Facing My Worst Self in the Grocery Line

cow backside
Photo: Andrew Storms

Every few weeks, I drive to my local Sprouts store and buy a couple bags of organic Guatemalan coffee. They have a machine where you can grind the roasted beans on the spot, and the coffee is soooo good.

This particular Sprouts store is a rather, shall we say, relaxed establishment where long lines are part of the experience. Last Thursday at 5 p.m., three cashiers were open and the lines of people stretched all the way back to the produce department.

As I eyed the three lines to figure out which would move quickest, a man veered his cart decisively to the right so I defaulted to the center, nearly cutting off another woman. She slid her cart in close behind me, and I could feel her daggers.

The people waiting all wore similar expressions of resignation, like you might see in the faces of cows standing in a dank feed lot. I counted the people in my line: 11. Then I looked over at the speedy gentleman to the right and counted only ten people ahead of him. So unfair! I thought to myself. I was totally planning to get in that line until he cut me off.


cows in feed lot
Photo: Randy Heinitz


I stood with my two little bags of coffee and inwardly groaned at the overstuffed carts ahead of me. Who are you people, camp cooks? I wondered. Preppers stocking up for the apocalypse?

Our cashier appeared to be an affable young man who was now chatting with the customer at the front of the line. C’mon, enough with the talking!  I implored him with my strongest ESP vibes.  Scan and talk at the same time! Let’s mooooooooove!


cow trampoline


To my right, Mr. Speedy’s cashier had stopped scanning. “Price check on register eight,” he announced. Oh YES. I brightened up considerably. Now Speedy’s line is slower than mine. Na, na, na, na, NA, na! 

Suddenly I had one of those out-of-body experiences where my better consciousness intervenes and slaps me upside the head. What are you thinking? it demanded. What’s with this ugly spirit of competitiveness? Why are you feeling glee because your fellow human is delayed?


cow and horse


Before I could answer those questions, I saw a movement to my left. A green-shirted Sprouts employee was fiddling around at a closed cash register. He didn’t make eye contact with us as he carefully straightened the bags and meticulously sprayed the conveyor belt with cleaner. Next, he counted every bill and coin in the cash drawer. And then…yes? No? Wait for it…

He flicked on the lane light, and a mass exodus occurred. The dagger woman behind me was first in line. Dust rose in the air, and the new line was ten people deep in nine seconds. None of us patient, longsuffering cattle had been nimble enough to migrate. Even worse, our bagging clerk moved over to the new line. So unfair!

Dagger’s eyes met mine as she paid for her groceries. Maybe it was my imagination, but it sounded like she said “Hasta la vista, sucker!” as she waltzed out of the store.


bye felicia cow


I took a deep breath, and tried to remember all the things I’ve read about acceptance and letting go. Inhale peace, exhale stress.

I pictured Jerry Seinfeld’s dad yelling, “Serenity now!” What is it about being in a crowded grocery store that brings out my most primitive instincts? My default mode seems to be:

  • I am in a hurry. Even if I’m not on any particular schedule, I’m still in a hurry.
  • Waiting is a big waste of  valuable time.
  • Lines should be fair and democratic!
  • Cashiers should be efficient and know all the grocery codes, even for starfruit and Swiss Chard.
  • Our bagger must never defect to another line!
  • When it’s my turn, I like it when the cashier is friendly.
  • Success = making better time than my fellow shoppers.

I took more deep breaths and sent up some lame, shallow prayers. After several more minutes of jockeying, it was finally my turn.

“Your coffee smells good,” the cashier said as he scanned.

“I love Sprouts coffee.”

“It’s the best.” He smiled and nodded at me. “You need to press the green ‘Enter’ button and click ‘Yes.'”

“Oh, sorry. All of these machines are different.”

“I know, right? Why can’t they standardize card readers?”

“Exactly!” I smiled and gazed back at the dozen people scowling in line behind me. I swear to you, I could hear words like “HURRY UP, LADY” and “MOVE IT!” floating around me.


angry cow


“You still need to sign the keypad.”

“Oh, sorry.”

As I headed toward the exit I noticed Mr. Speedy still in his line, peering at the card reader trying to figure out which button to push.

Cowabunga! I thought, as I skipped to my car like a happy heifer finally let out to pasture.


content cow

May your lines be short and your patience long in the days ahead.


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. For more bad behavior, you might also enjoy “Why Was I Speeding Up a Mountain Road?


About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of 15 books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

6 thoughts on “Facing My Worst Self in the Grocery Line”

  1. This post cracked me up, too funny! And the poor horse in the photo; I hope that situation had a good ending. I have certainly had those kinds of grocery shopping days, but I am super blessed that most of the time my husband and I go to the grocery store together. We enjoy each other’s company, and it’s almost FUN to stand in the checkout line, chatting about things. Enjoy your coffee!

    • I like your style, Priscilla. Even grocery shopping can be fun with the right person. Hugs and thanks for your comment. xo

  2. Was it at that Sprouts that a checker opened up ‘for me’, only to have your ‘friend Ms Daggers’ jump in ahead of me? Argh! How human of you – haven’t we all been there but you told it wonderfully! (And my Sprouts is usually busy but delightful – I just need more patience – in ALL shopping!)

    Positive thought: THANK YOU for your wonderful recent puff pastry berry recipe – I made it w/blueberries – gorgeous, awesome, impressive!

    • Oh Carolyn, it cheers my heart to know I’m not the only one who has been left in the dust by Ms. Daggers. She definitely gets around! 🙂 Thank you for your kind words about the pastry pinwheels, too. It makes me happy that you used blueberries and made the recipe your own. xoxo

  3. OK, the photo-bombing cow on the stuck horse photo has to be the funniest thing ever! Anyhow, this post reminds me why I love the self-checkout lane, and reminds me that I wish Sprouts had one! I know we’re all supposed to hate them (automation, loss of jobs, etc) but as an introverted control freak, I think they’re WONDERFUL! Super quick, no small talk requirement, and I get to sack the groceries the way I want them. Does that make me evil?

    • Cat, I thought of you as I wrote this because I LOVE the funny memes you include with your posts. I need to make a cat meme for you that says: “I iz in awe of yer self checkout skillz!” Whenever I try it, I always get the “Please see cashier for assistance” message. You are truly amazing. xo


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