deliberate order in which I place my items on the belt – cold stuff together, baby stuff together, bathroom stuff together, etc. It's almost entirely subjective, and I cannot describe the perfect checker – but I know it when I see it.
This weekend I was had. I scanned the checker selection and made my choice. It was a fairly short line – bonus! I emptied my cart onto the belt – cold stuff first, blah blah. I waited patiently while both shoppers in front of me zipped right through the line. I grinned, satisfied that I had made a wise decision, almost irritated that I didn't have to wait in line long enough to catch up on my Words with Friends.
Then. It happened. As I leaned over to hand my shopping bags to the nice, capable, efficient checker, another checker appeared behind her, smacking her gum to punctuate her arrival. It was shift change. The Josie and the Pussycats stunt double was there to relieve MY checker. And my heart sank. Nooooo. My mind was racing. Can't you wait just five more little minutes? Just one more customer? Look – my stuff is already on the belt! I'll be quick! I promise! Please don't leave me with the girl with blue hair and black nails! I don't deserve this!
And as it turned out, my discriminatory, preconceived prejudices were 100% deserved. (This time.) Before I was granted my receipt, I had the opportunity to explain to this girl that eggs really do need to be bagged horizontally, and that bread doesn't go in the bag before, well, anything – and a manager visited our register TWICE to override some fool thing she'd entered into the machine. I could feel the eyes of the shoppers in line behind me boring into the side of my head, but I refused to look up and respond with a sheepishly apologetic shoulder shrug. No! I was tricked!
Maybe if I were to call Mr. Walmart and explain to him my theory on the checkout. Maybe if I proposed some sort of policy that would require a suitably comparable substitution for checkers - little old lady for little old lady, teeny-bopper for teeny-bopper. Maybe. Or maybe I persevere, and practice a little patience. Maybe.