In the beginning I thought the self-checkout was a genius idea. I, being the gal that hides from people I know in the grocery store to avoid small talk, felt that this would make my experience easier, happier, less chatty. I’ve listened to countless “aged” individuals complain about the very existence of this technology—including my own resident old guy. Mostly, I tuned them out.
Every time we went to the store it became a platform for teaching Zach about the ways of the modern world. Cassina: “Here, see this thing? This is a bar code… try it.” Zach, as if he has just been unfrozen from a cave, rubs the bar code aggressively on every surface of the machine. “UHHHHH, never mind. Just give it to me.” Zach repositions himself to the other side of the cart and begins handing me items furiously. And on and on and on.
To his credit, he has mastered the pay at the pump thing, but only if conditions are right. We were cool with this way of life right up until Walmart became the waiting line for the DMV. I began longing for humans to handle my bread.
Recently I came upon a self-check-out system that challenged this Gen Xer. At a brand new Circle K in Tucson, I came upon a self-checkout that was so space aged I had to read the instructions. It sort of looked like one of those overhead projectors from elementary school. It read: 1. Place your item (s) on the platform. 2. Wait for scan. 3. Follow payment instructions on the pin pad.
So, I laid my bag of ice on the platform and for some reason I stood back. I’m not sure why, perhaps fear of lasers? A few beeps and across the little screen it announced, “bagged ice, $3.49.” I mumbled to myself, “Now what?” I fumbled around a bit and managed to give the spaceship my money. I think I may have said as I was walking out, “Great, now they’ve made ice hard to buy.” (Can you see where I’m going with this?)
Which leads me to the most recent self-checkout tragedy. On a perfectly normal Saturday Zach and I went on a grocery expedition. We gathered our items and tried like hell to maintain our dignity as we attempted to pay for our groceries at a Fry’s self-checkout line. What happened was anything but dignified. First, we tried to assume our roles. Zach handed me groceries while I beeped them across the scanner. The only problem was the conveyor belt that was attached to the scanner was spitting the groceries back at us. For a minute we were like Lucy and Ethel trying to catch groceries and bag them before they were hurled back at us. A 20-something smart-ass walked up and informed us that we had to use an alternate scanner if we wanted to send the groceries in the other direction. Dumb, right? We complied and I sent Zach to the end of the belt to catch and bag the groceries.
We were doing well. I scanned, and he would catch. We were winning, right up until the gallon of milk I sent down the belt somehow jumped the curb and landed in a huge puddle all over the checkout aisle. The details are fuzzy but I’m pretty sure Zach was involved because as soon as it happened, he ran. He said it was because we needed another, but I know the real reason. So, as I stood there, left behind with the spilt milk, the 20-something smart-ass came over and tried to sop up the mess with a roll of paper towels. I stood there, smugly gripping my shopping cart and, in my head, I was thinking, “Well, good. That’s what they get. Would it kill them to have actual humans running the checkout line?”
And then it hit me. I bet that 20-something was thinking, “Stupid old people can’t even pay for milk without spilling it everywhere.” The horror.
Zach eventually came back after an unusually long time retrieving another gallon of milk and we took our aged selves home. On this day the score was Technology 1, Farleys 0 and no dignity in sight.
Cassina Farley can be contacted at email@example.com