Thursday, July 6, 2017

Checking Out

For many moons I've avoided the self-checkout lane at the variety of stores that have this option. My primary reason is simple. Every self-check lane means one less person is hired in a job climate where people can really use the work. Yes, there is a monitor at these sites but one person doesn't replace several register cashiers.  (But yes, I have used them -- only in a pinch.)

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
Take Apple Market. That's the small grocery store in my neighborhood, about six blocks from home. It's an old business, a family owned store, that has been in the community for years. Apple Market doesn't have everything I can get at Kroger or some of the larger stores but it has something they don't.

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!
I don't know the names of the people at Kroger, they don't recognize me nor do I recognize them. But at Apple Market I'm likely to be greeted by Julia at the register. Sue or Kristy might check me out. Erin might be at the lottery counter or Tim, the owner, walking through. Eric could be putting dairy into the cases or Tony stocking shelves in another part of the store. I don't know how many times Andy has helped me with the bottle return machine when it fills. All with a smile.

When Andy saw me coming he said, "I knew I'd need to empty the machine before you left!" He was right!
Or think about Dewey. Dewey works at our independent bookstore and I knew him from his volunteer work back when I was working at our TV station. If I go to Schuler's and Dewey is at the register, I feel like my day is made, that the sale will bring me not only a new book but recognition, warmth, something personal as well.

Dewey at work at Schuler's Bookstore Eastwood
Now, I'm no stranger to Amazon and more than once I've forked over enough in books, video, art supplies and household things to get my free shipping. But I don't get to browse them at Amazon. I don't get to see if it's a trade paperback or a small one, what the photos look like or how the paper feels. (No Kindle for me!) I had to know what I wanted. And sometimes, you just don't.

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 was so grateful for that presence. (That was my other "main" grocery when I was working. It has since closed by I still think of Gail, Marybeth, Steve and Bruce, among others, with great fondness.)

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.


Valerie-Jael said...

I do love shopping at our local mini supermarket, too, so can understand your reasonining. I have hundreds of books here, but lately I buy Kindle books, for all people like me who don't see well, they are a Godsend, as the print size is adjustable. Enjoy your summer break, hugs, Valerie

Mae Travels said...

Jeanie, you are such a "people person" !!! I enjoyed your insights and your photos of these human beings.

I admit to buying most stuff and new books on amazon, but I do prefer the personal help of the Kroger checkers, even if I don't get to know them. My favorite store-person is the owner of the best local used bookstore -- he runs 4 book clubs that meet on Wednesday nights each month. He chose 4 topics that interest him, and has loyal attendees. Mine is culinary history reading on the third Wednesday, for example. The ultimate in personal interaction, I would say.

best... mae at

La Table De Nana said...

I love chatting an thanking everyone:) Along the way..Jacques makes faces lol..he hates it I think..after 43 plus yrs..he is used to me..what's 5 minutes more right?
I am with you on this..all the way!

eileeninmd said...

Hello, I also prefer a live person over the self checkout lane. I am usually a shy person and do not talk a lot but I will smile and wish them a good day when I leave with my purchases. I have been borrowing my ebooks from the local library online or from Amazon's kindle. They have some good deals on ebooks. I enjoyed your post and photos. Happy Thursday, enjoy your day!

Becca said...

This is so perfect, and the opportunity for those kinds of interactions grows more dim every day with the proliferation of online shopping..which is easier, but as you said, very hollow feeling.
I shop mostly at the big Kroger in Livonia (you know where it is, I'm sure), but the cashiers have all become familiar and are so friendly. It helps a humdrum experience become more pleasant, for sure.

Loved this piece, Jeanie!

coffeeontheporchwithme said...

We are so small town, we have the same experiences- knowing the people are different stores, the post office, the pharmacy, the mechanic, etc. I can count on one hand how many times I have purchased online. -Jenn

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Jeanie, you've touched on several really good points. I'd take the conversation a stage further, and suggest that communication is becoming a problem. Many people seem to lack any sort of attention span - though perhaps t'was ever thus. I certainly think we're losing the skill of the written word - what will future historians do without things like the discovered hoard of Michael Jackson's letters, Trump's private diary and Kim Jong Un's holiday postcard collection? Moreover, many larger organisations in my experience can't communicate anyway - their poor use of language is simply shocking. There is another reason why I, personally, have a problem with these human-less tills; every time I use one of the damn things, I need help..!

Pam Jackson said...

I too do not use the self check out....same reason plus I figure if I can pay one price and have it bagged or the same price and I bag it....then I am letting them do. I don't get a cut price to check myself out. With that said you have landed on one issue that I have been mouthy about for yrs...CUSTOMER SERVICE....customer service has gone to pot. My bank does not have someone at the window to wait on me, they use someone working the windows inside and you have to wait for them to get to you. You call somewhere and you get a auto voice and have to push buttons or wait till someone comes to you. And where the do have someone to wait on you, it is usually kids and they don't even know how to count money back, they give you what that register tells them too. Sore subject with me cause I have worked in the public for yrs and I even on bad days I smiled and wished everyone a great day!!!

Blogoratti said...

There is really nothing like having an interaction with the other person, be it at the library or at the local store. Alas, due to technology a lot of machines are there to replace human interaction, cost saving measures and efficiency they say, but at the end of the day nothing beats talking to someone and seeing them over and over again. Great post and a good reminder. Greetings!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I am SO glad you wrote this post. It touches many points I feel about self serve, too. We have exactly TWO chain grocery stores in my town, the largest in Kansas. You would think they would have more diversity, but all other chains have folded over the years since I moved here. We have Aldi, where you bag your own groceries, and Dillons, originally a Kansas owned store that sold to Kroger, but still kept the name.

Now I may have to bag my own groceries (and bring my own bags, which is something I do, anyway), but I know the people at the store. If I need them to reach my half and half (which is ALWAYS on the top shelf), they are glad to do it. I never can find help at Dillons when I need it.

The one and only time I tried to use the self serve aisle, I accidentally laid my purse on the scales, and it weighed the product wrong. I ended up paying an extra several dollars, then had to have someone remove the item. So no one saved time because of me. I also pay cash, something most places would prefer I didn't. Try putting those bills into the machine, especially if they are wrinkled. I like to keep as little change as possible, because, although it sounds silly, extra bills and change weigh a LOT. I don't need the extra weight on my shoulder. Say my bill is $18.00. I give the machine 3 ones and a 20. They spit out the 3 ones and 2 from the 20. One and only time I tried the self serve line. I'll wait for 20 minutes in line if I have to rather than go through that humiliation again. It's just not worth it.

I don't buy meds, so have no idea who the pharmacist is in my local stores, but if I did, I wouldn't give them to Dillons. The checkers are often rude and say things that offend me. Although I like shopping at Aldi for the price break, they don't have name brands and some of their products simply don't compare. That forces me to go elsewhere to get the items I need.

My rant is over, but I will continue to shop where people know me and talk to me like I'm a friend when I am in their store. Thanks for pointing this out.

Pam Richardson said...

Jeanie, very well written, sweet lady! I like to shop local and small town where they appreciate your business and know your name!

Red Rose Alley said...

Yes, I know what you mean, Jeanie. That personal touch from the clerks makes all the difference, doesn't it? Many of the clerks at the local grocery store know me as well, and it's nice when they greet me with a smile. It's nice that most of these workers in your every day life know who you are and answer your questions with kindness. Love this picture of you and Gail. Your smile beams like a light and is such a sweet one.


~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

That's one of the things I like best about the Farmer's Market I go to every Thursday. I'm a regular and know lots of the vendors by name now. It's FUN! Hugs!

My name is Erika. said...

I think the Barbara Streisand song says it all "People who need people...are the luckiest people in the world." With all the automation and technology its easy to forget that. And can lead to a lot of frustration because those machines never say anything to help break the tension. Nice post Jeanie! Hope you're enjoying your time at the lake. Hugs-Erika

Lynne said...

You have me thinking of my favorites already . . .
I have my favorite gal at Meijers and we "catch up" with each other in the checkout/bagging.
She recently returned from her sons wedding in Arizona . . .

Kathleen, the Cheese Lady almost has me eating "a piece of cheese" with out a cracker.
I am happy for her branching out to six new Cheese Lady shops,
but I miss our one on one time when I visit her at our local Cheese House.

Reminds me of my brother who lives alone and makes many a daily trip to the town square
to visit the owner of the Chocolate Shop and the owners of the model train shop.

Oh I use all the devices, shop Amazon Prime and all the rest,
but there is nothing better than people contact ,

Excellent post Jeanie . . .

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh Jeanie, I hear ya.

I think us folks of "a certain age" could write a book in collaboration, sharing our own stories and perceptions of this new age we live in. On my way home the other day while driving, I was listening to NPR, to the Aspen conferences. A woman was speaking, unfortunately, I didn't get the name. But she was a Harvard prof, an author, a sociologist with a background in some sort of psychology. Her speech was life-changing for me in that few minutes I heard her speech.

She touched on this subject you are talking about and even more. She talked of how the young generation has not yet developed the skill of SILENCE. In these types of human interaction of which you speak, we have learned or at least been exposed to, that gap of silence that happens when in a real live conversation with someone. This is quite the contrary to the quick BRAIN FIX we all get from social media communication. She was telling of how her college-aged students prefer NOT to have one-on-one conferences with her, but to be sent emails. She also spoke of a conversation she did have with a college student who claimed that she gets BORED with conversations and would rather send quick messages.

This speech confirmed and validated my feelings of late. I was mistaking solitude (that which I'm experiencing a lot of on summer break) with loneliness. The former according to her, is healthy for the mind. We are set up to use solitude to our advantage, to THINK, to process. "Boredom"gives us a chance to invent, seek, and take action. For those young people who don't let solitude shape them, they are missing on the processing of thought and more importantly, a connection with oneself that will later benefit interaction with others.

I felt validated, knowing that the solitude I have enjoyed since I was a sibling-less child is not odd or sad, but the vehicle that has driven my imagination.

However, we need one another, even the person at the check-out counter; a smile, the acknowledgement is sometimes all we need to feel we belong.

Joanne Huffman said...

I hate self-check out. I'm not all that happy with signing into flights at the damn kiosk; I even renew my license at the Sec of State in person (more from not trusting the online process than the desire to wait in line). I do, however, shop online a lot.

shoreacres said...

You're spot on, Jeanie. My own best example comes from many years ago, when I first started varnishing. I went to the marine supply store when I'd already been a customer for three years, and asked two of the women there what I needed to start my new career. Over the years, every visit to the store is a pleasure; I know their names, and they know mine.

That personal contact is the reason I enjoy the independent grocery across the lake, too. But even in our local chain groceries, I always take the time to make a comment to the checker, and smile -- especially to the older checkers who clearly are past retirement age, and either are having to supplement their income, or just need the human contact. The robots and artificial intelligence may sound great to the people designing them, but personally? I'm glad I'll be dead before they show up, and begin deadening everyone around them. So there!

Victoria Zigler said...

Reminds me of a conversation I was having with my Mam the other day about how connecting on Facebook - or other social media sites - seems to have replaced going out to meet up with people in person in a lot of cases, while in other cases people do still go out but will be sat there in silence while on their phones or tablets checking social media rather than talking to people sat beside them.

Jeanne Washburn said...

I totally agree...I also have this approach with restaurants...the locals...the regulars...always much more fun and entertaining and welcoming. A lovely post and perspective on the world and the neighborhood. A good one to remember.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I have to admit that I frequently use the self check out if I don't have many things to avoid social interaction... but I am in a different stage of life and kind of get overloaded with conversations and such at work so when I do things like run errands, I am not super chatty... But it would be different if I lived in a small community with a smaller grocery store. I go to a big box grocer so don't have the chance to get to know anyone or be known as a regular! The world definitely needs more people like you who will engage with others when you are out and about. I do try to be friendly at the grocery store because I see so many people with their nose in their phone, not making eye contact with the clerk, etc, which seems so rude! Our generation is just awful about cell phone use, and the generation below me is even worse since kids start using cell phones as entertainment at a younger and younger age. It drives me a bit crazy that all my nieces and nephews have devices where they can watch videos (things like kindle fires). I like that there are educational games for them to play but I think we are becoming way more reliant on technology! I read an article lately about how kids don't know what it means to be bored or they don't even get to experience boredom. We had no screens when I was a child - I got my first cell phone when I was a senior in college. I remember complaining to my mom about being bored and she would make us figure out how to entertain ourselves (and would say "I wish I knew what it felt like to be bored!" - now I understand her sentiment).

Barbara said...

I never use the self-serve check-outs unless I am in a pinch. Apart from taking jobs I really don't like them and often have the cashier on hand to come over and assist. We don't have too many of the smaller stores around for groceries anymore, so building a rapport with employees is not easy. It is so important to seniors to have connections within the communities where they live.

Thanks for talking about this subject. It is an important one.

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