Self Check-Out

I admit it. I have a love-hate relationship with the self-check-out scanner at Albertson’s supermarket.

At first sight I was drawn to her shiny stainless steel outfit and fascinated by the colorful screen—blinking at me like some come hither siren, Then her voice. “Welcome to Albertson’s where check out is fast and easy. Come on big boy, try me out. I think you’ll like it.” I’m pretty sure that’s what she said in her sultry, synthesized voice.

Not to be too obvious I averted my gaze and strolled down the kitchen gadgets aisle, pretending to be shopping for a slotted spoon. So many choices. I came in for a liter of diet Coke, but I knew just one pass over the scanner glass would be unsatisfying.

An elderly woman pushing a nearly empty cart cast a knowing side glance and I scurried over to the condiments aisle, browsing the pickled relishes. Alas, I had waited too long. A line of other suitors was formed in front of my chosen scanner.

As I sidled up to the kiosk a man in a tie threw his hands up in frustration, and I knew the courtship would not be an easy one. I reassured myself, “I’ve limited my purchases and that of course means that there are significantly fewer chances of rejection.”

“To begin your checkout, press start and scan your first item.” As you command I obey.

The slotted spoon would go first. If anything went wrong I could easily ditch it. I didn’t want it anyway.

“Please! Scan your first item and place it in the bag.” There was a sense of impatience in her voice. I scanned the spoon, barcode facing down, slowly and deliberately.

“Beep!” Success!

“Place the item in the bag.”

My nerves got the best of me and I fumbled opening the plastic sack.

“Didn’t you hear me? I said, place the item in the bag. Hurry. Others are waiting and they don’t have time for you to learn how to put items in a plastic bag. They have places to go, things to do.” I’m pretty sure that’s what she said.

“Thank you. scan the next item, or press ‘pay now.'”

I passed the plastic bottle of diet Coke over the glass. Once, twice, three times.

“Please! Scan your next item or just press ‘pay now’ and move on so that the next person can get home before midnight.”

In my peripheral vision I could see people in the line behind me taping a foot, shifting balance from one leg to the other, and sighing in pure disgust as I kept passing the bottle over the scanner window with no resultingimpatient barcode scanner. beep of success.

A young woman at the supervision booth in the center of the self-serve check-out area stared at me. It wasn’t one of those compassionate looks like, “Hey guy, look like you’re having a little trouble can I help you out?” It was more of look of “Honestly, if I have to bail out one more technology Neanderthal I’m going to scream.” The pressure overtook me.

I abandoned the diet Coke, swiped my debit card, pressed “O.K.” grabbed my plastic bag and headed for the exit. I was humiliated. It could have been so pleasant. I wanted to like her and learn to love her ways. I’m sure she wouldn’t remember me, a single transaction in a never-ending stream of scan and bag. But I avoid her anyway, driving to the next town to shop and never even considering making a pass over the scanner of another one like her.

Since this story was written, Albertson’s removed the self-service check out stations.