There is a Whole Foods, or as my sister, Dovima, prefers to call this market, Whole Paycheck, in Tribeca near my place of employ. Since milk and the bananas I get – the ones that are called free range or possibly it’s whole trade – are priced the same as the Fairway near my apartment, I do not feel fleeced when I make these purchases during my lunchbreak. Whenever I am in Whole Foods, I only buy what I set out to get, and therefore, I am a barnacle to my budget. That is the only way I can afford to set a toe in this temple of gastronomy without agitating my acid reflux.
The purchasing of two simple staples can easily be accomplished relatively quickly in the ever-evolving express checkout lanes. Since this location’s inception, these checkout lanes have continually transformed. Initially, there were two high definition TV screens for the two separate sections of registers, one section for registers 1 through 12 and the other for registers 13 through 24. Inevitably, one section always moved faster than the other so the challenge was to determine which section that was. Often, the faces bearing the more miserable expressions were a good indicator, but in New York, you cannot always rely on the disgruntled look since some people just naturally appear that way. Specifically, I’m thinking about my millionaire landlady, Iris O’Gougely, but I digress …
In recent months, Whole Foods in Tribeca has switched to a more egalitarian one monitor for all registers approach. How this works is there are now five color-coded lanes with big white arrows pointing downward, a simple way of communicating to customers where they should stand and wait their turn to go to a register while watching the screen above.
The monitor’s screen now has five fat stripes, the same color as each color in each lane.
Customers stand in the lanes, and as registers become open, a number appears in the color of the corresponding lane’s stripe showing the open register’s number. A pleasant female voice simultaneously announces that number. Working from left to right, the next open register then proceeds to the next lane’s stripe color.
This system is working with precision efficiency as customers follow instructions and go directly to the registers corresponding to their lanes. Unfortunately, the system breaks down when I take my place in the yellow lane, a lane that is between the blue and green lanes. In the blue lane to my left, stands my fellow customer, a jughead that I call Mr. Blue. Up on the monitor, in Mr. Blue’s blue stripe, appears the number 12. For added emphasis, the voice announces, “Register 12.” A second or two later, in my yellow lane’s yellow stripe, appears the number 7, and the voice announces, “Register 7.” As I am walking toward Register 7, I slam on the brakes for I see that Mr. Blue, who was supposed to head to Register 12, coincidentally the register closest to where he was standing and waiting, has gone to Register 7 instead.
Meanwhile, just as I am back-peddaling to Mr. Blue’s register, Register 12, I hear the voice announce, “Register 8.” The customer in the green lane who is supposed to go to that register is Ms. Green, a woman wearing a hat that resembles a birdcage crossbred with an inverted garbage can. She steps up to Register 12 instead. As order briefly freefalls into chaos, I lose the ability to hide my frustration feeling sandwiched between dolts. I morph into Darth Vader, emit a deep breathy groan, and flash Ms. Green the hairy eyeball. She giggles, “I think I’m supposed to go to 8!” She makes a fast exit in Register 8’s direction. I resist suggesting in her wake, “Give the finger to Mr. Blue at Register 7 for me.”