When I was a 16-year-old high schooler, I landed my first job with an ACME grocery store in Fairfax—a small suburb of Wilmington, Delaware; it’s still there, too.
The labor laws of that ancient era restricted my working schedule to no more than 20-hours per week.
And while many grocery stores back in those days hired high school teeny-boppers, most of them did so as after school and Saturday shelf-stockers, general tidier-uppers—as in “spill in aisle-5,” as parking lot grocery cart retrievers, and as all-around gofers.
But some young hires—I happened to have been one of them—who were able to show (1), patience and sound emotional restraint with customers and (2), a firm grip on the ability to perform 4th-grade level math in their heads, ended up in the exalted position of CASHIER.
The prevailing rate for part timers in 1956 was $1.375 per hour. And ALL part timers earned the same rate, no matter which position. It didn’t matter that cashiers had greater responsibilities.
But I’m not going there for THIS post because this one’s about a totally different level of STUPIDITY on the part of various hires!
Regardless, the rate was well above the $1.00 an hour minimum wage. And for teenagers, it was both fair and adequate.
After all, the average full time adult working-class rate hovered around $2.78 per hour. The average price of a NEW car was $2,100—my mother LOANED me $150 to purchase a good-running used one from a trusted neighbor. Hell, I drove it everywhere for the next 5-years.
A gallon of gas (LEADED ONLY) sold for $0.30—although, even back then, people assumed that this price was a collusive RIP-OFF by BIG OIL.
And, relative to the minimum wage of the time, even back then, I distinctly remember an ongoing hissy fit between the Liberals and Conservatives.
Just like today, the former wanted to increase it to give the poor a “livable” wage, while the latter considered it too HIGH as it was, and that it would SURELY increase unemployment for those it was intended to help, not to mention its potential for ushering in SOCIALISM; some things never change.
Anyway, cashiers had to be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide simple numbers in their heads QUICKLY and ACCURATELY, as well as maintain their emotional cool with customers. Their continued employment was at stake otherwise.
There were no scanners. The digital age had yet to be imagined, and some customers—though certainly not MOST of them—were just as stupid in the 50s as they are today.
The cash registers were mechanical devices that were capable of ONLY adding and subtracting lists of numbers. They could not multiply or divide, and they were unable to tell a cashier how much change to give.
For example, if an item was on sale via a two-for the price of one… say 2 for $0.79 and the customer had only one on the conveyor belt, the cashier had to be able to divide 0.79 by 2 and round up to the nearest penny.
In other words, buy TWO, and the cost would be $0.395 each, but buy only ONE and the cost would SURGE to $0.40.
And the reason for patience and emotional restraint came into the picture whenever some customer bellowed, “I HAVE TWO OF THOSE!” after the cashier, having seen only ONE because the SECOND one is somewhere at the BACK of the conveyor belt, rang up the SINGLE price.
Obviously, SOME customers failed to realize that MIND READER was not part of a cashier’s job description; thereby requiring cashiers to stifle—and with a SMILE—an overwhelming urge to reach across the conveyor belt and choke the living sh*t out of such customers.
Customers could not pay by credit cards or debit cards; the digital age was nowhere in sight, besides, there was only a handful of MAJOR credit cards, and debit cards didn’t even exit.
So people had to pay with cash unless they had PRE-APPROVED personal check-writing privileges (approved by each individual store).
And, as state above, cash registers could not calculate the amount of change to give to a customer. If a bill came to $79.02 and the customer handed the cashier four $20s and 2-pennies, cashiers had to be able to manually add and subtract to make proper change amounts ($1.00 in this case).
But glory be; none of this is necessary today. The digital age is here to stay, and scanners rule. Cashiers simply scan each item’s SKU number. Unless there is some problem with the SKU number, cash registers take care of everything, including inventory control and how much change to give.
As well, people may pay with a plethora of MAJOR credit cards or bank debit cards. Customers simply swipe them through card readers.
And customers paying by personal check pose no major problem, either. Modern-day cash registers scan data bases of respective customers’ bounced checks in a matter of micro seconds.
Yet, with all of this amazing technology, the checkout process often seems slower than ever in some places, like in WALGREENS for instance.
Out of necessity—my brother’s in the final stages of lung cancer—I’ve had to go to Walgreens several times over the past few months. And it’s been chaos my last seven trips.
Customers have been backed up as many as ten deep while awaiting “So and So” to “please report to the front,” or for some MANAGER—often as clueless as the 17-year-old cashier—to fix some malfunction (usually a screw-up by the cashier.
Regardless of where this happens, it needs to STOP, and I’m suggesting a few ways to accomplish this.
First, get rid of those ridiculous “loyalty cards.” If retailers can afford to give discounts to card-holders, they can afford to make them standard fare for ALL customers.
But they’re not going to do it because a discount isn’t the point of such cards; it’s just a gimmick to get you “enrolled” for targeted marketing and the selling of customer data bases for additional profit.
Second, if an item’s SKU number does not automatically scan, even after a cashier manually enters it, let FEDERAL law mandate that it’s FREE. Trust me, this would end ALL scanning problems within a matter of a few HOURS.
Third, in the few but inevitable cases of cash register malfunctions, ALL cashier applicants must PROVE, via a simple math test, that they can add, subtract, multiply, and divide at a 4th grade math level BEFORE they get hired.
Fourth, a minimum wage should remain at least on pace with the inflationary rate. A $1.00 per hour minimum wage in 1956 translates to one of $8.81 per hour TODAY, and this is simply based on an average annual rate of inflation.
And finally, we, the electorate, should immediately be authorized to Taser any politician—Republican or otherwise—who starts to blather on about how it will end the market system as we know it, or about how it may well usher in an era of Socialism!