Friday, August 12, 2011

Wild time running errands

My grandmother has a rule. You might call it more of a superstition. I've always made fun of her for this rule. It is, "Never cut fabric on a Friday." For some time, I believed this rule was universally French. Or perhaps a universal superstition of seamstresses. A few years ago, I learned that it was only my grandmother's rule.

My grandmother has had this rule since she was a child. She was riding her bike one day, wearing a newly homemade dress for the first time. She fell off her bike, which caught on her dress, tearing it beyond repair. The fabric used to make that dress was first cut on a Friday, and it is because of this incident that my grandmother believes it is bad luck to cut the fabric to sew any garment on a Friday.

I used to laugh at my grandmere's Friday rule, but now I have my own similar Thursday rule. Yesterday, I decided I am not going to run errands after work on Thursdays anymore. The day seems to be cursed for me. I'll tell you later about what happened yesterday, but first, I want to tell you about my Wild Time Running Errands two weeks ago.

I left work at 3pm to run an errand for my upcoming move. I first stopped at Fred Meyer to pick up a few things.I expected it to be a quick, uneventful trip.

I stopped at a specific Fred Meyer, one that is closer to work than home, for two reasons. This particular Fred Meyer always has a giant bin of free boxes by the cash registers. The other reason was to return some specific ginger ale bottles to the bottle return at that Fred Meyer, because the machine at my home Fred Meyer didn't accept them, but I know I had purchased that four-pack of ginger ale at this specific Fred Meyer. [A note for my readers in NJ and other places without a bottle deposit law: In Oregon, you can only return bottles to a store that sells that exact item. It doesn't have to be the store where you bought that item, but they have to carry the same brand and type of soda, beer, whatever. The corollary to this is that stores are required to take back containers if they charged you the deposit. I guess if they don't have a machine, you have to return it to someone by hand. I don't know. I'm still learning.]

Of five bottle return machines at the Fred Meyer, four were broken.

Had this been all, today's post could have been a post about the bottle deposit, how this was only my second trip to the bottle return in more than two years of living in Oregon, how Oregon pioneered the Bottle Deposit Law, and bottle deposits and their consequent quirks are something I am still getting used to. In Oregon, machines exist for the express purpose of counting your bottles, cans, and plastic containers. They have computers in them that scan the labels. Most people I know never get their deposit back; their $6.99 six-pack of beer really costs $7.29. Most people just sort their bottles and cans with the rest of their recycling and put it out on trash night. That explains the existence of what I consider a quirk of living in Portland; every week, on trash night, a group of people go up and down your street going through everyone's recycling. Frequently, the same people visit the same neighborhoods each week, so you'll start to recognize the characters. For example, on my street, there is a woman in a motorized cart who wears what appears to be a child's hat with Eeyore ears.

Oregon is very proud of having pioneered bottle deposits, and I have been told that I will get kicked out of the state if the wrong person hears me say the following: I hate the bottle deposit. I am sure it made sense at some point. But now people recycle their bottles willingly, without the monetary incentive. Where I am from, people recycle their bottles even though no one pays them to do it. That's why the people who go through trash cans on trash night make enough money to justify the time they spend doing it. I heard a guy once bought a car with the money he'd saved over the years collecting and cashing in other people's bottles.

So anyway, two Thursdays ago, I waited with my cans and bottles with a crowd of people. Most of them seemed to be the type who had collected their containers from other people's recycling bins. All of them were very agitated. They were angry that four of the five machines were broken. Three had broken all at once, so all three had lines of people waiting for them. They were angry that only one person was there to try to fix the machines. They were angry at each other, for those who were lucky enough to be in the line for the one machine that was still working were not offering their spaces to people in the other lines who had been waiting, in futility, first.

The people around me yelled at each other and at Ivan, the employee who had been sent out to try to fix the machines, their faces twisting in rage and impatience. My initial reaction was that they all seemed totally crazy, and I reminded myself that they are people, just like me, and I should try to consider things from their perspective. It was hot outside. They had gone to the trouble of bringing shopping carts and black trash bags full of containers to Fred Meyer. They felt that they had done their part, and now they were not getting money in return.

Meanwhile, Ivan was trying several different things at each machine, systematically going through some procedure. After he had tried so many things on a machine, he could give up and start collecting and scanning people's containers by hand.

The machine I was waiting for started working. A woman from the line next to me had been eying me dangerously while Ivan was fixing the machine. My initial thought was that this was a reason not to let her have my space on the line. My second thought was to honor the fact that she'd been waiting for the machines longer than I had. When I asked her if she'd like to go ahead of me, her demeanor changed. As Ivan went through the last steps to fix the machine, the woman, with a huge smile, began to show me some of the bottles she had in her cart and tell me about where she had collected them.

"This one's from my daughter," she'd say. Proudly, she showed me a special edition Rogue beer bottle. "I found this one in an alley!" She laughed with incredulity, as though we both were thinking, "Who would throw something like that in an alley!?"

The woman was able to put two containers into the machine before it spit out a receipt for $0.10 and shut down. But because it had been working, technically, Ivan couldn't start hand scanning her containers without going through the exact same series of attempts to fix the machine.

At some point, a woman with a large bag of bottles and a child in a stroller approached. She looked young, maybe my age. She was wearing a beat-up straw hat. She did not have a full command of English, as she kept pointing to the machine that takes cans, reading, "CANS", and pointing to people's cans as if to say, "Why don't you use this machine so we can all get out of here?"

I tried to explain to her that the machine wasn't working. Obviously, she couldn't read the sign. Everyone else, however, started yelling at the woman all at once. It was a cacophony of, "IT DOESN'T WORK, DUMMY!" and "IT SAYS 'OUT OF ORDER'" and "IT'S OUT. OF. ORDER!!!!"

I waited at least half an hour for that machine. When it was my turn, I deposited my first container. The machine spit out a receipt for five cents. Ivan had disappeared into the store. I pressed the button to call him. The phone rang and rang. Everyone began yelling, at each other, at the machines, at the woman who could not speak English (but would occasionally sound out what the signs said, trying out the words that she could not yet comprehend), and at the absent Ivan. Even I had begun to raise my voice. After a half hour standing with the heat and frustration, I had become one of them. The people I had thought were so strange to be so angry; now I understood. I, too, was asking, "Where's Ivan!?" and angrily showing people my $0.05 receipt. When my father called my cell phone, I told him, "You're lucky you live in New Jersey where you can just recycle your bottles LIKE NORMAL!"

The machine, when Ivan got it working, still did not take my bottles of Reed's ginger ale. I thought, "Maybe there actually isn't a deposit on these!" My receipt from what the machine did accept was for a mere $1.50. Guess I won't be buying any cars with that.

I then went inside the Fred Meyer store to finish my errands. After waiting so long in the heat, I was thirsty. I bought another Reed's ginger ale for $1.24.


Later, I approached the checkout lanes, ready to make my purchases. The three express lanes had very long lines. So, I went to the closest available non-express lane, where the checker was halfway through checking out only one person with a very full shopping cart.

Have I ever explained to you my Supermarket Theory? My theory is that what takes the most time at the checkout lane is not the scanning of groceries, but the payment, especially with coupons and with the various types of cards and various scanners that all work different ways and with the customers objecting to something about their bill. So, my Supermarket Theory is that the express lane is not fast if it is crowded. If many people are waiting in that lane, it will not be a fast wait. The corollary to my Supermarket Theory is that if there is only one person in a regular lane, no matter how many groceries they have, it is faster to get in line behind them, if there are two or more people waiting on the express lane.

Occasionally, when I try to act in accordance with that theory, the cashier will stop in the middle of checking out the other person's groceries, eye up my handful of twelve or less items, and suggest I go into the express lane. They look at me like I am an alien when I say, "No, that's okay," or "No, there was a long line and I think this will be faster." But that's all they do.

Not this time. This time, the cashier actually stopped to get my attention. Whatever he said, it startled me to the point that I thought maybe he was trying to close or something. "No, I'm open," he replied testily. "But there are a bunch of express lanes open!"

"Oh," I replied, "They all have long lines. I think this will be--"

But he cut me off, perturbed. With condescension in his voice, he said, "Sweetheart, Lanes 2, 3, and 4 are all express lanes. It will be a LOT faster."

It was rude in the way I hate most, which is rudeness that hides behind a friendly and helpful mask. If I had been my normal self, I would have stood my ground by staying in the line. I probably would also have calmly said, "Please do not talk to me that way or call me sweetheart. I don't know you." But the experience at the bottle return had me too beaten down. Meekly, I moved into the express lane, from which I could see the rude cashier finish checking out the next customer in line before I had even made it to the register on the express lane.

The bin of boxes by the cash registers was empty.

The same Fred Meyer that won't take back my bottles of Reed's Ginger Beer charged me a 5-cent deposit on the bottle I purchased that day.


I left Fred Meyer, hot and dejected. My car had turned into an oven in the parking lot. I was too low on gas; I didn't want to risk turning on the air conditioner. It was now rush hour. Traffic was slow, and it was awhile before I got to the gas station.

Later, waiting to pull out of the gas station and onto Broadway, I saw a three people, two men and a woman, walking down the street together, toward my car. They looked around my age. I have no reason to believe they were homeless or mentally ill. But something about the purpose with which they were walking and the way they were staring into my open car window gave me a slight sense of dread. I dismissed this as silly.

From the events at Fred Meyer and the long car ride in the heat, I was tired and my defenses were down, when the approaching men and woman stopped by my car and one of the men yelled into my window, some incomprehensible gibberish about the Blind Onion pizza place (which is also on Broadway). I was too exhausted to respond. They kept walking behind my car, where they could see through the rear windshield my old license plate which I have retained as a decoration. Spying this, the second man yelled, "JERSEY SUCKS!"

The day had beaten all the Jersey out of me. I should have put the car in park and leaned out the window to yell something stereotypically Jersey, but I could think of nothing to say except, quietly, only to myself, "It doesn't...."

One think I can say about Jersey is that in Jersey, you never have to wait half an hour only to find that the store won't let you cash in your ginger ale bottles.


Deb said...

I love you, Sarah! Jersey does NOT suck!

angie lowe said...

i love reading ur stufff.ur ya!