Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Never Choose The Shortest Checkout Line At The Grocery Store

This is a reply that I posted to Fiftyodd's amusing Laws of Life Post:

Blogger, Fiftyodd, Laws of Life, 7-19-2012

The particular law to which this applies is:

"6. Variation Law-   If you change lines (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now (works every time)."

Corollary 1 of the #6 Variation Law states that if you get into the shortest line at the grocery store, the customer directly in front of you will have 50 payment cards with an average remaining value of $1.47 on each.  Five of those cards will not work in the reader, 7 have no remaining value,  2 of them will be cards the store does not accept causing bitter complaints to the manager of the store, as though he could change the policy on the spot for a regional grocery chain that has 700 stores. The total amount of the cards successfully read will be only a fraction of the bill, which will then results in a repeat performance of the 5 cards that can't be read.  After much cleaning of the magnetic strips, one card does work further reducing the bill by 49 cents and inspiring more confidence that somewhere on the four remaining cards the bill will magically be paid.  More cleaning, more attempts, more griping that the amount on the two cards the store does not accept would more than adequately pay the bill, all to no avail.  So now a mitful of credit cards comes out.  Most are expired,  five are not.  One works and further reduces the bill by $13.24 cents and then is maxed out.  The rest are already maxed out further inciting complaints that this card should be good, they paid the  minimal balance on last month's bill.  Now comes out the checkbook, they write a check for the remaining balance,  the check is fed through the register and rejected.  Now comes out the cash further reducing the bill by $9.13 with a litany of complaints that the cash was needed to put gas in the tank and there is doubt that the car will run out of gas and all the frozen goods will be lost.  There is still a remaining balance.  A floor manager is called over to remove items from the bill because a partial payment has been made and refunding items is beyond the cashier's level of authority.  The floor manager does not know how to use the cash register.  You look over in the long line and you see the girl with pink hair checking out with a huge cart of groceries that walked into the store when you got into the short line.  Several other employees are called in to aid the floor manager, slowly the first item is successfully refunded.

The cashier apologizes to you and suggests finding another line.  But you are into this, you want to see this saga unfold to the bloody end.   The next item is fresh broccoli.  It must be weighed, the register can not find 27 ounces of broccoli, only 26.8 ounces, it will not approve the refund.  An argument ensues with floor manager that the broccoli is not wanted.  Well then we have to cancel the entire order and try again.  The shopper relents on the broccoli, and reduces the order with goods with fixed prices, with accompanying comments as to how difficult life will be without shampoo, laundry detergent, etc.  The four 6 packs of beer and 2 cartons of soft drinks are not returned.  Finally the order is reduced below the tendered amount, resulting in a $1.23 refund.  Because of the lengthy transactions the register runs out of receipt paper.  The cashier looks under the counter, no tape.  The assistance light flashes on and the floor manager returns.  He does not know where the tape is stored.  The cashier goes to get the tape.  Mean while the floor manager attempts to remove the empty roll and jams it in the register.  The person in front of you starts complaining that they just want their change and leave.  The floor manager states the drawer on the cash register will not open until the register tape is replaced and the receipt is printed.  The cashier returns with the new rolls of tape.  The old roll is hopeless jammed.  The floor manager calls the janitor on the PA system.  The janitor is outside having a cigarette and is not available.  The floor manager walks out to his car and brings in a screw driver, pries out the roll but breaks the plastic door with the toothed cutter off the register.  The out of tape alarm will not clear with broken door.  The cashier presses the broken door into place and the receipt is printed and the register drawer opens.  As soon as the cashier leaves go of the door, it falls off and the register out of tape alarm illuminates.

The money is refunded.  The person leaves.  The cashier notes the door laying on the floor.

"I am sorry sir.  This register is broken you will have to go to another line."

OK, I will admit to putting different events into one incident, but there is nothing in the above story that hasn't happened to me.  If you ever see me in a line at the grocery store, gas station, bank, or highway,  immediately get into another line.

Edit 8-21-12:  I had an interesting variation of this experience on Sunday.  I went into the super market, and picked up 3 items.  It was Sunday afternoon and all the checkouts was busy.  There were two express lanes, 12 items maximum.  One line (the one I should have go into) had about eight people in it.  The other had only one.  I did a double take, yes the light was on and there was no one else in line.  Although the alarm bells were going off, I couldn't justify getting in line with 8 people in front of me.  So I go to the empty line, I look and the cart is full of bagged groceries, they are ringing up the last few items and the total bill is over $217.  What the hell, this is the 12 item express line!  What gives?   So then the cashier asks the lady by her first name if she brought those other store coupons in.  Ahaaa, they know each other and they are friends.  So that's  how you get a big cart of groceries into the express line.  Ok but they were done ringing it up, how long could it be?   Ha. Ha Sextant you dumb ass, you should have listened  to your alarm bells.  The woman pulls out a shovelful of coupons.  So her and her friend the cashier get into a protracted review of each coupon.  I felt like going over to the warm food section, getting 3 chairs and 3 cups of coffee and maybe some Danish, so we could sit and discuss these coupons like a true coffee klatch.   Oh each coupon had a story, some quite interesting.  Meanwhile in the long line I see the person who would have been in front of me, leave.  And on we go with further couponization, discussing advanced techniques for getting coupons off the internet, using other store coupons which this store will recognize if it is a full moon...on and on.   I notice not one other person was stupid enough to get in this line, even though I am the only one in it.  Finally we got to the bottom of the coupons, $217 reduced to $165.  I was amazed.  Hell it only took 15 minutes.  OK, maybe it didn't take 15 minutes, but it seemed like 45.  Ten minutes anyhow.


  1. Were you in back of me today?

    A few years ago a student brought me three cards at Christmas. Starbucks, Barnes and Noble and Target. He was a first class pain in the tush so I thought-well maybe the mom put 5 dollars on each as a thanks or was donating to the class. He had them in a class kind of card.
    But as I recall no signature.
    I go to the Starbucks. The card had no money on it, ditto the other two. My first grader at the store picked me out some cards, and a big card, put them I guess in his shirt. Then gave them to me. (Not by his mom buying them.I told you pain in the tush.) I tell the mom later in the New Year- mostly because I thought-well maybe they didn't do what they were supposed to at the store-she smugly tells me they didn't get me anything (as if I was an idiot). Then I just thought ...I bet the people in line appreciated this as I was checking the cards-I didn't however have stuff I was buying.

    Great story.

    One time a woman in Santa Monica rammed me with her cart repeatedly in line at the new fancy Von's. I got pissed.
    I said. "What is the matter with you?"
    My husband fled the line as if he had no idea who I was. This person whom I CAN vividly describe by floral pattern and ethnic origin (but won't) proceeds to try to get physical with my 100 pound (at the time) self. I declined backing down. Husband fled store and was found later in the car. She was escorted out of the store by the management.After I got a little louder. And she got a lot tougher.

    They thought I was with Al Pacino.
    Kept telling me to tell him how sorry they were.

    "Tell Al we are so sorry."

    Yeah....we got great tables in places back then.

    True story.

    1. Sarah,

      Wow what a great gift idea, lift the $100 gift cards from the supermarket and don't activate them. "Oh gee I don't know what happened. Take them to the store and complain!" Well the kid's heart was in the right place, ha ha got her again!

      Cart ramming seems to be a universal method to make the check out process go faster. My wife is always on the tail end of the cart during the check out. Usually the kid packing the cart has the aisle blocked, so there is no place to put our cart. One of those important people (you know the kind, that allow 25 milliseconds of green light before they honk at you, or my favorite, honk at you when you have the audacity to get caught in oncoming traffic when trying to make a left turn) will start ramming her with the cart. So we have to ask the bagger (using a louder than normal voice) to move the cart and let her out. This happens about once a month. I would really love to engage one of these rammers, but with the MS rage issues, best to just move the carts. You have to learn to take shit when you have MS, going full nuke with a grocery cart is just going to land your ass in jail. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. For the myriad reasons listed above....I always try and get someone else to do the shopping.
    Whatever amount of time you spend in line time you will never get back.
    Either that or become self sufficient and stay off the grid of consumerism.
    Reminds me in some small way of my car buying there's a couple hours of my life I'll never get back...wasted time and space.

    1. Busman
      Always a pleasure. Alas when there are only two of you, and only you drives, it kind of limits the someone else factor.

      As far as wasting time in lines, small potatoes. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has implanted a device in my head that turns green traffic lights red for the purpose of calibration. When you spend time sitting at every red light in the world, what's a few minutes standing in line?

      As romantic as self sufficiency sounds, my guess is the grocery store is a bargain in time. I may spend 1 to 2 hours a week on food shopping. The store is air conditioned. Of course there is also the cost to consider, but I am still going to guess that it is a raging bargain.

      I have taken up internet shopping to the point that I seldom walk in a brick and mortar store besides food. Its my way of screwing the Commonwealth out of some red light time.

      I even tried buying my CR-V on the Internet. It sort of worked. You still have to deal with the rat bastards. On average I get a decade out of a car.

      100 - 20 = 80 years to buy cars
      80/10=8 shopping trips
      8*3=24 total hours of car buying per life time

      80*365*24=700800 hours in car buying life time (ignoring leap years)

      24/7008008*100= 0.0034 % of life devoted to car dealers. Yes it is a very notable 3.4 thousandths of a percent, but still not a hell of lot time in the overall scheme of things. Don't sweat the small stuff.

    2. Good points..I like your math rationalization.

  3. I can't believe that people would actually do that! I would seriously be losing my shit over that...... XO Susie.

    1. Susie,

      Well again the rage factor in MS has taught me patience. I remember in my younger years of being behind elderly women in a check out line. They always had to pay the exact amount in change and would pick through their change purses for the exact coins. I had to resist the urge to hand the clerk a dollar bill and ask if we could get this transaction over some time this month.

  4. I think this kind of stuff has happened to us all. I know it's happened to me. And usually when you are in a super big rush.

    Yesterday I went to a Subway Sandwich Shop for lunch. The line is out the door, I waited about ten minutes to get close to the front of the line. There is one women ahead of me and ahead of her is a young man about 18 dressed casually, with him is a young girl about 16 or 17 wearing super baggy boys basketball shorts and a little girl about 4 years old. Obviously they have been waiting just as long as I have and have tons of time of peruse the menu, but they get to the front of the line and when they are asked "May I help you" they get into a huge discussion of what kind of bread they want, as that's the first decision you have to make at Subway.

    Then...they have to make the decision of what kind of bread their friend that they are taking a sandwich to wants. Then do they want it heated or not? Anyway, you get the point. These two are obviously unemployed or students, or they could be employed but obviously not working that day considering their casual dress and the baby girl. I'm sure they've been to Subway 100 times and already know the menu and even if this is their first time there, they've had at least 10 minutes to study the menu while waiting on line.

    Me on the other hand...I'm tired, hot and still have 4 more hours of work to go before I can go home. I'm in a hurry, only have 1 hour for lunch and I'm hungry! I have already wasted 10 minutes in line and 10 minutes waiting for them to decide what they want to eat. There should be a line for working professionals to go through, who only have one hour for lunch where they don't have to deal with the riff-raff that is just out for a casual lunch..don't you think?

    1. Alicia,

      Subway must have 32 different variation of chicken sandwiches. One time on a business trip I was in a Subway on a military installation and it is lunch time and the line is serpentined out in the parking lot. The guy in front me asks for some kind of a chicken sub. Sorry we are out of chicken. So he studies the menu board and asks for a different chicken sub. Sorry we are out of chicken. So he studies it again and asks for chicken planks or some such thing. Sorry we are out of chicken. Then he asks for a deluxe chicken salad....

      It seemed like it was a combination of Ground Hog Day and that joke where the guy keeps asking for waiter for chicken when the restaurant is out and the waiter says:

      "Listen, I will spell it out for you, there is no C H I F C K E N."

      The guy replies "Wait a second there is no F in chicken."

      The waiter says "Yes sir, that is what I have been trying to tell you."

      Subways can drive you batty, too much choice. Indeed they should have an express lane.

      The other one I like is people will sit in line for the toll booths on the turnpike for 5 minutes. When they finally get up to pay, the seat belt come off and they reach in their back pocket for their wallet. They couldn't have their money ready while they sat in line for 5 minutes?

    2. Hahaha, love F in Chicken! You know what else bugs me? People that are waiting to pay and aren't ready with their cash or ATM cards and have to pull out everything that is in their purse until they find it! Too funny. I wrote such a long comment on this post that I turned it into a post of my own. Don't you love it when posts write themselves?

    3. That is basically all I did. Copied and pasted my comment on Fiftyodd's blog. She had some excellent Laws of Life. See the link at the top of the post.

      Well how about the drive through window at the bank. They pull out 8 checks to endorse and start filling out their deposit slip when they get to the window. Oh yes and make several phone calls.

    4. Yep..that bugs me too. I once heard a comedian do a bit about how he hates to get in line at the bank and the guy ahead is just busily punching buttons and inserting and reinserting the ATM card...his punchline was "What's the guy trying to do? Stage a coup of the bank?"

      I'll go check out Fiftyodd's blog. So you never heard anything more from our little bloggy buddy Old Baguette?

    5. Or maybe the punchline was "a hostile takeover of the bank?" I don't remember, but either one is pretty funny to me :)

    6. Not a word from the Old Bagguette. Last known sighting was December of 2011. I fear the worst. I really miss her.

    7. Alicia,

      Believe it or not she emailed overnight. Indeed there has been a sighting. The Old Baguette has returned from the rings of Saturn. The usual stuff, about her computer being infested with viruses. I think she is not of this Earth.

  5. A fun blog. Have to give warning. I'm back, Sextant, and am working my way backwards.

    All along I've thought standing in line was like riding the A train, a way of whiling away the hours of retirement. Silly me! I had no idea its primary function was to provide shrinks with patients.

    An invitation. You and a few of your reader used to read my blog, Crumbs from an Old Baguette. Computer woes forced me to abandon it and begin, finally, a new one. Haven't yet figured out a quick way to get to it. The slow way is to google up:
    Actually, typing that takes will take up less time than standing in line behind Sextanr,
    And a request. If you do visit, please leave instructions in the comment section on how to get to YOUR BLOGS. I miss them.

    1. Baguette, you are truly amazing. Alicia asks about you and reappear out of the swamp. Hope you stick around for while, we have missed you.

      Well on your way backwards, i will be looking forward to see some of your dry observations on my book reviews. Hmmm, can the Old Baguette get into BDSM?

  6. your first variation sure hit the mark. I think it's like relativity theory- Your own line always moves slower, than the one you have your eyes on. :P

    1. muthu,

      The dentist chair has always struck me as a practical demonstration of relativity. In fact, it might be possible to live forever if one could find a dentist to perform a never ending root canal.

      Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting

    2. hahahaha..... Now that's funny. :D and yes, relativity could not be more right.