Sunday, July 5, 2009

Life in the Express Lane

I’ve never been one to try to sneak more than 10 items in the “1 to 10 items” line at the grocery story. Sure, a person can probably get away with 11 or 12 (and no doubt has), but it’s a slippery slope that disrespects the other people in line and dishonours the sacred concept of “express.”

The other day, I was grocery shopping and overheard a conversation in the express line. “Mom – you have more than 10 items,” said a young boy. “They don’t mind,” said the mother. “They don’t actually count.” The clerk seized the opportunity to reinforce express line etiquette. “It’s not busy today, so it’s ok,” she said, clearly implying that had the woman committed the same act on a busy Saturday, she and her 20 items would have been turned away, and she may even have been outed to the other staff and customers. “We’ve got a live one here! Thinks we can’t count. Who’s got the longest line? She’s all yours!”

I – on solid moral express line ground – wondered about her character. If she could so easily dismiss the laws of the express line, of what other heinous acts was she capable? Like I said, slippery slope.

This afternoon I made a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a few necessities. Having found all of the items on my list, I made my way to the shortest line and placed my purchases on the counter. The clerk smiled and said hello as she rang through my items. “Ma’am, I don’t know if you’re aware of this…” (Oooh, is there a sale on those avocados?) “But this is the express line. You’re not supposed to have more than 10 items in this line.”

What? I have more than 10 items? “Oh, sorry…I…uh…I didn’t realize…Well, I guess I knew it was the express line, but I just didn’t realize I had more than 10 items…I didn’t count…I wasn’t paying attention… sorry…” She’s heard it all before, and my apology falls with a thud into the space between us. I pay sheepishly (for what I now realize were 13 items - 14 if you count the two cans of tuna separately, which I don’t) and listen as the clerk greets the man behind me, who is well under the 10-item limit. “How are you?” she gushes, clearly showing favouritism for he-who-is-abiding-by-the-rules.

I don’t stick around for the end of their transaction, but I imagine the dialogue that may have ensued. “How often do you hear that excuse?” he says, and she rolls her eyes and shakes her head in response. “You wouldn’t want to know.” He nods in understanding and the two share a moment of judgment before they go their separate ways. They are comfortable in their place of superiority, knowing that they are not capable of such a thing. But as one who has been to the other side, let me tell you – it's a slippery slope.

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