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Putting Budgers in Their Place

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I like to bag my own groceries. Maybe it's because I used to bag groceries in high school. More likely it's because I like to unpack things in a certain order, and bagging them makes that easier.

Every time we got groceries the request was always the same: "Do you mind if I bag my own?" And the response was always some variation of, "No problem."

But with one exception in several years, there did seem to be a problem. Because always, always, the checker would speed up. There wasn't much of a holding area for items that were rung up but not yet bagged, and except for one particularly sweet gal -- likely a fan of bagging her own groceries, I suddenly realize -- everyone made it his or her mission to outrun me. Each became Samantha in Bewitched, endowed with grocery ringing superpowers that sent items flying through the scanner and piling on top of each other -- ready to tumble and humiliate me for daring to suggest I bag my own.

So when it came to self-checkouts, I was an early adopter.

But what the grocery gods giveth, they taketh away. Where we shop, there are four registers arranged in two lines. If there was a lot of space between them, two lines would form. But all four registers are really close together, so the people who are waiting stand in the middle and go to the left or to the right as those stations open up.

The other day I was at the head of the line. An elderly couple came up behind me, wheeled their cart around mine, and headed for a register on the right that was about to open. I believe the technical term is budging. What usually happens in a situation like this is that the other people waiting start whispering back and forth about how rude that is. I find that accomplishes exactly nothing, as you might've gathered from my last post.

With nothing else to do but experiment with my life, I tried something. I pretended this couple didn't know how things worked in America. "Oh!" I said, as if they'd asked me for help. "The line is in the middle... " Then I motioned them back behind me as I made my way to the register they'd headed for, now open.

I quickly forgot about this exchange because I soon had another problem. The guy in charge of loss prevention at the self-checkouts, who's also on hand to reset the registers when they misbehave, is so friendly I worry he's going to crawl into my cart and jump into the trunk of our car as a stowaway. I was busy fending him off when Darrell appeared with the credit card, just in time to see the elderly couple I'd tangled with make their way to the next open register. As he wheeled his cart around mine, the man hit my cart -- hard. "What the... ?" Darrell wondered, not knowing what had happened. "What's his problem?"

I explained. I waited for Darrell's reaction and as I did I flogged myself for the experiment, for having even noticed old people budging. Maybe they're all too aware of how little time they have left, I reasoned, and don't want to spend it in line...

"You know what would've happened had you been the person being told where the line forms?" Darrell asked. Well, yes. I do. Because I've been that person. I've never budged on purpose -- not that I remember, anyway -- but I've done it accidentally. And the minute I realize it I apologize so profusely it's almost embarrassing.

Darrell didn't wait for me to answer. "You would've been horrified. You would've told the person how sorry you were. Then you would've done it again. And again... "

Maybe you have people in your life who help you see yourself more clearly. I hope so. And when they point out something sweet about your nature, I hope you feel good about that for weeks.

Like I did!

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