The neighborhood grocery store with its too-high prices is just a few blocks away from where I live. I only needed three items, but this week I’m on staycation. Forget about time constraints. I took my time driving across town to the shopping mall, enjoying the fact that I get to live in this beautiful city.
When I arrived at the mall, I found a parking spot close to the grocery store, a feat which confirmed this truly was a glorious, work-free, weekday morning.
I entered the store and worked my way down the aisles. A bag of cat litter. A jug of water. A pack of gum. Done. I pushed my cart towards the “Express” check-out. There must have been ten people waiting.
So I steered my cart to Checkstand Four, which had one person waiting. Much better.
The woman in line had a full basket, so I prepared for the wait. I opened my purse to get my phone, but the words I was hearing distracted me. Angry words from an Angry Lady.
A Super-Loud-With-Her-Angry-Words Lady.
“I can’t believe the management at this store!” Slam item onto the counter. “Why don’t they get another checker?!” Slam item onto the counter. “It’s always like this in here!” Slam. Slam. Slam.
She wasn’t talking to anyone directly, and no one was talking to her. All I heard was anger, slams, and the beeping of the grocery scanner.
I noticed the orchid in the Angry Lady’s cart — so delicate, so beautiful. Quite a contrast from its soon-to-be owner.
She looked at me. I smiled at her. The Angry Lady was nicely dressed and her make-up was just right. She had wrinkles that revealed her age despite the sandy-brown hair color. She looked at the items in my cart, looked back at me, and said, “Why don’t you use the express lane?! Fifteen items or less!”
“The line is pretty long over there,” I said.
“That’s what I mean about this place. They need better management. And I hate waiting in line. The service here is awful.” She stopped slamming her groceries and proceeded to tell me about all the things she had to do, including the Spanish class for which she would now be late.
“I don’t mind waiting in line,” I said. “Things could be worse. We could be standing in line waiting for our first and only meal of the day.”
The clerk looked at me. The people at the head of the line looked at me. And the Angry Lady looked at me.
“Humph!” she said. “Well, I wish I could have that attitude.”
“You can.” I provided a number of other bad situations for which she could be standing in line. Funeral. Clothing handout. Place to sleep after a fire. Little things like that. “Plus, you can practice being patient for a time when you really need it. I love to do that while standing in line.” I chuckled.
She took a step back and frowned. “Here.” She thrust her arm towards me. “Rub some of that attitude on me!”
So I reached towards her and rubbed her arm. We both laughed as she continued loading the belt with groceries. I noticed the amused expressions of the store clerk and the customer ahead of the Angry Lady as he paid and left.
“Well, they could at least open another checker, don’t you think?” Her tone had softened.
“I bet they would if they could. I always imagine that there is a good reason for it.”
She looked at me with a smile that teetered on frustration. Then she said, “Okay, okay! I’ll try to look at it that way.”
“Excellent,” I said. “Patience is a virtue. What’s your name?” The Angry Lady didn’t look so angry anymore. She told me her name — Fran* — and I told her mine.
“Darla. That’s a pretty name,” she said. Of course I had to tell her the story of my sister Lynne and how I got my name. Sensing her true age, I knew Fran would recognize the Our Gang character. “That’s a wonderful story, Darla. Yes, I remember watching that TV show.”
Our conversation continued as the clerk quietly checked the grocery items. Fran told me that she had only lived in Santa Barbara for one year. She came here from New York.
I felt even more compassion for her after hearing that little fact.
New York, she explained, had better customer service. Not like here, she assured me. The clerk stood waiting and I nodded to let Fran know that it was time to pay.
She slid her card through the payment machine. “How does this thing work? What am I doing wrong?” She tapped the number pad and kept sliding the card, back and forth. I gave the clerk a “Please help her” look. He did. I glanced behind me. Traffic jam at Checkstand Four.
Finally, with her payment made and her groceries bagged, Fran was ready to go. “I do feel better, Darla. I do! Goodbye!”
I waved to her. “Nice to meet you, Fran. Have a great day.”
“I will! You, too! Hope I don’t get to my class too late. No, no, I don’t need any help out.” She shooed away the bagger, steered her cart, and headed for the exit.
Finally, it was my turn. The clerk scanned my three items. He didn’t say a word about Fran. I didn’t say a word about Fran. We both grinned. When I handed him my cash, he asked me if I had a store card. “That’ll save you some … three dollars,” he said. Yikes. I had forgotten to enter my information and I was glad he had reminded me. Tap, tap, tap, on the number pad.
I saw the woman, next in line, frown. ∞
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