A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

Two Too Many

October 18th, 2010

It’s about a quarter till five at United on 50th and Q and every line is at least three carts deep. It’s not always a given that the Express Lane is faster. Most of us would rather push a cart than carry a basket so I check each one to see if maybe someone only had three yogurts and a banana. But on this day it appears everyone is laying in a big load of supplies.

I’ve learned something about me and grocery store check out lanes. On the regular ones, the cart ahead of me can have 2 items or 22 items or 222 items. It can be so sparsely filled that you can see through the wire mesh to the tiled floor. Or it can be piled to the ceiling with coffee and condiments and draped with six packs of Cokes and Coors hanging off the sides like a wagon headed down the Oregon Trail. Either way, I’m abounding with patience and grace.

It’s the Express Lane that turns me into a number crunching legalist.

“Express Lane…Ten Items Or Less. Please be courteous to other customers.” That’s what the sign says. And you can be sure I’m looking to see how much courtesy the shoppers in front of me are extending.

The man reaching for his wallet three people ahead of me has two cans of tuna and a loaf of bread. He must be a kind man since he obviously respects the rules of the Express Lane. God bless him. Though he’d be extending a little more courtesy if he’d use a speedy debit card instead of taking us all back in time to 1978 by reminding us how long it takes to write a check.

The married couple two spots ahead of me are here with two little boys using the cart for a jungle gym and are grabbing for every candy bar and pack of gum they can see. With these distractions to contend with, they could be forgiven for miscounting and having eleven items. But the blond-haired pony-tailed checkout girl slides seven items across the scanner as the Dad tosses Thing 1 over his shoulder while Mom grabs the groceries in one hand and the arm of Thing 2 with the other.

The line is moving. I’m now within range. With only a club sandwich and an iced green tea to purchase, I am extending enormous amounts of generous and beneficent courtesy to those behind me. Just one small item in each hand. They should all be grateful to me. For them to bow a little as I glance over my shoulder, holding up my two items for everyone to see would be a bit too much. After all, I could be in line to buy a single box of Tic Tac’s. Then they would really owe me. Still, with a mere two bar codes I’m blessing their day by not taking their time.

The lady ahead of me has a blue basket. To my trained eye, it looks a little too full. Maybe there’s one really big bag of potatoes in there making it seem more loaded than it really is.

A box of frozen mini pizzas. Hot Pockets, two boxes. Five cans of tuna.

Tuna must be on sale today.

I start Express Lane profiling. She’s wearing scrubs. A nurse or an X-ray tech, perhaps. Maybe a dental hygienist. If so, I know she can count at least to 32. No wild offspring with her like the couple that was ahead of her, who are now in the parking lot trying to bungee cord their boys into car seats. So we can’t grant any grace for grocery store grabbiness.

A can of Rotel. The mild kind. Not the habenero kind that makes your hair bleed. That’s nine items.

Corn tortillas. That’s ten. Ten items allowed. Ten items scanned.

That’s it. Ten up, ten down. Thanks for visiting the United Express Lane.

But the basket….

The blue basket that should be empty is not empty. Blonde-haired pony-tailed checkout girl reaches into the bottom and pulls out a package of pork chops. Six of them.

Nefarious enough to exceed the ten item limit of the express lane, but to scan six pork chops cleverly shrink wrapped into one item takes passive aggressive to a new level. Technically, we are now at 16 items. If we could give tickets for speeding in this lane, she would be going straight before the judge.

I’m now looking at this blatant offender. Is she fumbling with her purse? Kneeling down pretending to tie her shoe? Is she doing anything at all to make it appear that she was ignorant of the fact that she has exceeded the Express Lane limit?

No. She is standing there like she meant to do it. Imagine! The gall!

Certainly blond-haired pony-tailed checkout girl will at least shoot me a sympathetic look. A “Hey, don’t think I didn’t notice that she just slipped a package of chops in here at number 11.” But she doesn’t. She just scans it and stuffs it in the plastic bag like it was item number 3 or number 5.

If the keepers of the Express Lane fail to uphold the rules of said Express Lane, what is left for us to do?

I look behind me to see if anyone else notices that the level ten ceiling has been broken, but no one is paying attention. They are reading magazines or talking to each other about inane things like what they’re going to cook for dinner tonight.

All that needs happen for anarchy to reign in the Express Lane is for good shoppers to do nothing.

With the injustice pouring over me, blond-haired pony-tailed checkout girl reaches again into the basket and pulls out another package of pork chops. Six of them. Drat you evil shrink wrap! You’ve conspired to allow this woman to flaunt the rules of the Express Lane by technically allowing her 22 items.

The transaction is made. The receipt stuffed in her pocket. At the very least, two items two many.

I pay for my sandwich and my tea. With a debit card and room for eight potential items to spare. Yes. I am the king of the Express Lane. I do it the right way. Everyone should be like me.

That’s what I was telling myself when I looked up and saw I was walking through the wrong automatic door. The one with the big red “Stop – Wrong Way” sign on the glass that said “Entrance” with an arrow pointing to the other door with a big green “Go” sign on the glass that said “Exit”.

I don’t think I have to tell you that the irony, and the lesson, was completely lost on me until I got into my car and drove away.

“God, you know so well all of my sins and you know how stupid I am.” – Psalm 69:5 (The Living Bible)

“Everyone wants to see justice done….to somebody else.” – Bruce Cockburn

Todd A. Thompson – ASliceOfLifeToGo.com