Our Voices for Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013

Self-service doesn't make my life better

So I’m heading into Wal-Mart on a recent morning, hurrying to pick up a few things before heading to work.

As I started focusing on my trail into the store I see Percy Sledge. Yeah, that Percy Sledge. You know the singer of the famous ”When A Man Loves a Woman.” It was awesome. He totally ignored me and hopped into his mini-van and was off.

No, this column is not about Percy Sledge. But I just thought it was cool to see a nationally recognized star coming out of Wal-Mart before 8 a.m. By the way, I bet you’ve never seen Percy Sledge coming out of a big store before 8 a.m.

Now, more about this. When I walked into the store and grabbed my basket, a man whose job it is to make customers feel welcome greeted me with a bright smile. I’m angling toward such employment upon my retirement.

Then as I made my way toward the aisles, I was knocked off course. For some unexplained reason, the Wal-Mart that I have gone to forever was changing, and in a big way.

They had moved the four 20-items-or-less express islands – my personal favorites – and were replacing them with the supposedly quicker you-check-yourself-out bays. This is horrible. Was there a vote taken about this?

I have tried a couple of these swift machines in other stores and they have been a nightmare for me. Sometimes things don’t ring up correctly; the machine quits while I’m checking out.

What’s worse, if you’re behind someone who doesn’t understand how the thing works (sometimes that is me) it slows down progress.

Why were they doing this?

I liked the older cashier who took forever to get my 10 items through. She would take a lot time to look through the price guide to make sure I didn’t pay one-cent too much for my cherry tomatoes.

She was never concerned that her line was longer than any of the other express-lane clerks. She was slow but I trusted her. Now what would happen to her? Worse, yet, the machines may overcharge me for my cherry tomatoes.

Now, I’m going to feel pressure when I’m putting stuff in those automatic bays because some cocky teenager with a nose ring and tattoos is going to be making that huffing and puffing sound of restlessness as I fumble around attempting to place my bell peppers, cans of olives and jars of jelly on the sweet spot of the smart machines.

I am not against technology and change. I have a smartphone. But, a grocery store is about interaction with people and smiles, not a pile of circuits and digital displays.

Going to a grocery store, or in this case a superstore, is about taking a second and much-closer look at the jewelry choices of the clerks.

And, it’s sometimes about the conversations, some very personal and intimate, that two clerks conduct right in front of you. You certainly won’t get that with these cold, impersonal machines.

I guess I’ll get accustomed to this change. I’ll have, to, but I won’t like it. And I’m just guessing here, but I bet Percy Sledge won’t like it, either.

Ed Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is edpratt1972@yahoo.com.