Finding the Shortest Line

Everyone’s doing a lot of shopping this season. Believe me, having worked retail, I know. And we always feel like we’re always in the shortest line. This video explains why:

Of course, this video doesn’t take into account one simple trick: analyzing the cashier.

Yes, you can look for the line with the people with the least loaded shopping carts, but that’s misleading. A good cashier can process a cart twice as fast as a rookie. Take a second to observe them, and you can see whether they’re eyeballing everything a shopper is buying, if they’re yapping with the customer, or if they’re just shooting everything across the scanner and listening for the beep.

I’ve done some unscientific research, and I’ve come up with the following graph:

Checkout Graph

Remember this next time you go shopping. It may save your sanity.

Attractiveness, of course, is subjective, but think of it as some combination of age, appearance, and cleanliness.

Example. There’s a cashier at our local Wally World I refer to as Fatty McSlowhands. Yes, it’s very mean, and if you saw her you’d think I was the biggest prick on the planet for calling her this. But there are many times late at night where she’s the only cashier working a lane, and to see her checking out, you’d think someone backed up a buffet truck to her front door. She picks up and examines each item, and goes through the following chain of thought:

Is this item edible? If no, find UPC code and scan. If yes, should I eat it? If no, it belongs to the customer, find UPC code. If yes, resist temptation because it belongs to the customer, make mental note to eat one later, find UPC code. UPC code found? If yes, scan and find a bag. If no, turn it over and over and over until UPC code found. UPC code found? If yes, scan and find a bag. If no, call someone who can help me find the UPC code, shift to idle, await further instruction.

And so on. Conversely, if you find the young, attractive girl with the makeup and the perfect hair, her brain is doing this:

Great, here comes another one. I’d so rather be at Billy’s party right now. This place is lame. Ew, shrimp! Why do they make me ring up shrimp? Now I have to touch this cold, wet bag. Ugh. Oh, look! The Hangover on DVD! What a great movie. This guy’s got good taste. Too bad he’s all old and shit. Jameson? Man, I got so wasted on a bottle of that last week! Of course, now I need to call my gross manager over to run it across the scanner. Ew.

Finally, there’s the Crazy Old Lady. The Wife always asks why their sanity has to play into it, but one look leaves little doubt these women are crazier than a shithouse rat. Crazy Old Lady is typified by wild, poofy, dyed hair and so much makeup you’d swear she just walked out of clown college. Her thought process:

My knees hurt. My back hurts. When’s my break? That little tramp on lane four stole my cushy floor mat again. My knees hurt. Milk? I don’t think I can lift that. Great, I overloaded this bag. Now I have to ask this guy to lift it for me. He looks like an asshole. He’s wearing a motorcycle jacket. I bet he’s drunk right now. And he beats women. And he’s Satanic. What’s this movie? Hostel. Blood and guts. Figures. I wonder if he’s single?

I bet  you’ve run into every one of these at some point or another. I half wonder if Wally World has a quota for slackers.

What you need to find are the ones in between. The middle-aged dude who was running out of unemployment. The young girl who’s there to pay for her car and college, not look pretty. The woman who needs the second income to support her family. The dude who took a management position out of high school and never left. The chick with the crazy teeth and the top hat who has races with the girl in the next lane to keep her job fun (yes, this girl really exists). The people who are there to just plain work. Maybe they’re friendly, maybe they ignore you, but their hands are always moving and there’s a steady stream of beep-beep-beep coming out of the register so you just don’t care.

If you shop at a place regularly, you start to recognize them, and you seek them out on the register. They’re the ones who, if there’s a price check, put the questionable item aside and keep on scanning while waiting for someone to come solve the problem rather than bringing the entire process to a screeching halt. They can enter most of the produce codes from memory, and they can at least recognize a kiwi or Roma tomato to look them up quick on their chart. They don’t care what you’re buying, as long as it scans and fits in a bag.

I’ve mentioned Wally World a few times, but this applies equally elsewhere, whether you’re talking the temp workers filling the lanes at Toys ‘я’ Us or the constant rotation of drones at department stores. Check out the cashier before you jump in a lane. That few seconds of observation may save you minutes at checkout.

Of course, there’s one other, sure-fire trick for avoiding the lines at the holidays:

Stay the hell home!

Shop Amazon instead. There may only be two days left, but if you were smart, you’ve already bought someone a good book or something cool. If you just didn’t think about it this year, well, there’s always next year.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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