Deal­ing with Do-It-Your­self check­outs

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

I could feel my blood pres­sure ris­ing.

There I was, on Christ­mas Eve, stand­ing in line at the lo­cal phar­macy, hap­haz­ardly bal­anc­ing two arm­loads worth of last-minute sock stuffers I hadn’t in­tended on buy­ing when I sidesteppe­d through the slid­ing glass doors twenty min­utes ear­lier on a quest for as­pirin.

Still, nary a soul was be­hind the check­out counter.

The lone clerk in the en­tire store — whose set tasks in­clude cash­ing out, print­ing pho­tos, re­stock­ing the beer cooler, and en­sur­ing that the reg­is­ter is filled with enough tape to sup­ply ev­ery cus­tomer with an im­pos­si­bly long re­ceipt for even the sim­plest of pur­chases — was else­where pos­si­bly paving the drive­way.

The handy lit­tle plunge bell that or­di­nar­ily sum­moned him has also dis­ap­peared.

In­stead, a slim ro­bot kiosk with a touch screen and a re­volv­ing light wink­ing from its top beck­oned us to­ward it as wel­com­ingly as a ma­chine can man­age.

The line stood silently still. As if we were lambs head­ing to slaugh­ter.

The lady in front of me - grayer in the hair than

I - hes­i­tated and then de­murred: “You go ahead, dear,” she said good-na­turedly. “I think I for­got some­thing.” I knew she was stalling. The fact that she moved closer to me as I ap­proached the checker bot was all the ev­i­dence I needed to un­der­stand I was the guinea pig.

I could barely hear her breath­ing as I bleeped each item past its dig­i­tal crosshairs. I kept up my poker face un­til the end when the ma­chine slurped up my wrin­kled ten­der and barfed back my change.

We both au­di­bly ex­haled.

“That was eas­ier than I thought,” I said, giv­ing away my ul­ti­mate bluff: I am a novice at the Do-ItY­our­self check­outs.

I pre­fer deal­ing with hu­mans, even if they never smile or sound like ro­bots when they or­der me to have a nice day.

This is prob­a­bly why I didn’t dash off the mo­ment my mile-long sales re­ceipt fi­nally fin­ished print­ing.

The lady who’d let me jump the line looked like she was now stand­ing at the edge of a cliff.

The least I could do was talk her through it.

The first two items cleared the scan­ner with sat­is­fy­ing beeps. A pack­age of candy took two tries, but the re­main­der of her pur­chases went through the process with no trou­ble. It wasn’t un­til the pay­ment sec­tion of the trans­ac­tion that the whole thing came to a screech­ing halt.

The ma­chine wouldn’t read her credit card. No mat­ter how she in­serted it … chip or swipe … it just blurted out an ear-pierc­ing buzz.

“That doesn’t sound right,” said the store clerk, who had ap­peared out of thin air, pre­sum­ably sum­moned by the less-than­mag­i­cal sound.

For the next few min­utes, he waved his hands and pressed some but­tons. He tried ev­ery trick in the book, start­ing with wip­ing the card’s mag­netic strip be­tween two sides of thin plas­tic bags that won’t be at his dis­posal in a few months’ time. He did ev­ery­thing but kick the kiosk un­til luck and tech­nol­ogy fi­nally gave in and took the lady’s money. We all sighed in re­lief. And for the first time, I saw the hu­man con­nec­tion to be made through au­to­ma­tion: All of the hu­mans in the room we’re shar­ing a mo­ment try­ing to solve its puzzlement.

“I’m so glad that worked,” laughed the clerk. “I was afraid I’d have to go back and visit the blood pres­sure ma­chine.”

Siobhan Connally is a writer and photograph­er liv­ing in the Hud­son Val­ley. Her col­umn about fam­ily life ap­pears weekly in print and on­line.

Siobhan Connally

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