Dealing with Do-It-Yourself checkouts
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.