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Checking out the check-out lines

     I ran into Albertson's, got a pack of ice cream bars, rushed to the checkout lanes and slid into place in the one with the shortest line. Two minutes later I walked out to the parking lot, my melting ice cream bars firmly in hand.

     No way that happened. Yes, the ice cream was melting. Yes, I got into the shortest line. The line at checkstand four was shorter, but a guy with a cart full of one of everything in the store headed that way just as I saw it. He beat me to it. The Express Line was shorter, too, but I heard that's where they train the rookies and that's why it always takes so long. You didn't know that? Remember that – it might come in handy some day when you're in a hurry. Or buying ice cream bars.

     I did not march out to the parking lot two minutes later. Two minutes later I was exactly where I started. At all the other checkout counters, the black belts were rolling,  tossing groceries at the checkers faster than they could catch them.  Scanners were beeping, customers were smiling and waving good-bye as they grabbed their groceries and left.

     At my checkout counter, there was a major dispute. A case of four – or should that be five? - water bottles was creating a delay. The checker picked up his phone and called for help. Five minutes passed. A manager sauntered over and told the checker about last night's ball game and what tomorrow's weather is supposed to be but won't be because it never is what they say it is and a few other things of huge importance and then they ran out of things to talk about, so the checker asked the manager how many water bottles were supposed to be in this case – four or five? The customer said five and one was missing, but the checker wasn't sure. He thought it was only four.

     I willed my ice cream bars not to melt, while the checker leaned back against the register, arms folded and the manager ambled off to investigate. They never know the answer on the spot. Have to check it out. The lady buying the water bottles never looked back at us, but now she started apologizing to the checker. Not for long, though. She stopped midsentence, closed her mouth and set her jaw in the formation of a large numeral five.

     The phone at the checkstand rang. The checker turned slowly around, unfolded his arms, one by one, and picked up the phone on the sixth ring – maybe it was the seventh - I lost count. He listened a lot longer than it takes even a grocery store clerk to say "four," or "five."

     I checked out the lines I'd almost gotten into. The man with one of everything in the store was long gone. The guy in the Express Line where I would've been, still had two people in front of him. The checker hung up the phone and said something to the lady. She didn't agree. He gathered the four water bottles and moved them away from her. Ah! Finally!

     She opened her purse and got out a couple dozen coupons… When I walked out of Albertson's, the guy in the Express Line was still waiting. His hair had turned a pale shade of gray.

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