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Changing the world, one customer at a time

February 20, 2007|by KYLE LEFLER

I think I've found my calling - grocery store cashier.

Nah, just kidding. I wouldn't say it is my calling, but it will do for now.

I have recently become employed at a grocery store. It's my first decent-paying job. I work two days a week for about eight hours. The pay is OK and the work is fairly low stress - but the job is extremely educational.

Working with people is one of my strengths. I enjoy interacting with people and observing them. Well, just about every sort of person comes through my checkout line - wealthy and low income, health food nut and junk food addict, hurried and lackadaisical.

My time spent with each customer is brief and fleeting, but it is amazing how much I can learn about them in the time it takes to check their groceries. I've noticed certain stereotypes.

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For example, I often encounter the Perpetually Stressed Mom, typically followed by at least three children. She always has at least $200 worth of food piled in her cart - Lucky Charms, peanut butter, bananas, Juicy Juice boxes. Her kids hang off the cart at precarious angles and talk incessantly about the Dubble Bubble gum they want.

I do my best to help the Perpetually Stressed Mom, talking to the kids and checking groceries as fast as possible. After I hand her the receipt, I smile and wish her a good day. In return I get a harried smile and assorted laughs from the little ones.

Another breed of shopper type is the Elderly Couple. Most elderly couples come in together and bicker about whether or not to buy this or that. However, they are usually very supportive of each other and kind to me.

Sometimes it makes me worried to see the trouble that the Elderly Couple could potentially get into. It isn't rare that an elderly person will hand me his or her wallet and tell me to take out money to pay the bill. I always oblige, but I worry that one day these poor people will be taken advantage of. The average elderly person purchases less then $50 of food - bread, eggs, chocolate candy and canned vegetables. Occasionally, I will see an Elderly Couple with real fruits and veggies, but that is a rarity.

One of the most interesting grocery store experiences is working the express lane. If I work there on a school night, I don't get to take a breath until approximately 6:15 p.m. The 15-items-or-less lane is used by those picking up a few things on their way home from work.

Here is where I see the sharp-dressed Businessman with his credit cards and Bluetooth, tired and dirty Construction Workers with work boots and crumpled $20 bills, the Young Single Woman buying ice cream and a frozen dinner, and the occasional Young Single Man buying chocolates, flowers and a card (he always looks nervous and frantic).

The express laners are all different and yet the same - they all chase the same goal, to return to their home and regroup after the day.

Working at the grocery store has taught me a lot about our area and the economic diversity encompassed here. Food stamps are much more common than I ever thought, along with WIC checks for mothers and young children.

I'm surprised at the number of people who need financial assistance in our country. I think about that often as I watch people buy food with the government's money. I think about all the money my family spends on food and feel slightly guilty that we have the resources we do.

I wonder what we could do to change the state of poverty in our area. I don't know the answer. I'm just a cashier.

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