Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Express Line

As I stood in the checkout line this morning at Safeway, waiting to pay for my fruit, milk and cereal, I didn't think the Express Line was going to take long as it did. There were two customers in front me: the first had a bag of Tostitos chips and the second, two flats of water and baby wipes. There was a hold up in the line. I thought it was just a simple matter of the chips being scanned twice. But that wasn't the case.

The customer, an Asian man in his late 50s or so, was trying to tell the checker that the chips were only suppose to cost $1.77, instead of the $3, or something. The woman standing next to him, I assume his wife, looked confused. She didn't say anything. As the checker tried to explain to the man that he got his discount from his Safeway Club Card, he kept on insisting that his separate cut-out coupon on top of his Club Card should have made the final cost $1.77. As the minutes went on, the transaction continued. I picked up on the fact that he didn't speak English well, and was trying to understand why the total didn't turn out to be the same as the three numbers on the coupon. The guy in front of me picked up the Enquirer and the little kid behind me picked up a copy as well. (I let out a little giggle when I saw that). I thumbed through an issue of Vogue. I admit, I was a little frustrated.

But as I stood there, superficially flipping through the glossy pages of Vogue, I was listening to the man with the chips. I think he honestly believed that he was overcharged. He and his wife glanced over at the growing line and looked embarrassed. He placed his hand on a neck and gave a nervous smile. I wanted to mouth the words, "it's okay," but part of me was also annoyed. I was foolishly impatient.

After 10 minutes or so, it was finally understood that you needed to buy two bags of Tostitos, to get a deal. There was a twofer deal with the Club Card, and with the Sunday paper coupon, you could get a third bag for $1.77. (...or something like that.) The man and the woman walked away, I don't know if they went back to get the other two bags of chips or if they left.

Every day, we read and hear stories about people affected by the recession. Families having to foreclose their homes, kids putting off college and people losing their jobs. On print, we know these people by their names. On television, we hear sound bytes from them. But we all know someone on a first-name basis who has lost a job, lost a home, lost their savings. I'm seeing more people -- strangers -- affected by the down economy. They're not people I know, or read about, they're people I see. People who stand in line in front me at the grocery store.

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