, Corbin, KY

August 22, 2013

When strangers treat you like a person

The Times-Tribune


I was brutally forced into dealing with this woman in a grocery store yesterday morning with a counting problem.

We’ve all seen it — we’ve all experienced it.

I’ve even talked about it before — so indulge me for a moment or two.

I had two things in my hand at the grocery store.

The place was pretty busy for mid-morning, but luckily the store manager knew to keep several check-out lanes open.

But it didn’t matter.

Building designers posted two signs suspended from the ceiling — both indicating the lanes below them were for folks just like me — with 15 items or less.

Three or four regular check-out lanes were open, and seemed to be moving pretty steadily.

However, the lane slated to be the fastest was actually dragging.

The woman in question with the counting problem clearly was over the 15-item limit.

And she, of course, saw me behind her, but was not planning to allow me to “express” my way out of the store.

So I made sure to stand within her eyesight, constantly looking at the sign, then back to her.

I then counted the beeps as the cashier was ringing the items up — 31 items — more than twice the store’s suggested limit for an “express” lane.

I used to work in a grocery store chain — and many times I would be stuck in the express lane.

In that store, “express” was defined as 10 items or less.

More than once an overpacked grocery cart would begin its way down my check-out lane — and over the course of my employment there I was known as the guy who would send those overpacked carts to the proper line.

I got yelled at more than once for doing it, but I often wondered, as I did yesterday, how that person would feel if the tables were turned.

I left the store highly agitated — and I had yet to arrive at work.

Even though it happened outside the office, I still came in the newspaper with a chip on my shoulder.

I had time to check e-mail.

I looked through a few items I have been working on.

And then the phone rang.

Now, I don’t mind answering the phone — it could be something big.

But when I feel a little cranky, like I did yesterday, then the cynic in me figures someone’s calling to scream and rant.

I was really in no mood.

But I answered the phone in a professional manner nonetheless, and was surprised.

The gentleman on the other end expressed concern over a “problem” he was having with one of our stories in the printed edition.

We were not mistaken in our reporting, but due to sheer coincidence, a person with the gentleman’s same first and last names had gotten himself into a bit of hot water.

The man told me his wife had received several phone calls of concern, and he, too, had experienced some “mistaken identity” issues.

But the nice thing — the really nice thing — was that he called and was very nice about his request. There was no screaming, or cursing, or yelling or any other kind of verbal assault.

It turned out to be a pretty pleasant conversation, and I was glad to get the chance to speak with the man.

It certainly made my day a little less agitating, especially after the counting-challenged woman I dealt with earlier.

It’s nice when a perfect stranger treats you as a person, especially in this day and age of the ongoing communication dichotomy — the growth of modern technology versus the death of face-to-face interaction.

I will say this — that pleasant telephone call definitely went a long way into improving my outlook for Wednesday.

I hope it lasts through the weekend.

John Ross is a reporter for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at