Check This Out

leadville safewayMany, many years ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was a grocery clerk at a Safeway store in Leadville, Colorado. That particular work experience took place during the time when I was entirely convinced that college wasn’t for me and that I would be perfectly content being married with kids and perhaps working at a simple clerical-type job.

A year’s service at Safeway was enough to convince me that, while there is nothing wrong with that particular life choice, it wasn’t the life choice for me.

I held a number of jobs while working for Safeway, from stocking the shelves in what was called the “non-foods” area to working in the understandably-detested dairy section. Detested because the refrigerators were cold and the cases of milk were extremely heavy and there was no one to help me lift them onto my stocking cart. Everyone did their own job, and did no one else’s job for them. Period. That’s the way it was. It was a union store.

But my favorite job – and the job at which I most excelled – was that of check-out clerk. It was the mid-70s and computerized cash registers were not even a gleam in Alan Turing’s eyes. Digital scanners were thirty years away.

No, it was the old push-button kind of cash registers, not much more advanced than the one which I’d used in Dad’s bakery in Columbus, Nebraska. The customer rolled his or her cart up to me, and I pulled items out, looked at the paper price tag, and keyed in the price. The thing is, I got really good at this job. I could key in the price without ever looking at the cash register keyboard. I would pick up the item, key in the price, and send it flying down to the grocery bagger so quickly that he or she simply couldn’t keep up.

I got no reward for being so quick. In fact, I worked harder than anyone else because customers recognized that they could get through my line quicker, so there would be much longer lines at my cash register. Being a union shop, it didn’t matter to other checkers whether or not I was quicker than they. The pay was the same, no matter what.

But it mattered to me. I literally would challenge myself to see how quickly I could get a customer through my line, at the same time being friendly and helpful. Man, I was fast.

I thought about this yesterday at the grocery store. I happened to get into a grocery line staffed by a clerk who had that same mentality. She tore through my groceries. She had the advantage, of course, of digital scanners, but I was checked out from beginning to end literally within a couple of minutes. And I had a grocery cart full of stuff.

I complimented her on her quickness, and you could tell she was pleased that I recognized her talent. Because I also know that she was getting paid the same as the clerk in the next line who wasn’t nearly as quick and who didn’t care at all that she wasn’t. Something seems wrong with this picture.

Anyway, I relayed my thoughts to Jen, who told me she got into a grocery line recently and noticed that the checker was one she always avoids. Despite the fact that her line was the shortest, Jen moved to the next line, where there were two people in front of her. When she finished paying for her groceries, she noticed that the slow checker was still working with the same customer and her not-terribly-full grocery cart.

Over the years, I have thought about why I tried so hard as a checker, and I concluded that it’s because I am motivated by praise more than money. That was true throughout my professional life. Nothing felt better than someone telling me I did a good job. And basically, that’s what my customers were telling me, both verbally and by their act of preferring my line.

Are there cashiers you avoid at the grocery store?

By the way, my daughter-in-law Lauren sent me an email the other day with the subject line “I thought of you”. Talk about words making me happy! It’s nice to be thought of….

Anyway, the email included a link to an amazing recipe which I simply had to make that very same day. The recipe calls for using an entire sheet of puff pastry; however, I used a third of the sheet and only made four Nutella Puffs. They were a delicious after-dinner treat, and unbelievably easy to make.

Unfinished puffs



finished puffs


Nutella Puffs

6 thoughts on “Check This Out

  1. Let’s assess what would have happened if you would have stayed at Safeway as your lifetime career. With your lightening speed and body that got arthritis at a young age, I think your scanning wrist would have simply fallen off one day at work. You would now be living on a fixed income of disability. Good call deciding to go back to college!

  2. I avoid the “talkers” who tell the customers more than we want to know about their lives and the “commentators” who think my grocery items require their commentary. Talking heads everywhere! It’s not American television, people. College and high school kids are usually my favorite.

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