I was a bit grumpy when I reached the self-checkouts at Coles tonight. There had been absolutely no ‘reduced for quick sale' tickets on anything I wanted. Florets of broccoli were going for $6.95 a kilogram, which made me scowl. Although I did buy one, I knew in my heart that this was not a price that had any connection to the cost of growing, transporting and stocking a broccoli floret and was instead tied to how much the Australian public are willing to pay for one. I wanted to buy some meat for a stir-fry, but I didn't see a single cut or fillet at a price I was happy to pay. Lately, since buying a house, I've felt like I'm always overpaying for meat. I feel like people, faceless people are silently judging me for this. Every time I spin around to cry out, or to ask them for directions to an economical butcher, they disappear in a puff of smoke. It's killing me inside.
I carried what I decided I would buy past a handful of idle, bored-looking checkout personnel and into the self-checkout corral. I scanned and bagged my purchases and paid with paywave, happy that 35 cents off the price per kilogram of broccoli had just had absconded. That's where the nightmare began.
The point of sale card reader displayed "APPROVED" on it's tiny screen and the self-checkout told me, "Thank you for shop." And then it cut out. I stood frozen, half in disbelief and expecting the rest of the salutation of would eventually come. Half in shock. No other shoppers seemed to notice my peril.
I need that useless farewell from the robot checkout. It felt like all the humanity in the world had been stripped away. Is this what civilization had come to? Was I the last person who still had some social conscience? And to think, I might not even have noticed the missed valediction if the song playing in my headphones hadn't just faded out.
The self-checkout supervising human was starting to become suspicious by my posture and facial expression. He asked me, "are you, like, okay?"
I said, "No, I didn't get my farewell from the checkout robot. I need you to make it do it."
He looked at the monitor of the machine, which was patiently awaiting the next customer.
"It can't work like that," he said. He tilted his head slightly, trying to gauge by my face if I was serious. Concluding that I was, he offered to compromise: "I could say the farewell, if you want?"
"No, I need the machine to do it."
He sighed. "Man, I don't get paid enough for this."
"How much do you get paid?" I asked him.
"Like eighteen bucks an hour."
"Ah," I said. "So that's the true price that I should be paying for meat."
"No," he said. "That's my hourly wage. The price of meat is displayed on all the meat packaging."