Sunday, July 02, 2006

There's more than just food at the corner market

We have one of those wonderful anomalies in our neighborhood – a corner market. In its tight quarters it boasts a wonderful meat counter, a small ice cream freezer, and the best and cheapest candy selection a child with a weekly allowance could want. While there is always a steady stream of customers during store hours, I have never actually had to wait in the single checkout line – until this visit.
It was late afternoon on Friday, not only the end of a workweek, but the beginning of a long holiday weekend as well. I grabbed a bag of hamburger buns (baked locally, of course), from the bakery rack and headed the few steps to the checkout. There were five – count’ em, 5 – people ahead of me in line. For this tiny little corner market, that’s the equivalent of bumper to bumper traffic in a road construction zone. And much to the checker’s chagrin, it seemed like everything was conspiring to make the line move more slowly.
The first customer was paying with a credit card, and the register took a long time to process it. She had a big order, too, that she carried out in a large box with help from her teenage son. Next, a sleepy-looking college-age guy stepped up to pay for his box of cereal and half of a cantaloupe. He was clad in my-laundry-is-still-in-the-machine chic: khaki shorts and a long-sleeved, button-down, flannel pajama top. This purchase may have been his breakfast.
The next customer was typical of the store’s mainstay – an older man buying two large packages of meat from the butcher’s counter, probably getting ready for a weekend of grilling. He was smiling and making conversation with Pajama Guy as he pulled out (sigh) another credit card. This one eventually cleared, too, and then another customer stepped up.
Now, in between each customer came at least one interruption. After Credit Card Lady left, the phone rang. Pajama Guy had to wait patiently while Credit Card Lady’s son returned the empty box. There was no room for the box in the tiny checkout area, so the clerk had to run it back to the meat counter, at the same time begging someone back there to bring her some singles and change.
The next customer was dressed quite normally for this part of the state in a pair of olive-drab camouflage shorts, a Green Bay Packer t-shirt, and black high-top tennis shoes. He was obviously stocking up for an important gathering with a box of saltine crackers and a can of spray-on cheese stuff. (Sorry, I can’t bring myself to call it cheese. It’s just wrong.) He caused the poor clerk to run out of singles completely. She had to give him a dollar’s worth of odd change, including nickels, dimes, and pennies, after which she jumped up and down and made frantic semaphore signals toward the meat counter.
The next person took time to write a check for his items, but he also helped out by offering five singles for a five dollar bill. Frazzled as she was, she almost smiled at him and relaxed visibly as I handed her exact change for my bag of hamburger buns. Her relief finally arrived with a stack of ones and a roll of quarters, and just in time – right behind me came two young girls buying two 75 cent specialty ice-cream treats with a $20 bill. Without the change drop, our poor overworked checker would not have been in Good Humor. She would have been more likely to melt.
All I needed was a bag of burger buns, but I was so entertained that the wait didn’t matter. What a great place to wait in line!
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