Post Title: Vision-impaired: A New Focus at the Grocery Store

Making a Transition

The morning I began training as a cashier, I had my doubts. If I had challenges in the bakery because of tasks that involved small print, what would change at the register? I had visions of long lines forming as I cashed shoppers out. I would be flustered and make mistakes trying to get customers in and out. They would glare at me and I would  be a nervous wreck. So I definitely had my reservations.

But …

The Front End wanted to work with me. They had ordered a magnifier.

Miss Marlene

On my first day, I trained with “Marlene”, apparently both a customer and coordinator favorite. She had a pleasing personality and a customer base who sought her register out.

First, I simply watched her for a few hours. Such was her skill, she made it look simple. She chatted with her customers and everything went smoothly. She seemed to know her customers well.

I listened to an especially memorable conversation she had with an older gentleman. He looked like a rough and tough veteran, and mentioned how the had a “big ol’ blankety-blank needle for a biopsy in his blankety-blank-blank lungs.” He shared how morphine did nothing to dull the excruciating pain. “I’ll tell you what now. That will never blankety-blank-blank happen again.”

“What a rough procedure.” She murmured some affirming words to acknowledge his bad experience the doctor now wanted to repeat.

“You bet your sweet blankety-blank-blank that’s not going to happen, not while I’m still breathing!” he vowed, snapping at me as he grabbed his bag as if I were the doctor doing the hated biopsy.

I was fascinated at how they had reached this level in their customer/cashier relationship. What would my own customers and I talk about?

The next few hours I bagged the groceries. I learned to put the frozen foods together as much as possible, and the cleaning solutions and paper products by themselves along with other non-food items. The bread should go up front if there was no toddler seated in that space. She also gave me an opportunity to scan purchases while she bagged.

Her customers were supportive and made comments like “You’re learning from the best.” “You’ll do great!” “You’ll catch on. Everyone develops their own rhythm.” Not one single customer said, “You have low vision. Better get out before anyone finds out!”

But that was my fear.

Instead, I smiled, my morale being boosted by having a strong trainer.

Speedy Steven

The second day. I worked with a young man who looked to be in his twenties. That was “Steven.” He was fast and accurate. The customers truly got in and out quickly. He reminded me of a cowboy in a B-rated movie because he wore a banana—oops, I mean, bandana—over his mouth and nose. No mask for him.

At the start of the shift, the coordinator asked him to give out customer surveys. He ignored her. When she called over to him and asked him point-blank if he was doing it, he said, “I’ll write them up as the customers come.” (He had to write his name on the blank line). “Do it now,” she said.

He growled something I couldn’t hear and then said under his breath, “I hate to be judged.”

I felt I should acknowledge his comment so I hesitantly said, “Yeah. You seem to be a low-key kinda guy.” I hoped that was the right kind of response.

He nodded. “I am.”

I bagged the first couple of hours, although he could bag much faster than me. The last two hours, the coordinator had me change places with him and scan the groceries. I don’t think Steven liked this arrangement very much as it interrupted his rhythm. Probably he was bored bagging. Toward the end, he said, “Fifteen minutes.”

I looked at him, not understanding. “You get off at three, right?”

“Oh yeah.”

“You have fifteen minutes to go.”

Boy, he was counting those minutes.

If I got into any snags by looking up the produce and not seeing the picture well, he said, “I got it!” in his speedy, no-nonsense way. Whatever wrong button I pressed, it was like he had magical fingers, pressed a series of keys and voila, the problem was resolved.

“Five minutes” followed by a quick, “I got it!” warning my fingers off the keys when I ran into a small snag.

I stepped away from the register. He really didn’t relish the role of trainer. He liked to do his own thing, uninterrupted by the likes of a new clumsy cashier. He had had enough. “Off,” he said.

My shift had finished.

Peppy Patsy

On the third day, I had another trainer. I’ll call her “Patsy.” She was warm and friendly and definitely in charge of the register. Patsy wore rubber gloves and set up her bags just so before the start of her shift, even the small white bags for toiletries, greeting or gift cards.

“Always be ready with those white bags.”

She liked doing everything but did let me bag part of the groceries although she helped me. She taught me such things as “Front porch.” That’s when the cashier locks her register and stands in at the start of it in the grocery to draw shoppers to the register when it’s free. It reminded me of the midway at the amusement park where I worked during summers at college.

That made me smile.

I also learned about the “purple pen,” which cashiers used to draw a quick line on larger bills, like $50s or $100s, to ensure they weren’t counterfeit.

“It’ll turn gray if it’s fake.”

“So if that happens” I said, feeling a hint of fear that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish the gray from the purple with my sight loss as similar colors look the same to me, “do I stop the customer?”

“You are a card!” She laughed. “No, silly. Never confront a customer. Call a coordinator. Star10,” she instructed.

Patsy was likeable and had a loud, authoritative voice. I never had to worry about hearing her as she spoke clearly. I liked that arrangement. I simply bagged with her that day. She ran the show.

The next day, the coordinator had me change positions. “This is your training. Let’s see how you ring up customers and bag. Again, I was with Patsy. She wanted to let me do everything. She really did. But her take-charge attitude kept interfering, especially if a line formed. She started bagging for me and intervening as soon as I hit a snag. I didn’t know what she did to get me out of the messes. Sometimes I asked her to slow down and show me. I felt safe and comfortable around her.

Katie, the Coordinator

Of course, they changed my trainer the next day. It was a coordinator. That’s when I got my real training. She had me scan the items and bag them while she stood back, watched and guided. She called me “hon” and said I was “doing great.”

On My Own

The following morning, when I came to work, I asked the coordinator in charge, “Who will I be training with today?”

“You’re on your own. How about that?”

How about that indeed? I gulped and gave a tremulous smile.  My heart fluttered like a butterfly trapped inside my ribcage wanting desperately to find its way out.

Was I ready? Oh Lord, help me!

I must have looked as shocked as I felt because “Katie,” the coordinator said, “You’re doing great!” she reassured. “We’re here for you. Just press Star 1-0.”

She, too, smiled as she strode to her place at the front end of the store.

I took a deep breath as I fumbled to locate the light switch that would indicate Register 11 was ready for its first customer of the day.

When have you felt pushed into a new direction you were not quite sure of? How did you handle the situation? Was it as scary as you thought? How did you resolve your fears?

You have just read: “Vision impaired: A New Focus at the Store” by Amy L. Bovaird. © December 7, 2021. All rights reserved.