Have you ever experienced déjà vu? Most of us are familiar with that “I’ve been here before” sensation that is the phenomenon called déjà vu. Unfortunately, the overwhelming sense of familiarity that came with the situation I experienced while at my favorite grocery store last week was one I would prefer hadn’t happened the first or the second time.
I was in the check-out lane watching the young lady scanning and weighing and entering product codes into the computer that took care of all calculations. Courtney (according to her name tag) slid the final item over the scanner, then smiled and pointed to the total amount due displayed on the monitor.
As I handed over a one hundred dollar bill to pay my $40-something grocery bill, immediately I felt the air go out of the room – or at least out of the area around this young woman, myself and the cash register. This is the moment I experienced déjà vu and the moment poor Courtney wished she would have opted for a summer job as a lifeguard or babysitter.
I watched in silence a she opened the money drawer and stared into it for a moment. And then, holding the c-note in her 17-year old hand and staring at Ben Franklin as though he was a stranger she recognized but could not quite place, she stood still for several long seconds. Slowly, the young woman lifted her head and when her eyes met mine, I recognized panic. The panic I had seen in the eyes of other cashiers before.
“Oh, is that bill too big? I have something smaller if you would prefer,” I offered.
I had rescued her. The panicked expression disappeared and I witnessed total, complete relief take its place. The air came back into the space between us as I handed her a fifty and she passed my bill back across the counter.
And then, it happened. That defining moment when she realized that by opening the money drawer to retrieve change for my hundred dollar bill, she had zeroed out the total due on the monitor.
What happened next is sort of a blur to me. I remember the girl asking me, “How much was it?” I told her it was $40-something. And then she stood, holding my $50, staring into the cash drawer.
We were brought back to reality when the woman in line behind me spoke. “Look at the receipt,” she said softly to the girl whose grip on the fifty had turned her fingertips white.
The girl said aloud, “It’s $45.46.”
Relieved, I reached for my billfold, prepared to receive my change. The girl reached into the cash drawer and picked up a 5-dollar bill and then, again, she froze. Panicked again, she looked up at me and said, “I’m not good at math. The machine is supposed to tell me what to do.”
I patiently told her to put the 5-dollar bill back in the drawer and directed her to start with the change. Together we counted. Ok, I counted and pointed while she reached into the drawer to retrieve coins and bills.
After handing over my change, she smiled and chirped, “Have a nice day” as though nothing had happened.
I am afraid that something is happening. Technology is important, but when people who are being paid to make change are incapable of subtracting $45.46 from $50.00 without a machine, we have a serious problem. Especially when it happens again, and again, and again.