The Express Line


Last week Dave and I were at the grocery store to pick up a few items.  It was mid afternoon when we lined up in the express line for twelve items or fewer.

We stood behind a well-groomed shorter woman in glasses.

“This man with the cart full of at least 30 cantaloupes says he is in front of me.” She turned to me and said with a disgruntled look on her face.

At that point I paid attention to a nice looking man in his twenties and his Asian companion who were examining packages of flowers.

The line finally started to inch forward. The young man started to move into “his” place in line.

I decided to say something.

Now let me tell you that, despite my usual forwardness and ability to speak my mind, I normally avoid this type of conflict. I steam inside and let my blood pressure rise then chastise myself for not telling people, in a polite way, what I think. I feel it is the right? privilege? responsibility? of the person next in line to speak up.  But she had already done that without success.

“You can’t be in this line with more than 12 items.” I said, loud enough to be sure I was heard. Here we go, I thought. It will be a shooting in the grocery store or maybe an assault and battery.

“Thank you for telling me,” he said, and then intently looked at his smart phone.

“But it’s breaking the rules,” I said.

“Rules are important,” then back to looking at his phone.

“So you don’t need to follow rules?” This was from Dave.

There was another polite reply and then the continued ignoring of all of us.

Dave quietly said to me that he thought the girlfriend would be embarrassed to be with him. It appeared that she was. Clearly, she was ignoring all the angry glares that were advanced in the mega cantaloupe purchasing direction.

A woman with a cart pulled up behind us.

“Hey, you have more than 12 items. Get out of line.” She yelled. Everyone within 10 feet easily could have heard her, including the cashier.

“Go back to Vietnam you gook.” She continued in a somewhat quieter voice.

Now this was getting ugly. “She doesn’t need to resort to racial slurs.” I quietly said to Dave. That’s just not right.

When it was his turn at the register, the young man pulled out one cantaloupe and explained that he had 30 of the same. The cashier, taking him at his count, rang him up quickly and accepted his money. The young man left with his melons.

“You’re going to accept his word?” asked our offended next-in-line senior lady.  Like Pandora’s box, once someone is unleashed, a whole world of complains come spilling out.  Twelve items had turned into the matter of trust and honesty. Well, why would you trust someone who cut in line?

I couldn’t hear the cashiers reply.

It was our turn. “Why did you let him through when he clearly had more than 12 items?” I asked.

“All of those melons count as one item,” he answered calmly.

“So if I come through with 10 items that need to be individually bagged, it is one item?” Dave asked.

The cashier shrugged. Clearly, he wanted to get us out of there.

“Well, it would have been good to know that before all this ruckus.” I commented.

We paid and left and were reliving the whole event on our way out to the car.

“Do you suppose he knew that the melons would be counted as one item? ” I asked Dave.

“No. He didn’t know or he would have said something.”

I agreed.

After we put our bags in the trunk Dave pointed out that we actually had 13 items ourselves.  I had six yogurts among our groceries.

“No, those count as one item!” I laughed.

The whole brouhaha started with a rule breaker, but the bigger conflict came when someone was called a gook. And, as is my usual conduct, I kept quiet.

What should I have been done? Perhaps if I had kept quiet in the first place, the racist slurs never would have happened. Yet, I can’t blame myself for someone else’s bad mouth. Should I have said something to the name caller? That left me with the dilemma of what, exactly, to say? (Now you see why I dropped out of the debate team in college.)

I beat myself up for awhile trying to think of what I would do in the next situation.

Besides an angry glare, I don’t call people out on public swearing or racial comments. I choose not to participate. But I don’t become an ally either.

Honestly, I’m still pondering what I would do given the same or similar circumstances.

In the meantime, I’m paying closer attention to the number of items in my grocery cart.





One response to “The Express Line”

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  1. Carolyn says:

    Reminds me of something every one of our mothers must have told us in a long ago and far away time, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I feel nothing but sadness for the creepy lady who said such a thing. Her hateful comment was on display.