Miss Nem recently saw a lady at the grocery store dumping out the cartons of strawberries, picking out the best ones, and then filling her own carton with only the best strawberries. At the end of her post in which she detailed this bizarre event, she asked what kinds of crazy things we'd seen at the supermarket. I didn't want to hijack her comments, so I knew I would just have to write a post about weird things I saw and encountered while working at grocery stores for roughly two years.
First of all, I worked and lived in a low-income suburb of Dallas, so there were generally higher rates of theft. With that said, I was never in any particular danger at work, except for the time that the store was robbed by armed men and I did have a gun pointed in my general direction. But I don't want to write about that.
One time I saw a guy walking out with a whole box of Velveeta "cheese" hanging by his side. By the time I saw him, he was pretty much already out the door, so it's not like I could have gone after him. Plus I'm a girl, and I'm not especially strong or beefy, so it wasn't a remote possibility. So I just stood there thinking, "That dude just walked straight out the door with a package of Velveeta."
There were many customers that I knew by name, or at the very least by face. I became well-acquainted with them and their families, and they knew a fair amount about me too. Some of them didn't know I was old enough to go to college, so they were really astonished to learn when I returned to work after my freshman year at BYU that that was where I'd been for eight months. Other people apparently thought I was older than I was, and they'd ask me questions about my children. When I told them I was still in high school, sadly the response was often, "That doesn't mean anything." Or "That don't mean nothin'."
I can tell you about lots of different types of cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco, even though I don't really know what the differences are between the different brands.
One time I could tell a guy was going to make tamales, and I told him how much I love tamales, and he brought some back to me later that day. I ate them on my break even though my co-workers said they were worried that maybe the tamales were poisoned. They weren't.
I listened to many, many, many customers tell me they weren't about to let their kids go trick-or-treating after the 9-11 attacks because they were worried about poisoned candy. For real.
One time around Christmas I noticed a large African-American man in the store pushing a basically empty cart for hours. I finally said something about it to the manager working that night. It turns out he was an undercover cop helping us find thieves. I got to see him tackle somebody who tried to steal batteries.
Don't ever go to the grocery store on Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving. Just don't. Also, if you live in the South (or other place that doesn't get much snow and ice) don't go to the store the night before the "snowstorm" comes in. Just don't. But if you do, buy ice cream.
Lots of people on food stamps buy lottery tickets. Everyone feel free to shake your fists about that. (There are also lots of people on food stamps who you can tell have been working hard all day and are clearly in need of a boost.)
Speaking of food stamps, the closest a customer ever came to making me cry: The family came through my line with two MASSIVE baskets full of groceries. I scanned and scanned and scanned and scanned. The total was a probably about $300-$400. They realized that was over what was on their food stamp card, so they started taking things off. At that store when it was time to total up the order, if there were voided items exceeding a total of $5, I had to get manager approval (via a card swipe) before we could finish the transaction. The manager came and swiped and took off. But the customer was wrong about the amount on their card, so they needed to take off more of their groceries. While they rummaged through their groceries to take off more of their total, one of the people went to find out what was wrong with their card. Unfortunately at that time there wasn't a way for me to find out the balance on their card. All I could do was tell them when they swiped their card if their was insufficient funds. And the funds were insufficient over and over and over again. Every time we needed to try to finish the order, I had to get a manager to come swipe his/her card. Eventually a low-level manager just came and stood by while I worked with the customer to try to figure out how much money was on their card. This went on for a good 15-20 minutes. Get the total. Swipe the card to avoid the high level of voided items. Customer swipes food stamp card. I tell them they are still over their budget. Finally they went to use a phone to figure out what the balance on the card was. And that was when they suddenly remembered the rather large sum of money they had already spent on groceries that month. Meanwhile, they were really furious with ME at my frustration over going through this rigamarole over and over and and over because they couldn't keep track of their food stamp balance. When they were finally checked out and our old-man sacker named Jack had taken their groceries out, one of them came back in to complain to the manager about my poor customer service. I was on a break by then. My manager came up to me when I was back from my break and told me that he just didn't believe a word they said. There was no way that Sherry would be rude to a customer. (Even though I probably was at least a little rude.)