The family at the register was taking a long time. It was a weekend morning at the Mercantile.Things were getting busy, and it was taking forever to get these folks on their way.
The other clerk was ringing up the items they’d selected while I bagged everything. A brown plush bear that was really a backpack went into the shopping bag, then the mom decided she wanted to buy another one. She left the counter to pick up the plush black bear backpack.
Do you have this in brown? she wanted to know.
No ma’am, I told her. Everything we have is out.
We had exactly two plush bear backpack available for purchase, one brown and one black. The brown one was already in a shopping bag, waiting to go home with this woman. If she wanted another plush bear backpack from our store, it would have to be the black one. She decided to take it too.
The other clerk couldn’t get the black bear’s tag to work with the register. When she scanned the barcode, the message “item not on file” appeared on the computer screen. When she punched in the item number from the tag, the computer told us it did not exist. Finally, she pulled the brown bear backpack out of the shopping bag and scanned its tag again. Of course, what she’d done was going to mess up the store’s inventory, but I guess she figured it was better to sell the backpack today and worry about the inventory later.
When the other clerk was finished with the brown bear, I put it back in the shopping bag, but when I began to tuck the black bear into the bag, the customer asked for a second shopping bag. It’s a gift, she explained. I reached for a second shopping bag and placed the black bear in it.
Then there was a problem with the dad’s debit card. The other clerk ran it a couple of times, but each time the message on the screen was “NSF” (Non-Sufficient Funds). While the customer fished another credit card from his wallet, I asked if maybe his bank had put a hold on his card because he was using it outside his usual shopping area. He decided that was probably the case.
At some point during the transaction, I realized the next person in line was growing increasingly agitated. He was a tall guy, in good physical shape, with short hair. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn he was a cop or in the military. He had an uptight, regimented look about him. He was alone—no buddies, no lady friend, no kids. I could tell from his body language that he was tired of standing in line, tired of this family in front of him showing down his very busy day. I’m not sure how I knew he was unhappy. Maybe the stiffness of his shoulders or the pinched expression on his face gave him away. In any case, I was not excited to have to deal with him next.
Sure enough, when the slow family stepped away from the counter and he stepped up for his turn, the guy with short hair barked Parking! That was it. He had not a single kind or pleasant word for us.
I wanted to bark out Asshole! but I didn’t. I knew calling him out wasn’t going to help and would, in fact, certainly make matters worse. Instead I tried the kill ‘em with kindness method, which at least got me a thank you muttered through clenched teeth as he took his credit card and day pass and left. He got through the entire transaction speaking only three words.
I was livid when he left. I shouldn’t have let him get to me, but I did. The other clerk and I had done nothing to deserve such rudeness. It wasn’t our fault the woman ahead of him decided she needed something else after she was already at the counter. It wasn’t our fault the price tag was out of date, and the item was no longer in the system. It wasn’t our fault the fellow’s debit card didn’t work. It wasn’t our fault the impatient man hadn’t brought cash to pay the parking lot attendant and needed to come into the Mercantile to pay for parking with a card. It wasn’t our fault the impatient man had come to see the trees during busy hours on the weekend. It wasn’t our fault the store had only one register, and we could only take payment from one customer at a time.
For the rest of the day, I’d intermittently snap Parking! at my coworker when no customers were around. I probably shouldn’t have made fun of someone who was obviously so unhappy, but maybe he’d be happier if he worked on being less impatient and rude.