Facing My Worst Self in the Grocery Line

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The backside of four cows.
Photo: Andrew Storms

Every few weeks, I drive to my local Sprouts store and buy a couple bags of organic Guatemalan coffee.

This particular Sprouts store is a rather, shall we say, relaxed establishment where long lines are part of the experience. On a recent Thursday at 5 p.m., three cashiers were open and the lines of people stretched all the way back to the produce department.

As I eyed the three lines to figure out which would move quickest, a man veered his cart decisively to the right so I defaulted to the center, nearly cutting off another woman. She slid her cart in close behind me, and I could feel her daggers.

The people waiting all wore similar expressions of resignation, like you might see in the faces of cows standing in a dank feed lot.

Six cows in a feed lot.
Photo: Randy Heinitz

I silently counted the people in my line: 11. The speedy gentleman to the right only had ten people ahead of him. So unfair! I thought to myself. I was headed for that line until he cut me off.

I stood with my two little bags of coffee and inwardly groaned at the overstuffed carts ahead of me. Who are you people, camp cooks? I wondered. Preppers stocking up for the apocalypse?

Our cashier appeared to be a friendly young man who was now chatting with the customer at the front of the line. 

C’mon, enough with the talking!  I implored him with my strongest ESP vibes.  Scan and talk at the same time! Let’s mooooooooove!

A cow on a trampoline.

To my right, Mr. Speedy’s cashier had stopped scanning. “Price check on register eight,” he announced. 

Oh YES!, I thought, brightening up considerably. Now Speedy’s line is slower than mine. Na, na, na, na, NA, na! 

Suddenly I had one of those out-of-body experiences where my better consciousness intervenes and slaps me upside the head. 

What are you thinking? it demanded. What’s with this ugly spirit of competitiveness? Why are you feeling glee because your fellow human is delayed?

A horse stuck in a fence, and a cow smiling.

Before I could answer those questions, I saw a movement to my far left.

A green-shirted Sprouts employee was fiddling around at a closed cash register. He didn’t make eye contact with us as he carefully straightened the bags and meticulously sprayed the conveyor belt with cleaner.

Next, he counted every bill and coin in the cash drawer. And then…yes? No? Wait for it…

He flicked on the lane light, and a mass exodus occurred. The dagger woman behind me was first in line. Dust rose in the air, and the new line was ten people deep in nine seconds.

None of us patient, longsuffering cattle had been nimble enough to migrate. Even worse, our bagging clerk shuffled over to help the new line of shoppers. So unfair!

Dagger’s eyes met mine as she paid for her groceries. Maybe it was my imagination, but it sounded like she said “Hasta la vista, sucker!” as she waltzed out of the store.

A cow meme that reads "Bye, Felicia!"

I took a deep breath, and tried to remember all the things I’ve read about acceptance and letting go. Inhale peace, exhale stress.

I pictured Jerry Seinfeld’s dad yelling, “Serenity now!” 

What is it about being in a crowded grocery store that brings out my most primitive instincts? My default mode seems to be:

  • I am in a hurry. Even if I’m not on any particular schedule, I’m still in a hurry.
  • Waiting is a big waste of my valuable time.
  • Lines should be fair and democratic!
  • Cashiers should be efficient and know all the grocery codes, even for starfruit and Swiss Chard.
  • Our bagger must never defect to another line!
  • When it’s my turn, I like it when the cashier is friendly.
  • Success = making better time than my fellow shoppers.

I took more deep breaths and tried to be patient. After several more minutes of jockeying, it was finally my turn.

“Your coffee smells good,” the cashier said as he scanned.

“I love Sprouts coffee.”

“It’s the best.” He smiled and nodded at me. “You need to press the green ‘Enter’ button and click ‘Yes.’”

“Oh, sorry. All of these machines are different.”

“I know, right? Why can’t they standardize card readers?”

“Exactly!” I smiled and gazed back at the dozen people scowling in line behind me.

I swear to you, I could hear their thoughts like “HURRY UP, LADY!” and “MOVE IT!” floating around me.

An angry looking steer with text that reads "You want a piece of this?"

“You still need to sign the keypad.”

“Oh, sorry.”

As I headed toward the exit I noticed Mr. Speedy still in his line, peering at the card reader trying to figure out which button to push.

Cowabunga! I thought, as I skipped to my car like a happy heifer finally let out to pasture.

A happy cow in a field.

This post was originally published at Happy Simple Living on June 27, 2017.

3 thoughts on “Facing My Worst Self in the Grocery Line”

  1. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt reflections on facing your ‘worse self’ in the grocery line! Your honesty and vulnerability are truly inspiring, reminding us all that self-improvement is a journey filled with challenges and triumphs. Your willingness to confront difficult moments with courage and introspection is commendable, and your words resonate deeply with readers.

    • Thank you, and I’m really glad you enjoyed the article! Patience in long lines is going to be a lifelong project project. ~ Eliza


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