Ordinary grocery store interchange at the chain known for its chatty clerks:
"Hey, how are you today?"
"Well, that's a rather fraught topic. It's complicated. I just put my daughter on a plane again to go far away, and it brings back all the emotions that have repeated themselves over the years, like a rolling echo of a single clap of thunder.
"And it's apparent you discontinued the Chicken Medallions in red curry sauce. No, don't offer to look in the back, it's gone, I checked the internet, and there are lamentations galore over the matter. On the other hand, it's a beautiful day, and the winter sun has an unexpected kindness to it, as if it knew we wanted its gentle reassurance."
Clerk: "That'll be $23.87."
The other day at Trader Joe's, the music was just awful, a miserable version of "Summertime Blues." When the clerk asked how I was, I said I was great, but this version of the venerable song was awful, and he agreed: he preferred the Who's version, and he'd heard them play it live on their last tour. Really!
This I did not expect. Nor did I expect another clerk to turn around and say, "Eddie Cochran's version is still the best." I would have loved to go down that road until all three of us were singing "Thirteenth Floor Rock" at the top of our lungs, but:
There were other people in line, and this is not the Netherlands.
You ask: What does that have to do with it? A fellow in Amsterdam tweeted out the following little note the other day:
A Dutch supermarket chain introduced slow checkouts for people who enjoy chatting, helping many people, especially the elderly, deal with loneliness. The move has proven so successful that they installed the slow checkouts in 200 stores."
I heartily support this adaptation, and I think it would be immensely popular here, as well.
The more we work from home, the less we see of others. In the olden times, you could bore your co-workers with an anecdote or minor gripe, or just get your minimum daily requirement of human contact via meaningless elevator chit-chattery. But now people labor away at the kitchen table with no opportunity for random, inconsequential human interaction.
But there's Zoom calls! Right. That's a brilliant substitution, completely satisfying — not. Say, have you ever noticed that telemedicine doesn't include massage therapy? Wonder why.
It's not enough to announce that a line is Slow, though. There are different types of slow interactions. There should be a line where the clerk's just a good listener, and one where the clerk has been specially chosen for banter.
The listening clerks handle customers who want to brag about their grandkids, and they should have strong neck muscles so they don't have to take medical leave because they've been nodding for eight hours straight.
The banter line should hire quick-witted people who know how to push a conversation forward. For instance:
"Hey, how's it going?"
"Well, if 'it' is the Earth, and the 'going' is the motion around the sun, I'd say the 'how' is a combination of gravity and momentum."
"If you say so, Doc; I was an English major myself."
"Me, too, studied fiction, which is how I could make up that thing about the gravity. What was your area of study?"
Whereupon someone at the next aisle, the normal no-talk aisle, leans over: "Excuse me, but I couldn't help overhear your remark about how the Earth moves."
"Hey, pal?" The clerk snaps. "You made your choice. You want banter, there's the end of the line."
Meanwhile, over at the drone-on-and-on lane, a proud grandparent is relating the academic accomplishments of a preschooler, how "she's either going to be a ballet dancer because she always walks around on tiptoe or maybe even a prosthetic surgeon because she likes to rip the arms off her Barbies and reattach them.
"And then there's little Damien, who we just know is going to be a priest because he wakes up every night at midnight and starts speaking in Latin. Well, we didn't know it was Latin until we played the nanny cam tapes backwards. Now Father Merrin wants to take him to Rome for study, can you imagine? Rome!"
The clerk nods, and wishes he'd been assigned the Express Slow Lane, where customers are limited to 20 anecdotes or fewer.
It's a great idea, but it'll never happen here. What might be popular is a Gripe Lane, where you complain about the cost of everything and the clerk pretends it's a novel gripe they've never heard before.
A slow lane sounds good, but between the time you get in line and the time they beep your eggs, the price probably will have gone up.