I was that person in the deli line at Stop & Shop.
When my number 38 was called, I approached the deli counter and began ordering the ingredients for the G Sandwich, one by one:
“A pound of Boar’s Head ham sliced very thin,” I said. “A half-pound of Genoa salami. A half-pound of Pepperjack cheese.” (Instead of American or Provolone.)
It was taking an awfully long time and the middle-aged woman behind me looked peeved. She sighed when the deli clerk disappeared into the walk-in refrigerator to pull out a new slab of ham. I could almost feel the daggers piercing my head.
What was taking so long? I have no idea, but I began to feel guilty about the wait. I was the idiot holding up the line. I’ve been that person a lot lately.
The last two times I went to the drive-thru at CVS to pick up medication for some older friends, it took close to 15 minutes. I was mortified, but there was nothing I could do. The last place anyone wants to be these days is inside a pharmacy.
I was heartened that I live in a community where people almost never blow their horn, and it’s common for folks to buy coffee for the person in back of them at Dunkin’ Donuts. This has happened to me twice, and always restores my faith in humanity. (Yes, I’ve returned the favor, but I need to do it again. We could all use a lift, particularly now.)
When the wait in the deli line seemed interminable, I did something I’ve never done before. I turned and told the woman in back of me, “That’s my last item, I promise.”
She smiled, possibly because people rarely apologize for holding up lines. We may start flushing and sweating, but most of us bear the burden in silence. We know how we feel about the person holding up the line, and we don’t want to be that person. We can only imagine what the people behind us are thinking.
Holding people up is worse today because of the pandemic. People are anxious about being in public places, and want to get in and out as quickly as possible. When people hold us up these days, we get particularly edgy because we fear our health is being put at risk. Every minute we’re waiting, we’re thinking, “I hope I don’t get Covid-19 because of this.”
So imagine how much better things would be if people acknowledged they were taking a long time instead of ignoring us?
“Sorry it took me 20 minutes to fill up the four tires on my car at this air pump, but I haven’t a clue how to use this machine.”
“Sorry it took me 5 minutes to check in at Quest Labs when it should have taken one minute, but I’m technology challenged.”
That’s a lot better than pretending you don’t see us, or being completely oblivious to people in back of you. Acknowledging people lets others know that you know their time is valuable, that you realize there are other people around besides yourself.
The supermarket deli is always a dicey proposition because you never know how much people are ordering or how long you’ll be there. A short line can turn into a long wait when the person in front of you orders 10 subs, or 1/4-pound of six different lunch meats.
This explains why some supermarkets allow customers to order cold cuts and pick them up at the end of their shop. Supermarkets are also pre-slicing and packaging cold cuts and cheeses, placing them on refrigerated shelves so customers can avoid the deli line.
I admit I’ve resorted to pre-sliced meats when I’m in a rush, but here’s the thing: they’re often not as fresh and rarely sliced the way I like them. I once bought ham that was so thick that no one would eat it. I ended up throwing it away.
Going the pre-packaged route seems like a good idea until you get home and discover the ham is marbled with fat, or the turkey looks a little slimy. So when I spied my deli compatriot inching toward the pre-packaged section, I tried to intervene.
“Almost done!” I said.
But she’d had it, and I couldn’t blame her. We were the only two people in line and my order was taking forever. To make matters worse, only one person was manning the counter and he was taking his time. Another deli worker was slicing pre-orders and pre-packaged items, but refused to make eye contact with her.
Six minutes turned to seven, then eight.
“That’s it, I give up,” the woman said, grabbing her cart and heading for the pre-packaged section. “Look, it’s not your fault. I just don’t understand why they don’t have more people working. The wait is absolutely ridiculous.”
I agreed with her. My order was clogging things up, and I wasn’t happy about it either. So the next time we needed deli meat, I let the Curmudgeon do the dirty work. I told him he didn’t have to run an errand with me if he’d go to the store.
He jumped at the opportunity, and I avoided being the deli line blocker for one week. It doesn’t get any better than that.