Yes, I Found Everything I !@#!$# Wanted!

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Stanley Bing Fortune columnist and best-selling author of business books

China is growing triple digits as we politely chug along toward greater mediocrity. Sarah Palin is topping the charts. Winter is coming in. My 401K is still under water. War in the East is widening. Bonuses will hit record highs on Wall Street this year. Do all these things bother me? Sure they do. But not as much as the guys who run the stores at the airport.

I don't like to think of myself as a peevish person. But I do have peeves. And my peeves define me.

You go to the airport store. There's at least one in every terminal. They have every stupid magazine in the world, so you look at them for a while. Brad is turning to Jen because of Angelina. Kate is courageously putting her life back together after Jon screwed it up, or vice versa. Rob Pattinson... something. There's medicine and some books and gum, lots of gum, very expensive gum, and stuffed animals and shot glasses and tee-shirts celebrating Burbank or St. Louis (the Gateway to America!) and lousy headphones and all that stuff like that there. And eventually you come up with something you didn't really need, two magazines, some mints, a little ferret that rolls over and over on the ground when you turn it on, an oinking pig that changes direction when it bumps into a wall... and then you go to the checkout... and the person behind the counter says, "Did you find everything you wanted?" Which is fine. You could interpret it as a caring question. Like, they're really worried that I might not have found that copy of Digital Coin Collector I was looking for. So I say "Yes, thanks." And that's when it happens.

"Water?" says the lady. "Some candy?"

Okay, I don't know why this rubs me the wrong way so badly. But after years of traveling, during which this scenario developed and took shape and heft and national proportions, I've gotten really sick of it. Perhaps you can help me with it. It doesn't seem so egregious, looking at it on the screen here. "Batteries?"

For a while, my tactic was simply to stare at the cashier with a bored expression and say nothing. Not no. Not yes. Just... nothing. As I would any comment not worthy of reply. They don't get it, though. "Some magazines?" they will inquire if all I got was Tic Tacs. "Some Tic Tacs?" they will say when all I got was a magazine.

Lately, I've tried a small push-back, just to keep myself sane. "No thanks," I'll reply. "Why? Would YOU like some candy?" Doesn't stop them. Nothing does. They are indefatigable.

One time, at LAX, after paying $28.50 for a bunch of swill I didn't really need (a copy of Car & Driver, a paperback I'd never read, a bottle of Coke Zero, some arcane gum whose packaging interested me), I got really peeved when the cashier asked me if I wanted a sports drink too. "Why do you guys all do this?" I asked the lady, perhaps a bit too sharply. She looked at me, very crestfallen, as if I had called attention to a physical defect over which she had no control. "We are required to," was all she said. Afterwards, I felt bad. Why am I ragging on this poor employee who is only carrying out the instructions of her master?

Something too close to home, maybe, huh.