Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Scan Wars: A Case of Crazy at the Cash Register

Did you ever have a dream job that had nothing to do with reality? In other words, it wasn’t really an occupation you planned on pursuing, or in any way connected to your career path, but it just looked like a fun job to have.

When I was a kid, my dream job was to manage my own store. At the time, I wanted it to be a comic book store, or something to do with entertainment, but ultimately it didn’t really matter. As long as I had the ability to create the space, set up displays, design marketing materials, and run the cash register, I would be happy. But as there weren’t too many twelve-year-old entrepreneurs in my area, I had to settle for repurposing my bedroom to achieve my goal. And repurpose I did. I spent days setting up the bed, desk and other furniture so the room took on the look of a small convenience store. As people entered the room, they passed a counter that displayed current comic books and movie paraphernalia, as well as a copy of the latest store circular (All printed out by hand).

It didn’t matter to me that my parents were the only ones who ever visited the store; my active imagination dreamed of a day when I could expand beyond the confines of my rather limited accommodations. Perhaps even create a chain of bedroom-inspired boutiques.

Until that time, however, I would have to settle for continually redesigning and reorganizing the same10 x 10 space. My father was always fascinated with what he called my “knack for creating environments,” and even attempted to purchase several items during one of his visits. But this is where a real store and my version differed. I never wanted to actually sell anything I had on display; I just wanted it to look like I was selling items. Which really meant my room was more of a museum than a store, but why quibble?

Yet despite my bedroom’s continuing evolution as a non-commerce venue, the one key ingredient I always lacked was a cash register. And to be honest, the cash register was one of the main reasons I wanted a store. I’m not sure why, but I always found the buttons and noises and rings so fascinating. And even though it was nothing more than a glorified adding machine, there was something almost powerful about the person who got to operate it. (At least in my eyes.) They controlled the money. They controlled the transaction. They controlled the machine with all the bells and whistles.

Like many kids, I thought being a cashier would be a fun job. You got to “play” on the cash register all day, count out lots of money, and talk to all the customers. It seemed like such a cool and powerful position to have. And yet, all during my teenage years, I never had a job that allowed me to work behind a cash register. It wasn’t until college, when I worked at the school bookstore, that I actually had my turn behind the machine. Finally, my “right of passage” into the world of commerce and commercialism had been achieved. And yet after a few months of “living the dream,” I eventually realized my “cash register fantasies” were perhaps a little misplaced.

These days I no longer have the desire to be a cashier, though I sometimes have a slight relapse every time I go to a grocery store checkout. Especially if I get to use one of those self-serve checkout lanes, where you scan the products yourself. I don’t know why, but I love doing it. I love scanning the item, hearing it beep, and then sending the item down the conveyer belt to be packaged by the bag boy. (Which also happens to be me.)

Lately, I’ve even begun to notice a competitive streak that comes over me when I’m at one of these check-outs. As if I’m in some kind of race with the other self-serve lanes, trying to get my groceries down the conveyer belt and into the bags before anyone else. And if I happen to notice someone watching me while I’m scanning, I begin to do little tricks with the items as if I’m putting on some kind of show. (Pathetic, really, as I can’t imagine many people who would ever pay good money to see someone performing grocery acrobatics. Except maybe in Europe.)

But the really weird part comes when I notice a new customer pulling up to the check-out lanes and deciding which line they’re going to stand in. This is when I really feel the pressure to be the best scanner in the store. I begin to sweat as I see them watching me along with the other contestants…er, I mean customers. Which line will they choose? (Pick me, pick me. I’m the best.)

Are they noticing how I find each bar code quickly and run it through the scanner? Are they amazed when I can find a vegetable key code without the use of reading glasses? Are they thrilled when I don’t hold up the line further with a multitude of coupons I must try to stuff into the abnormally small coupon slot? Or are they wondering when the nice men in white coats are going to come and take me away? Whatever their thoughts might be, I get a ridiculous sense of satisfaction when they choose mine. How sad that my sense of self worth can now be measured by a scanner.

But that’s just me. What would your silly dream job be?

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