When I was ready to checkout after grocery shopping at the South Salem Fred Meyer store today, there were long lines at every register.
I picked the most promising line. There were just a few people ahead of me.
But one of them was an older woman who not only wasn't wearing a mask, she had a humungous amount of groceries and other items piled high in her cart.
That worried me. However, I figured that it wouldn't take very long for the clerk to handle her purchases, and those of the woman just ahead of me.
I was wrong.
For one thing, it turned out that the maskless woman was buying even more items that I originally thought. She must have had a hidden compartment in her cart, because she kept piling stuff on the conveyor belt beyond what I thought was possible.
Plus, I was too far back to hear the details of the problem that arose when it was about time for the woman to pay, but I could see the clerk reach for her phone -- which usually means a manager is needed.
It was. I'm not sure why. Maybe a dispute about the cost of an item.
Regardless, the manager's involvement took more time. All told, I guess it took at least ten minutes for the clerk to checkout the maskless woman. She ended up paying well over $400, I recall.
The woman ahead of me didn't have nearly as much stuff, so I thought it wouldn't be long before I got to the head of the checkout line.
This time the reason for calling a manager had something to do with the price of a big package of Brawny paper towels. I got the impression that the woman wanted a sale price for an individual roll to be applied to each of the dozen or so rolls in the package, or something like that.
At first the clerk tried to calculate what the cost should be by using her touch screen. Then, confused, she asked a manager who was standing nearby for his help. He told her she should cancel the original paper towel purchase and enter a new price.
That didn't work either.
The clerk picked up the phone, asked for the manager, and tried once more after getting some additional instructions about what to do. Still no luck. So she had to call the manager again.
By this point I was getting irritated. Not at the clerk. At the woman who was adamant about getting a lower price for the Brawny paper towels. The line had gotten longer behind me. Clearly the clerk was getting stressed at not being able to figure out how to put in a different price for the paper towels.
I toyed with the idea of telling the woman that I'd be glad to give her a few dollars if she'd give up on trying to get the reduced price.
Upon further reflection, though, it seemed like this wasn't wise, so I just kept adjusting my posture to look as irked at possible at the woman who was holding up the long line of shoppers behind me just so she could save a small amount of money that maybe she wasn't really entitled to anyway.
Then I heard one of those shoppers yell at the clerk. I couldn't tell what was said, just that it was a complaint about how slow her line was moving. The clerk politely said, "I'm doing the best I can." Which, she was.
The manager had to come back one more time to help the clerk adjust the paper towels price. She told him, "I don't know how to do this very well. I've got to learn how to do it." The manager was supportive. "Hey," he said, "we're not on strike, which is good. Don't worry, you're doing great."
(Fred Meyer stores in the Portland area went on strike recently, but it only lasted a day until an agreement was reached.)
My checkout went smoothly. I told the clerk, "You deserve an easy customer after your previous two." When she handed the receipt to me I patted her shoulder and said, "Thanks for what you're doing. Much appreciated." I heard the man behind me say something similar as I left the checkout line.
We've got to remember what a tough job grocery store clerks have had in the almost two years since the Covid pandemic hit. They've got to stand there, facing irritated customers, some of whom refuse to wear a mask, not knowing if they're going to become infected during their shift.
Yes, most of us feel stressed around the holidays, especially this year, with the highly contagious Omicron variant lurking around. But this isn't an excuse for yelling at a grocery store clerk. They're Covid heroes.