Feature, Random Safari Express

Register 51 Revisited

By Carlos Eton

When I’m feeling like I am “all that”, or smug, or that I am somehow cooler than everyone else, a random act will occur to metaphorically (or sometimes literally) slap me in the face, reinstate my humility, and prevent me from letting my ego explode into a volcano of arrogance and entitlement.  (Yes, I know technically it’s “id” and not “ego”, but this isn’t a psych exam.  At least … not yet.)

If I truly want to feel insignificant, all I have to do is go to a supermarket.

Most of the time, no matter how friendly and courteous I am, the checkout tellers rarely say hello, acknowledge my existence, make eye contact, or even talk to me.  I suspect that if I ever approached the register while I was on fire, they would simply say “Fire extinguishers are on Aisle Five” in a flippant voice then immediately return to their conversations with their employee counterparts.

I think the last time I received a supermarket checkout “thank you” was in 2004.  Or was it 2003?

It was after one such visit that I was inspired to write about how we, as customers, experience checkout trauma.  Sometimes, even just getting to a register is a perilous adventure similar to an action movie plot or a Twilight Zone episode.  This is an old bit from a novel I wrote a long time ago, but it is one that I want to share with you—the piece is titled “Register 51.”

“It watches you silently, with great determination as you enter its lair. Once inside, it stalks you, surprises you, and leaves its psychological mark on you forever. No, this is not a sinister criminal or wild carnivorous animal. This stalker is an affliction that leaves its mark on 98.6% of American adults: CHECKOUT TRAUMA.

It was 6:30. A scant half an hour before the dinner party, but I still had time to stop at Squiggle’s Supermarket and pick up a Chardonnay. I really didn’t want to go to this party, but my editor insisted and ordered me to arrive promptly.

I picked up a bottle of Tripsand Falls Eggin Chardonnay and congratulated myself on my speedy discovery, but disappointment set in when I got to the 10-Items-or-Less checkout just as the cashier left for her break. There were only three people at Register 3, so I darted to the end of that line.

In my mind, I calculated that I should be out of the store in just 5 minutes. That was before I noticed Gertrude was trying to use an out-of-state two-party check to pay for her order. ‘Oh, I don’t have my ID, but I can prove that I am Gertrude Smith and that this check is good.’

‘Forget this!’ I thought. ‘I can’t wait for the State Department to verify Gertrude’s identity. I’ll try register 4.’

But Register 4 just aggravated my checkout trauma. The customer at the front of this line insisted on paying for his bottle of Wino’s Pride with change. Dimes! ‘Are you freakin’ kidding me?’ I grumbled. ‘I guess I better try another register.’

But Register 4 just aggravated my checkout trauma. The customer at the front of this line insisted on paying for his bottle of Wino’s Pride with change. Dimes! ‘Are you freakin’ kidding me?’ I grumbled. ‘I guess I better try another register.’

Register 5 and 6 were closed. Register 7: 6 people. Register 8 only had two people, so I entered that line.

But Register 8 continued to augment my checkout trauma. When cashier trainee Kathee smiled and said, ‘Your total is $41.31,’ the man in line responded, ‘Sorry. I only have $30.  How much is it if I remove this six-pack of Bulging Badger Beer? Thirty-eight twenty? What if I put back the Baldylocks Hair Dye?’ I grimaced. ‘It’s 6:43! I’m going to be late!’ I murmured.

Register 9: closed. Registers 10, 11, 12, 13, 14: closed. Register 15 only had one person in line, so I went there.  The woman in that register presented the coupons at the end of the purchase, but the coupon for Frosty’s Buffalo Chips had expired. ‘What are the dates of these other coupons, Dearie?’ she asked the cashier. 

At 6:59 the P.A. system crackled to life. ‘Attention, customers! There’s no waiting at Register 51!’

I and six other customers stared intensely at each other.  I could have sworn that the theme from ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ was playing through the P.A. system speakers. 

The seven of us began walking towards Register 51. We glared at each other again. Then we began speed walking! Then running!

I outraced them to Register 51. By now I had a colossal headache, so I added a bottle of Scruitol Migraine Tablets to my order.

‘Price check on Scruitol ninety-six ounce!’

I could feel the burning stares of the six checkout-traumatized customers behind me.”

(Eton, C. (2013). Register 51. In C. Eton, Death Stalks A Friend (pp. 253-255). Los Angeles, CA.)

Oh, no!  I just realized that I’m out of milk and need to go the grocery store!  That will teach me to share stories like this one, won’t it?



The Random Safari Express, a serial feature column by senior UVI Communication student and humorist Carlos Eton, celebrates comedy, philosophy, and the thousand (often ridiculous) random thoughts that pop into our heads during the quiet moments of our day.



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