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Chris Piombo: Overcoming ‘convenience’ of self-checkout registers

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Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 12:00 am

There are certain moments that define our brief existence on this planet. They are those critical situations where only you and your maker know if you chose to stood tall or slither back into the darkness. The decisions you make in those instances are what send people up the road to greatness or down the potholed hillbilly road to mediocrity. I faced one of those decisions the other day. I chose to use the self-checkout register at the grocery store.

You’ve probably noticed that self-checkout registers are popping up at stores around town. They are the ones where you scan your items yourself and bag your own groceries.

I’ve walked past the registers many times over the last year or so and wondered, “Do I have what it takes?” I asked the question in the same tone and with the same gravity as a guy wrestling with signing up for SEAL training or taking the first rocket ship to Mars.

I was in a store on Kettleman Lane the other day, standing with my foodstuffs in a plastic basket that would make Yogi Bear pant. I looked left and saw drones standing in the traditional soul-draining clerk-centric checkout line. Heaven forbid I end up behind the old fella finger-pawing exact change in that rubber oval thing like he was a surgeon looking for an appendix. So much change, so little time. My mind declared, “I won’t live like this anymore,” and I headed for the self-checkout registers.

I paused before entering the arena. I felt like Neil Armstrong 40 years ago. “One small step for man. One giant leap for consumer convenience.” I took that step and found myself in front of a small self-checkout register made of shiny silver Terminator-like metal. It had a monitor and red lasers for scanning the barcodes ...and my thoughts.

I scanned my first item. Beep. “One forty-nine,” the register cheerfully informed me. I scanned the next item. Beep. “Five ninety-nine.” Wow. Two for two. This is easy. I weighed the oranges. “Three forty-nine.” Confidence hugged me. Frosted mini-wheats. Beep. Grapes. Beep. I pushed buttons and weighed produce, liberated from the shoulder shruggers who merely exist. I confidently punched in the numbers for the avocados like I was entering the launch code for a missile headed for Moscow. Take that, Putin!

Beep. I’m on Everest. People looked over and marveled at my courage. “Look Ed, he’s weighing his own bananas! It’s like MacArthur at Inchon!”

I was drenched in swagger as I waved a bag of salami in front of the lasers. No beep. I wiggled the bag back and forth. Nothing. I flattened out the bag and tried rubbing the bar code. Silence. Suddenly the ‘70s cop show sized dash light on a pole above the register started flashing red at the same time the infant Terminator screamed, “Please wait for assistance!” The one clerk assigned to the self-checkout area stared at me unsmilingly like a Folsom guard at a Johnny Cash concert. I broke into a flop sweat. “Please wait for assistance!” The baby Terminator seemed louder, mocking my lack of inertia. My head began to spin a little. The red light continued to flash rhythmically, stabbing me right in the ego. I felt like Janet Leigh in that shower. “Please wait for assistance!” People who went through the regular line now paused to gaze at me like I was sharing a cell with Charlton Heston on the monkey planet. “Please wait for assistance!” Now I know how Victor Frankenstein felt after his boy headed off towards the village. “What have I done?”, I wondered.

The guard/clerk eventually came over and with a wave of his plastic card, yanked me out of the quicksand of grocery embarrassment. The tiny Terminator totaled up my items and spit out a receipt so long it could be used as crime scene tape in an episode of Law and Order, SVU. I squared my shoulders and headed out the door, feeling like Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier. I drove home and pulled into my driveway, still grinning from my conquest. I then realized my groceries were still sitting at the register.

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