But I recently read a wonderful piece in the New York Times by Stacy Torres, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Albany. Her point hit so close to home, I realized that my altruistic attitude was not the only reason I prefer real checkout lines with real people.
|Source: New York Times|
A warm, personal, friendly feeling that recognizes the individual.
It isn't just that they are friendly, of course. I'll get smiles and willing-to-help attitudes at most stores I visit -- once I can find someone to ask. But there's just that feeling of recognition, of being a part of something that matters.
|Sue (front) and Kristy (at back counter). I don't know who the new guy is yet, but I know I'll find out!|
|When Andy saw me coming he said, "I knew I'd need to empty the machine before you left!" He was right!|
|Dewey at work at Schuler's Bookstore Eastwood|
And it feels a little hollow. Yes, things can come right to the door, but I don't get to talk to Dewey or the others. I don't find out firsthand what they might know about something I'm considering or maybe even get a suggestion. Jim handles the mysteries and some of the used-book-buy-back. He turned me on to Georges Simenon and when I couldn't find many Deborah Crombie books, checked with their sister store across town. Didn't have to do it -- but he did, and I was grateful.
You can learn things from those with experience. Rick certainly got some tips and some inspiration in his early bread-baking days from the baker at the farmer's market. And those conversations can add a lot of fun to a simple shopping outing.
|Rick had a great conversation with the bread guy at the up-north farmer's market -- and it offered motivation, a kindred spirit and some really delicious bread from my resident baker!|
The point is, when I go to my grocery or to the bookstore, I am interacting with real, live people. I find this means more to me now that I've retired and I'm more isolated than when I was working. On any given working day, I would encounter a good 40 people or more -- sometimes just in passing, but for meetings and conversations as well. There are days when I may only see Rick or my next door neighbor coming and going.
I don't mind that quiet -- I like it. But I like the camaraderie of being with others, too. It may or may not be a good thing that the pharmacist where I get prescriptions filled knows my name (am I frequent buyer?! Yikes, that's not good!), but it makes me feel connected when I pick up my meds. It makes me feel more comfortable in asking a question if there's something new. And when I go in because I'm feeling terrible, they always have a sympathetic smile -- and that helps.
|Favorite farm market booths can bring good food -- and good conversation, too!|
In her column, Torres writes: "Ephemeral contact with cashiers and other service workers can be especially important to people at risk of isolation, such as older people who live alone, those with chronic illnesses and the unemployed."
That was the case with my dad. He moved into an apartment a few blocks from his grocery and he knew everyone by name and they knew him. Gail probably spent the most time with him -- always ready to listen. And my dad knew how to talk -- a lot!
|When Goodrich's closed, I had to say goodbye to Gail -- she was Dad's favorite!|
I think too many of us are overwired these days. Kids chat across a room with their phones. Often, they don't even listen to messages, just checking caller ID (that really bugs me, family members.) Texting takes the place of spoken communication. Sometimes it's very handy. But when you're having a conversation with someone and they keep glancing at their phone or perhaps even texting in reply, you sort of wondered why you bothered spending the time to get together.
So, next time you're out shopping, think about the folks behind the counter. They may have great wisdom or good ideas to share, or maybe just a smile on a day when you're down. And know they appreciate your business -- and your smile, too.