Do Androids Dream Of Retail Sheep?

I found myself in Walmart on a Saturday night with container of barbecued chicken chunks and a DVD of Smokey And The Bandit.  This is what I devolve into if left to my own devices when Natalie is out of town for a few days.  There are something close to three hundred checkout lanes at my Walmart which never utilizes more than six.  To add insult to injury, they have the double lanes.  You know the ones, where there is a cashier behind or on the other side another cashier… who’s never open.

I picture Robert Preston from The Music Man selling some CEO who never shops in a Walmart these new-fangled cashier stations.

For only a couple million dollars we can retrofit thousands of your stores with dual lanes so when the first three hundred lanes are filled… BAM! Another three hundred lanes!

Ready to go home and eat this chicken with my bare fingers and get knee deep into some 1977 Burton Leon Reynolds, I walk the lanes hoping someone in management opens another lane and instead come face-to-face with my retail nemesis:

The Self-Checkout Lane.

There are many reasons I hate the self-checkout lane.  First of all, it isn’t always open.  This makes no sense to me the same way I don’t understand why I can’t swipe my card and pump my own gas twenty-four hours a day.  Someone once told me it’s probably the liability on an unattended gas station to which I told them they were putting too much faith in twenty-two year old Teylor in the cashieraquarium who probably couldn’t do much during operating hours if I 1) set someone on fire or 2) set the gas station on fire.  How many people know where that kill switch is and even if I did, I think the gas station exploding around me combined with the simultaneous shitting of my own pants would give me reason to forget as I cowered, crying in a fetal position like a nine year old girl at R Kelly’s house.

The self-checkout lane is taking American jobs.  Not all of them.  Mary Beth in her blue vest and Bike Week 1997 t-shirt has to stand there behind her podium at the Wally World if one of can’t figure out what the hell we’re doing which is probably going to happen since I am not a cashier.

The first time I saw one of these contraptions was in a K-Mart when I couldn’t find a cashier and the customer service person pointed out the self-checkout which were the only lanes open.  I thought to myself why don’t you drag your red-vested ass down here and dispense some customer service and ring me out.

The second time I was in a Walmart buying a copy of Trainspotting and the machine beeped at me because it didn’t know I was thirty-four so it sends some sixteen year old cashier to verify this.  Again, if you’re already here, why don’t you ring me up?

I once stuck some apples on there only to find it complicates things more because no matter how smart 1) evolution or 2) the intelligent creator is, neither of them thought far enough in advance to make apples with a UPC code.

WALMART CASHIER: What kind of apples are these?

JIM: Red.

WALMART CASHIER: I mean what kind?  Granny Smith.  Macintosh.

JIM: Hell if I know.  I am just trying to eat more fruit.

WALMART CASHIER: Well I can’t ring them up–

JIM: You know what?  Here (hands her a box of candy).  Ring these Raisinettes up instead.  They got raisins in them.  I tried.

They’ve essentially taken a working process and to save themselves money, replaced experienced  cashiers with people who have no idea what they’re doing.  Namely, me.

I already have a job, thank you.

When I worked in banking I once heard of prototype branch that had a manager, one teller and one new account rep.  That’s it.  Everything else was kiosks with monitors and somewhere was a call center in Salina and you would belly up to this kiosk and someone would decline you a loan.  The teller windows were just ATM screens and one station for the one live person who worked there.

I am sure this was a problem in the mid-seventies when they did away with gas station attendants.  Some states still have them.  The only one I ever recall seeing was on a road trip to Pennsylvania in 1990 when my brother stopped his car and some dude snatched the pump before he got it and Bobby had that WTF look on his face before he realized the guy worked there.

Our mistake.  We didn’t realize it was still 1955 in Alabama.  I say that knowing full and well you can’t pump your own gas in New Jersey but I hear that’s mostly because its inhabitants lack opposable thumbs.*

I try to imagine the disdain on my face had this practice never ceased and British Petroleum charged me $4.00 for gasoline and still expected me to tip someone.

I hate eating at Melting Pot because if I go out to eat I don’t want to cook my own food.  I’m not a chef.  If there was a restaurant where you made your own macaroni and cheese, hot dogs or ghetto omelets (which would be, for the uninitiated, omelets filled with sliced processed cheese and diced hot dogs and onions… obviously my father grew up during the depression)… that I could probably handle.  But I don’t want to be responsible for cooking my own pork knowing food poisoning is a skewer and a cheap bottle of wine away.

Next they’ll have me washing my own dishes as “part of the experience.”

My friend Nita once went to Melting Pot and it took forever for their ingredients (I won’t call it food) to come out and it did the waitress apologized because the kitchen was backed up to which Nita responded, “With what, chopping vegetables and meat?”

Walmart is a enormoporation with a history (like many other corporations) for sticking it to their employees with their thirty-nine hour work weeks and zero advancement and here is a woman in her blue vest whose job is to show me how to do her job.  Think about that for a minute.  This would be like finding your spouse cheating on you and you bring that dude into the house and show them how everything works.

This is how she likes her coffee in the morning.  You have to giggle the handle on the toilet so it stops running.  In the shower she likes to stand under the water and every so often you want to smack her ass when she doesn’t see it coming… she likes it like that.

There used to be four cashiers here and now there is one.  How long before we all know what we’re doing and we don’t need her anymore?  How long before they replace her with a sentient android?

I watch the Will Smith movie I, Robot (or iRobot when you realize they all look like there were designed by Apple)…


…knowing when it takes place I would be the age of the grandmother character and I envy that she gets to live in a world with FedEx robot delivery men and robot dog walkers.  Sure, I watch enough Battlestar Galactica and Terminator to know the of the impending robot rebellion but somewhere in there is probably twenty or thirty years of complete service competence.  Robots who always have the correct answer when I need help when I get lost in the Galleria by Orange Julius.  Who don’t jack up my order at the Taco Bell.  Who will be at my house to fix my cable at 2:15p and not between noon and four because they are precise and never run into complications.

And more importantly, I won’t have to ring my own groceries and undercook my own chicken on Valentine’s Day.

And let me be the first to welcome or robot overlords.  All hail the mighty 01110101!  What is your bidding, masters?

*I am sorry to anyone I have offended who has an affinity for New Jersey.  You seem like very nice people but you’re just so damn easy to make fun of.  If it’s any consolation, I really like the movie Garden State.


2 thoughts on “Do Androids Dream Of Retail Sheep?

  1. The self-checkout doesn’t freak me out so much as the robotic voice that thanks you after you complete the transaction.

    Always kind of reminds me of the ‘gas station of the future’ in Back To The Future II – “Trust your car zzzt…to the service with a star zzzt”

  2. What bugs me, is the little credit card machines at places like Penny’s. Because, and they all do this, after you have done their job by swiping your card thru their machine, the clerk asks to see the card to verify that its you. If I’m going to do your job, then I’m going to put my card away immediately after. You want to verify shit, then you do the swiping.

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