Last week I experienced a small slice of supermarket rage. For the full story, go to The Interdependent Life, but in short, I traded curses with a man who was being rude and insensitive to a bakery clerk. For some—important people with important things to do—it seems to be a challenge to not only understand the nature of time but that retail clerks are people, too.
[W]e have an unspoken rule at work that there should never be more than two people in a queue. Our retail outlet is not alone. Service is everything, retailers say, no one should wait. Let me amend that: the customer can wait (and wait, and wait again) for service on the floor, but waiting to pay is strictly verboten. Lineups at the cash have become so denigrated that waiting for longer than a minute is considered not only outrageous but cause for complaint. This superior service, however, has been disastrous for human communication. Shortened lineups and the presumed need to hurry out of the store to conduct far more important, if not crucial activities, make interaction with fellow line-bearing beings near impossible. We are so used to being herded along über fast that if we are not served within seconds of arriving in a lineup our senses go on alert for a quicker checkout or a call for “all available cashiers to the front!”
From my perch at the head of the line I am a magnet for the time-deprived customer’s hyper-alert eyes. Like lionesses crouched for the kill, their bodies appear frozen, a rigid preparedness that bespeaks of inborn tension waiting to be sprung: the sprinter at the blocks, the diver on the board. The only movement is their irises, oscillating at alarming speeds as they scan the floor impatiently, anticipating the moment to spring. With this strain, impossible to contain, false-starts become rampant as the person jerks this way then that as potential openings tease their senses—the adjoining line moving faster, a potential relief-clerk on the horizon—only to have their hopes betrayed. Heavy sighs follow these disappointments, deepening their sense of loss, until slowly and definitely surly, they arrive at my till with eyes hardened by all they’ve endured. It’s not easy being a consumer.
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