A week's worth of food, beverages, sundries, piled high in our metal and plastic shopping cart. It was 9 PM, and as I scanned the check registers the only one open was the express lane, 15 items or less. The other lanes were dark.
I began unloading behind a young man purchasing a six pack of beer. I am often annoyed at people who disregard the express lanes at a supermarket, and I count their items as they are checked by the cashier. My inner cop wants frequently to take down express lane violators: "Hey -- you have eighteen items, there, pal! And yes, I counted the lemons as two items!"
But there I was, violating my own rule, and my inner cop was silent. "The place is practically empty," I told myself, "and no other check stands are open." I managed to justify my position, and truth and the facts were on my side.
Cabbage. Potato chips. Peaches. Ground beef. 15. 16. 17. 18 items and going strong.
No problem, I thought to myself. No other lanes open.
I was aware of the fact that there were now several shoppers behind me, each with one or two items. Five or six people, all uniformed flight attendants. One or two made a point of staring at my food items piled on the conveyor, then glancing up at the "Express Lane Only" sign above me with visible scowls.
But I was clean. I was in the right. No where else to check out.
That was when the cashier told me, "It's probably too late to mention this..." -- 31 items, two milks, that's 33 -- "but this is the express lane."
I nodded a knowing nod, and looked down at the vast empty, cashierless lanes beyond.
Except -- four other non-express checkstand lanes were open just beyond me, and other shoppers with loads of groceries were checking out.
My cashier was still looking at me, as if awaiting a reply. "When I was..." I started, "I mean, there were no other...I mean, you were the only one."
The cashier smiled. "Some days I feel like I'm the only one," she said in a patronizing tone, then turned away to scan my bathroom cleaner.
I stammered. "No, no, really... I mean...." The place was buzzing, people were checking out, and the flight attendants waited impatiently behind me as my item count rounded 40. I had become a supermarket checkstand lane bottleneck.
This was the express lane, and there was no bagger. I took me a few minutes to pay, then I had to clear all by own bags out of the area. The flight attendants were engaged in some chit-chat with the cashier about express lane violators.
I hung my head as I left the supermarket, no wiser, but chastened. I had broken my cardinal rule of grocery shopping, I had violated the law of the lane, I had become that which I had for so long despised. I had checked 47 items through the 15 items or less express lane, and I had gotten away with it.
And I had enjoyed every moment of it.