Yes sir, no sir….

How do you address customers?  The practice is fraught with complications – enough that I’ll do one post on the dynamics between a man cashier and a man customer, and then another on the man with a woman customer.  There’s a whole nother set of complications when the cashier is female, which I won’t claim to be able to address.  (The fortyish female cashier at the gas station convenience store today called me “bud” – a first for me.  I liked it.) And there’s another set of variables if the cashier is young, which I am not (68).  And still another one if they are a person of color.  I think I’ll let them comment on that.

Is there more expectation that a young male cashier use polite terms of address ("sir")  with an older man?  Probably so, and maybe especially in the South.

Is there more expectation that a young male cashier use polite terms of address (“sir”) with an older man? Probably so, and maybe especially in the South.

I tend to use the fallback of “sir” when addressing male customers,, but I like it less and less.  I don’t like it when or other customer service people call me sir – maybe because I wasn’t raised in the South.  It sounds too formal – and makes me feel too old, even when I am genuinely a lot older than the cashier (like most of the time).  It hurts my feelings a little “Can’t we both just be guys here?”  My son mostly grew up in the South. One lovely spring weekend we spent the weekend in a hotel with a pool.  His buddy Bobbie spent the weekend with us.  I pretty quickly prevailed on Bobbie to stop calling me sir or Mr, Madden and to use John (my name back then) instead.  Bobbie took to this right away and i projected that he found it liberating to break out of the formal mode of address.  When we were taking him home Sunday afternoon, however, he started to hem and haw his way through, “Uh, John, when you drop me off…”  I knew exactly where he was going.  “Do you want to call me Mr. Madden?”  “Yeah, my mother would have a cow.”

But I wasn’t raised in the South and – even after ten years here – being called sir doesn’t feel right to me.  So why do I use it so regularly with my own customers?  When I worked in the gas station, ten years ago, I made such regular use of casual modes of address (which I called buddyisms) – buddy, bud, pal, man, guy – that i wrote a blog post about it, (http://authenticcustomerservice.blogspot.com/2007/03/just-corporate-enough.html).

  • But that was a low-priced gas station – this is a relatively high-end grocery store.
  • Here my customers cover a socioeconomic spectrum, but tend to be middle class.  In the gas station, my customers again covered a spectrum. (I sold gas to the mayor.  One time she asked me if I would take a check.  I said, “Maam” – I did use a formal term of address – “You’re the mayor.”)  But my customer base was more tilted towards working class folks.
  • There much of the time I worked alone.  Here there are always supervisors around.  You can’t predict when the store manager will be right behind you.
  • In the interim since the gas station, I have worked in several other more formal situations where buddyism’s would have been frowned on: two upscale resorts, one upscale hotel, a telephone call center,
Male cashiers tend to be young, in school, or else this is a "retirement job".  In their middle years they seek more lucrative jobs; if they stay with the store, they tend to get promoted.

Male cashiers tend to be young, in school, or else this is a “retirement job”. In their middle years they seek more lucrative jobs; if they stay with the store, they tend to get promoted.

As I write about this, I am more inclined to move away from the formal terms of address (sir, mister) and towards buddyisms.  I realize that I have actually been moving in this direction, but not enough for me.  I want to experiment with this and see how it goes.  It does seem that the men with whom I do it tend to like it.

I will follow my intuition around when to stick with sir or mister.  This will include men of color and  very old white men. Having written this two days ago, I discovered that with a young black man I wanted to go to buddyisms. It’s all a big experiment here. I’ll plan to keep you posted.

 

Blessing their parenting

I have spent a lot of time in my life shopping in standard, big-chain grocery stores.  Now, with my health food proclivities and – let’s tell it straight – my 20% discount, I do most of my shopping in my store.  One of my bad memories of those big stores is the terrible parenting you got to see: the yelling, the threats, the slaps, the yanked arms.  We see actually very little of this in our grocery store.  Mostly the children are very well-behaved – and when they do act up the parents overall do a very good job of managing them.  I get to see enormous sweetness between parents and children.

And one of the blessings to me is the chance to bless their relationship – to hold up to parents and children just how well they are doing.  That happened for me with two particular families today.

Ira is a big, bruising guy who was so amazingly sweet with his five-year-old (I estimate) daughter – praising her in so many ways. For the way she put groceries on the belt from the cart in which she was standing: “I like the go-for-it way you stacked those boxes there” (5 high) – “they’re very even and balanced.”.  For the way she bagged the groceries: “I really like the way you put the heavy stuff on the bottom.”  (I bet he coached her on this on a previous trip.) “Hey, that was good thinking there – I like the way you did that.”  

When I said to him how much I admired his parenting, he said, “You know, sometimes I’m sleep deprived and not as good as this.  We have three-month old twins at home and it can all get kind of stressful.  But we regard each of them as a blessing and they come each of them with their own personality and we want to support it.”  He totally knocked me out – and I tried to get that across to him.  He seemed to get it, to receive my affirmation.  I think it made him feel good.

We get little snapshots of the parent--child relationship - but that picture can say a thousand words.

We get little snapshots of the parent–child relationship – but that picture can say a thousand words.

Later that same afternoon, a heavy mother came through with a likewise heavy daughter (maybe 10).  They were both really sweet – and there was such a sense of comfort between them. I said to the mom, “You’ve got a great relationship.”  She said, “Well, we like each other – we’re friends, in addition to being mom and daughter.”  It really showed that they were friends.  And they both lit up from having the light of affirmation shine on them.

No parent does a good job every moment.  There is a real tendency for us to judge ourselves based on our weakest moments.  To be witnessed doing well – and to have an outside person hold up that good moment, to be told that we are doing a good job – this can be powerful.  To have the chance to do this witnessing and affirming, this can be very gratifying.  Cashiering may often not seem like a powerful job, but here is a chance to make people feel better about themselves – now that’s power.

“I need a supervisor!!”

Sophie (not her real name – I can’t remember her real name, but would not use it here anyway) is a piece of work – demanding, impatient, self-focused, disrespectful.  Sheri Lynn had come over from her quiet register to help me bag (and to hang out with me – we do like to do that, her and I). She jumped in to help Sophie when she said “This mayonnaise has canola oil” (or something like that) – “I want one without canola oil.”  Sheri went off in search.

When Sheri Lynn had been gone for a while and a line was accumulating in my lane, I said to Sophie, “I’m going to suspend your transaction and wait on some of these people – then I’ll put you first in line when Sheri gets back.”  “No you will not.  I’m in line – I’m the next in line.  I’ve been waiting – I’m not going to wait any more.”  I caved.  I gave sympathetic looks to the people in my line and waited for Sheri Lynn.

Not!  I bet this smiling, happy cashier guy would have been singing a different tune if he had to deal with Sophie.

Not! I bet this smiling, happy cashier guy would have been singing a different tune if he had to deal with Sophie.

Then I heard Sheri on the overhead speaker paging for a grocery team member.  I decided that was it – getting this help could still take her a while.

I looked at Sophie and said, “Sheri Lynn has paged for a grocery team member – I’m suspending your transaction” and I did that, as she was loudly protesting that I had better not.  By this time I was totally seeing red – and I did the very best thing I could have done, which rescued the situation, and which followed a playbook that I had learned on the job here: I hollered for help.  I said to Sophie – “I’m calling a supervisor to help with this.” I turned to face the office and with a volume that I have shaped to be just loud enough to be heard in the office, but not too startling to customers in between me and the office – though I can’t guarantee that this time it wasn’t a little extra-loud – said “I need a supervisor!!”  My blood pressure started to drop as soon as the words were out of my mouth.

Perhaps my voice did have an extra edge of urgency, because Tiffany came out of the office almost immediately.  As she approached my register, I met her part way (so as to be out of Sophie’s earshot) and said, “You’re going to have to take this over – I’m losing it with this woman.”

I grew up on the Lone Ranger.  He never lost his cool - and he always showed up just as the trouble was starting - fabulous! I've spent a lifetime trying to be the Lone Ranger.  Now my learning is to let others be that for me.

I grew up on the Lone Ranger. He never lost his cool – and he always showed up just as the trouble was starting – fabulous! I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be the Lone Ranger. Now my learning is to let others be that for me.

I gave her the suspend slip and she, with a voice that was equal parts reassuring and take-charge, told Sophie that she would take her over to the customer service desk and they would get everything straightened out.  I was still hyper-charged from the stress of being so angry with nowhere to put it, but I felt good about the way it had been resolved and my stress continued to reduce with the next few typically-nice customers.

I came away from this experience with two big insights.  The first one fell into place almost immediately.  It’s good to ask for help.  A lot of my conditioning would not lean this way – would say you’ve got be strong and self-reliant, handle your own problems, etc. – but I have learned better over the years.  Asking for help is good – and expecting that you will get that help is wonderful, and even better is believing that it will be competent help (even in the body of a 23 year old) and come without a price to pay for asking.

There’s another insight that didn’t come together for me until about 8:30 this evening, two hours after leaving work and right after Tae Kwon Do class had gotten me de-stressed, in my body and out of whatever useless strains of thinking had been still operating before the class.  I had been thinking that the worst outcome from my encounter with Sophie in the morning would have been for me to say or do something that got me fired.  And maybe I still think that would have been the worst outcome, but there’s another that’s at least a close second.

Perhaps the worst outcome would have been for Sophie to get further injured.  Nobody treats others as badly as Sophie does (and Sheri Lynn and Tiffany each shared with me their histories of run-ins with her) unless they are in pain.  A Course in Miracles says that people are always either offering love or asking for it.  Sophie is asking for it.  “Please love me even while I’m being mean to you.”  I didn’t have the presence of mind to love her in the middle of our negative encounter, but I did have the presence of mind to not say anything disrespectful or incendiary.  Holding the line with her – suspending the transaction, not making others wait unnecessarily – this was good.  Hurting her by mean language, loud tones or any kind of disrespect would not have been good.

Through the rest of the day, when staff (not customers) asked me about my day, I referred back to this encounter.  In its own funky, complex way, it definitely was a highlight of my day.

I want to be free…

The conversation started over Karen’s purchase of Lilly’s chocolate bars, one of my fav products.  We agreed that neither of us likes stevia – which makes it so surprising that we both like Lilly’s, which is sweetened with stevia.  I say it’s the dextrin, a good ingredient that I reckon counteracts the stevia taste.

We talked about our respective struggles to stay off of sugar.  Karen is on a roll with being sugar-free.  I’ve had two good days, after a disastrous day on Sunday.  (I bought three gooey pastries from my store’s wonderful bakery case, intending them to last three days – and devoured all three of them on the way home.  Horrifying.)

My addiction to sugar is like my addiction to cigarettes - is like any other addict.

My addiction to sugar is like my addiction to cigarettes – is like any other addict.

“It’s not just being sugar-free”, she said. “I want to be free period.”  This really spoke to me: “When I’m into sugar, an addict inside of me takes over.  I am driven by the addiction and live from one sugar fix to the next.  It’s a lot like when I was a smoker.  Maybe the worst part of it was the craving, the living from one fix to the next, the lack of freedom.”

With cigarettes, worse than the disastrous physical effects was the emotional effect, letting the addict in me take over.

With cigarettes, worse than the disastrous physical effects was the emotional effect, letting the addict in me take over.

“I want to be a bigger person”, she said.  “Right up there with staying off of sugar is to get enough water in my daily diet.  They say we should consume a gallon of water a day.  That’s actually pretty hard.  I thought I drank a lot of water, but when I measured it I came up way short.  Nowadays I start my day with two quarts of water – and still it’s a push to reach the gallon.  When we are dehydrated, we get tense and tight.  How many of us experience a lot of that in our days?  What if we knew that it was caused by lack of water?”

In the same binge shopping trip where i bought the three pastries, I also bought a 12 oz. "Mexico Coke" , supposedly a healthy alternative to regular Coke because it uses real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.  Devotees - I guess including me - like to claim that it tastes way better and not as sweet.  Now sugar is a hero.  I'm keeping this bottle in the frig - I have not found it in me to pour it out.  I bet I'm going to use it.

In the same binge shopping trip where i bought the three pastries, I also bought a 12 oz. “Mexico Coke” , supposedly a healthy alternative to regular Coke because it uses real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Devotees – I guess including me – like to claim that it tastes way better and not as sweet. Now sugar is a hero. I’m keeping this bottle in the frig – I have not found it in me to pour it out. I bet I’m going to use it.

Karen inspired me.  I want freedom.  I want to be free of my sugar addiction.  At work, I will sip on my morning 16-oz. mug of coffee for two hours – two hours without water.  I want to be open to changing some of my most beloved habits in the name of freedom.

A highlight? That question.

It had been a hard day – the third day in a row of standing eight hours at the cash register.  It had been a hard month – five weeks of depression.  Not as depressed as I have recently been, and not as long as I have sometimes been, but five weeks is a long time to be depressed.  And today I was not writing.  The last two days my shift at the cash register had stimulated ideas for blog posts, which I furiously recorded between customers and on my breaks. Today nothing.  Writing brings meaning to  my job – makes me feel like I’m meant to be here.  Absent that, my cashiering time can feel empty.  All  this agonizing is unnecessary – the stuff I write when I write makes it clear that this work has meaning.

But today I wasn’t getting that bit about the meaning.  The guy in front of me was big and muscular in ways that I profile as not sensitive in ways that would make them open to my blog – or to my standard question, “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  I don’t know what prompted me to ask him anyway – maybe I was getting a little desperate to inject some meaning into this day.

His answer blew away my preconceptions.  “The highlight of my day?  Having you ask me that question.  That you might care about my answer.  Some days you just need a dose of that kind of energy.”

Sometimes asking someone what was a highlight of their day can be itself a highlight or even the highlight of their day.

Sometimes asking someone what was a highlight of their day can be itself a highlight or even the highlight of their day.

Suddenly it all had meaning to me – the blog, the question , the job.  I was on fire.  The rest of our relatively brief transaction (he didn’t have a lot of purchases) had a positive charge: I told him I would write this exchange up in the blog, then said I would do it that night.  I started it that night, but am not finishing it until today.

In the next two hours – the end of my shift – I jotted notes for three more blog posts, based on further encounters I had with people.  I came away from my day with three principles:

  1. When things seem meaningless, a meaningful question can turn things around.
  2. Don’t profile people – you don’t know what may come out of them.
  3. We need each other – what helps one may simultaneously help the other,

Pickles and chips

When someone orders a sandwich in our deli, the workers there automatically offer them a little sleeve of bulk Kettle-brand potato chips – pretty good chips.  Or the customer could substitute a pickle, though I don’t think that option is automatically offered each time.

When a customer pulls a pre-made sandwich out of the cooler directly across from the pizza/sandwich station, they are equally eligible for a pickle or chips – but there is nobody there to tell them this.  When I was telling a friend about this situation, they recommended that a sign be put up next to the cooler.  There’s a lot to recommend in this, but I wouldn’t support it.

I want us cashiers to be the one to tell them!

I do have to clarify to people that the chips being offered are not the ones in the fancy packages.

I do have to clarify to people that the chips being offered are not the ones in the fancy packages.

They're bulk chips in little paper sacks - but I make a point to say that they are Kettle brand, a good label.

They’re bulk chips in little paper sacks – but I make a point to say that they are Kettle brand, a good label.

I have for the past several months been on a personal mission to tell people about their pickle and chips – because it’s so satisfying to do this!  When I tell people, “You know you can get a pickle or a little bag of chips with your sandwich?” they very seldom do know this.  They usually respond to my offer in one of three ways, in relatively equal proportion:

  1. They have no interest. “I don’t like pickles and I don’t need the chips.”  I think sometimes they still like being offered – they get it that the store is offering them a little treat for free.
  2. They like the offer, but don’t want it today. They’re in a rush or not in the mood.  Here’s where that sign by the cooler seems like a good idea, but I don’t think it outweighs the pluses of the cashier conveying the info.
  3. They really like the idea – they get enthused. They want to go right back and get their pickle or chips.  I have to slow them down:  “Lets finish the transaction first and then go back.”

To the extent that they have even a little fleeting positive response to this offer, let’s pair it with a human face – maybe even someone they already like – rather than just a sign on the cooler.

And let’s give the cashier the chance to offer something nice to the customer.  We recently cut way back on our discounts to seniors and military, now offering each just one day a week instead of every day.  Even if I believe the company line that this step is taken in service of keeping prices low across the board – every day for everybody – there’s no getting around this move being a loss for cashiers at least as much as customers.

  • We empathize with their loss..

    Who feels good about seniors losing their discount?  And while we're at it, what's up with all the Google Images for seniors being smiling couples or groups - no singles and nobody not smiling.  I chose this Google image because they were less posing for the camera and less attractive than most of the shots.

    Who feels good about seniors losing their discount? And while we’re at it, what’s up with all the Google Images for seniors being smiling couples or groups – no singles and nobody not smiling. I chose this Google image because they were less posing for the camera and less attractive than most of the shots.

  • We bear the brunt of their upset – though, honestly, lots of people have responded with tremendous poise, or blow off steam once and then seem over it.  (Some of the nicest people have responded by being especially bitter about the change.)
  • It is a loss for us because it feels really good to offer people discounts.  I used to really enjoy asking “Do you have any coupons or discounts?”, because there was a much better chance of a yes answer, maybe with a little clarification of what the discounts are.  Now there is much less likelihood of a yes and it’s hard for me to even ask the question.

So let’s not miss this chance to offer something to our customers.  It shows that we care about them – we go out of our way to offer them something nice.  It feels good to do – it takes us beyond just swiping groceries.  What a cheap way to boost the customer’s mood – and ours – and build their loyalty to our store.  And get them to like us cashiers more.  It’s a win all around.

“Sometimes a momma’s gotta do what a momma’s gotta do.”

The woman in front of me was tall, blonde, attractive even with her dark glasses – and about eight months pregnant.  One of her three purchases was a 16-ounce bottle of “Mexico Coke”: Coke made in Mexico with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup – the justification for selling it in this “health food supermarket”.  It was a new concept to me a few months ago, and I’ll acknowledge that I’ve had them three times in those last few months, twice on long road trips.  I rationalized that this was an experiment, to explore our product.  This rationalization held up pretty well the first time, and kind of well the second time – comparing Mexico Pepsi to Mexico Coke – less well the third time, having it during a shift in the store, just because I wanted a shot of energy.

I think that not too long ago you needed to go into a Mexican supermarket to get a Mexican Coke, but they are now present in lots of supermarkets. I still don't know why these colas don't have high-fructose corn syrup - and there is mixed evidence about whether they really are sweetened by sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup.

I think that not too long ago you needed to go into a Mexican supermarket to get a Mexican Coke, but they are now present in lots of supermarkets. I still don’t know why these colas don’t have high-fructose corn syrup – and there is mixed evidence about whether they really are sweetened by sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup.

I had judgments about this young woman subjecting her baby to all this caffeine and sugar.  My coworker Rex came along just as she was leaving and I allowed myself to vent.  “I hope that Coke isn’t for her.  I just can’t believe that’s a good thing for the baby.”  By that time Maureen (I saw her name in the computer a minute later, when she had entered her frequent shopper number) had come into my line and overheard the conversation.  She was black, 5’8″, maybe 30, gorgeous – and very willing to express her opinions.  “Sometimes a mama’s gotta do what a mama’s gotta do.”  I was taken aback by the strength of her position, especially without me asking for it.  But there was no hostility in her statement, just strength – and a powerful gleam in her eye.

I stammered, “I guess it’s better for her to be energized and happy.”  Maureen was just as strong in this response.  “It’s not about better – it just is.”  This time the Zen-like wisdom of her pronouncement was really undeniable, and I knew I was in the presence of someone who had insights well beyond what I expect from such a young person.  I never knew if any of Maureen’s wisdom on the topic of pregnancy came from experiencing pregnancy herself, though for some reason I projected not – but that this in no way lessened her authority.

Who am I to judge how a woman relates to her pregnancy?  I guess that it will be good for her baby for her to gentle and non-judgmental with herself.  And what about this young woman's choice to not ingest high fructose corn syrup?

Who am I to judge how a woman relates to her pregnancy? I guess that it will be good for her baby for her to gentle and non-judgmental with herself. And what about this young woman’s choice to not ingest high fructose corn syrup?

I did let myself do one little bit of research later in the morning.  When a woman came through my line who was equally pregnant, I asked, “I hope you don’t mind me asking a somewhat personal question, but what are your thoughts about consuming caffeine while you are pregnant?”  She said, “My doctor has told me that once in a while a little caffeine does no harm.”

I like to think of myself as a non-judgmental person, but then that’s a judgment isn’t it?

That’s why we’re here…

I had just had a brief exchange with a coworker who recently experienced a terrible loss.  The exchange itself had not been particularly deep – she was showing me a meditation passage on loss that was meaning a lot to her.  But then every exchange with her on this topic is feeling very deep – and this little conversation gave me goosebumps.

Then I had to pull away to wait on  a customer.  I initiated my usual exchange with “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  I honestly don’t remember Jill’s reply, but when she asked the question back of me, I related what had just gone on with “a coworker”.  I ended by saying “It gave me goosebumps…and now, telling you about it, I’ve got goosebumps again.  I’m really feeling it – and feeling so deeply is a highlight for me.”

Jill said “That’s what we’re here for, is to feel things.  We’re not here to be up in the clouds.”  This felt right on the money, and I felt very seen.

When I googled for photos of feelings, I kept getting things about love.  A Course in Miracles says there are two basic feelings, love and fear.  When we are in fear, we may get so frozen that it's hard to keep feeling and hard to communicate, but maybe there is the chance for big healing if we open our heart to our fear.

When I googled for photos of feelings, I kept getting things about love. A Course in Miracles says there are two basic feelings, love and fear. When we are in fear, we may get so frozen that it’s hard to keep feeling and hard to communicate, but maybe there is the chance for big healing if we open our heart to our fear.

Bipolar disorder can facilitate the feeling of feelings – and can impede it.  When I’m a little bit speedy, I tend to feel things intensely, I am touched by the feelings and situations of others and am moved easily to tears.  I can also be deeply touched by joy or beauty or love.  Similarly, when I am just a little bit depressed, I can feel things strongly – especially sadness or loss or pain.

When I get too speedy, I get way up in my head and don’t feel my feelings – except for anger, which comes more easily.  When I am too depressed, I also get into my head – ruminating over what I have done wrong or how screwed up everything is.  I get frozen as a defense against the pain.

Moving towards other people can be an antidote to the isolation of mania or depression – or of human life in general.  This includes really showing up when a coworker is sharing her pain, even when the content is a little heady,  It includes  being grateful for feeling feelings, even feelings that include a sense of vulnerability.  It includes opening up to  the comments of customers – to let them be teachers to me.

“Have you checked your eggs today?”

That’s the most stupid, useless, beat-off question I ask customers – and I do it many times in the course of an 8-hour shift.  It’s stupid and useless because most of our customers check their eggs – and if they haven’t, there is seldom a bad egg in the carton.  And doubly stupid and useless because it often interrupts a meaningful conversation.  So we go from a useful conversation to “Have you checked your eggs today?”

i did get one funny reply to the question, from a 40ish guy who said, “Not since my shower this morning.”  That pretty much cracked me up – and I think it was a highlight to my comedian customer to make me laugh so hard.

So, even though it’s mostly a useless exercise, I still do it because once in a blue moon there actually is a bad egg, but even more because it shows the customers that we care about the quality of their food.  They frequently will thank me for asking.

They may be answering my stock question, "What's been a highlight of your day?" and then I interrupt them to ask if they checked their eggs - it sucks.

They may be answering my stock question, “What’s been a highlight of your day?” and then I interrupt them to ask if they checked their eggs – it sucks.

For me cashiering is in part about making human connection with the customers – but it is just as much about the details of selling groceries.  Asking people about their eggs is very grounding – it remind me that what we are about is selling groceries, including helping people get those groceries home intact.

When I started writing this post about a month ago, I remembered that Alex, when he was breaking me in, suggested that I ask the question only if the customer has more than one dozen eggs – and for just one dozen to just go ahead and do it myself.  Somewhere along the way I got lazy and started to ask the customer all the time.  That’s part of why the asking of the question got so repetitious. Since realizing that a month ago, I have gone back to doing the egg inspection myself if there is only one dozen.  Occasionally a customer will fuzz at me, “I did that already”, but I’m projecting that mostly they feel good about me doing it.

I still am bored with asking the question, still amuse myself about the one wise-ass customer’s funny joke – and reassure myself that this is just good quality control.

The day the store was so slow that the cashiers….

The store was super-slow today.  Yesterday the weather forecast was for lots of snow overnight, so the store was a madhouse yesterday with people stocking up on the necessities: milk, bread, chocolate, wine sushi ($5 on Wednesday!).  There actually was lots of snow overnight and today everybody stayed home.  A couple of our cashiers were similarly snowed in, but even shorthanded we had lots of time on our hands.  So we used that time:

Sparring with each other over  produce codes.  Actually there was no real competition – just fooling around.  These kids totally blow me away with the nimbleness of their brains.  I hold on like it was the holy Bible to a laminated list of produce codes which I tape to every cash register where  I work.  Occasionally I will leave it taped to the cash register I have just left.  When I discover that it’s missing, I will sheepishly go over to Jessica, for example – who at that point has been doing the work for all of a month.  “Hey, do you want that produce cheat sheet?” “Nah, i don’t need it.”  And she doesn’t – they’re amazing.

So today I am for some reason saying some of this to the middle-aged lady I am checking out.  I shout across the way to Regina.  “Hey Regina, what’s the code for Romanesco cauliflower?”

Romanesco cauliflower (or romanesco broccoli) -wild and wonderful, a cross between broccoli and caulifower.  Everybody says it's quite tasty.  i was gonna get some after work today, but then had to run out fast.  Hopefully there will be some there tomorrow.

Romanesco cauliflower (or romanesco broccoli) -wild and wonderful, a cross between broccoli and caulifower. Everybody says it’s quite tasty. i was gonna get some after work today, but then had to run out fast. Hopefully there will be some there tomorrow.

We’ve been selling it for just a couple of weeks and you get less than one bunch a day.  I’ve got the code just to my right on another list that has been taped to our counter,  but want to show Regina off to my customer.  “94630.”  “See – she’s amazing.”

Regina said today that even she doesn't know how or why she learns the produce codes so fast.  It can be an item you sell once every couple of weeks, and she doesn't hesitate to spit out the code.  She's awesome - and a very cool person who adores children and babies and is great to work with.

Regina said today that even she doesn’t know how or why she learns the produce codes so fast. It can be an item you sell once every couple of weeks, and she doesn’t hesitate to spit out the code. She’s awesome – and a very cool person who adores children and babies and is great to work with.

But I had to find a way to pull her chain.

“What’s 94237?”

“94237?  Nuthin’.”

“Ha – organic bananas.”

“No way. Organic bananas are 94011 – it’s like the first code we learn.”

“yeah, 94237 is organic bananas too.  They’ve been coming across the last couple of weeks, just some of them.  Maybe they’re from a different distributor or something.”

That was fun.

The other way I amused myself today was bantering with Rowdy about his PA announcements.  Rowdy is a very cool, funny, creative guy with a huge heart.  All the staff and customers love him.  I’m almost the only person who isn’t entertained by his sense of humor in these announcements and I think I have genuinely hurt his feelings.  Today i tried to inject enough playfulness into our back and forth to maybe detoxify the exchange.

Rowdy is really tall and big in all kinds of ways. He makes a very strong impression and mostly a very good one.  He's good for the store.

Rowdy is really tall and big in all kinds of ways. He makes a very strong impression and mostly a very good one. He’s good for the store.

Rowdy, in a totally over-the-top southern drawl (he’s not southern), “Attention Earth Fare shoppers, produce you have a call on line 2.  Could the fine people in produce please pick up line 2.”

“Oh now you’re turning us into a totally hick store.”

“This is Appalachia – I’m talking Appalachian.”

“You’re talking like a redneck – they’ll never take us seriously.”

“I’m just having fun.”

“You sound unprofessional.”

Here I am criticizing a young guy who is committed to creativity and i’m taking a stand for professionalism.  I can’t believe my own ears, but his announcements really do bother me, if almost nobody else.

Rowdy makes another countrified announcements and I ask the customers in front of me, “Now what did you think of that?”  “I think it’s funny.”  “Yeah, most people do.”

But not everybody, at least not all the time.  One day Rowdy made one of his classic low, slow, breathy, stage whisper announcements.  Lou Anne yelled, “Rowdy, that’s creepy.”  “That’s two of us for creepy.”

I can get away with teasing Rowdy because he knows I like and admire him.  And today it was so darn slow, we needed the distraction.