63: Lessons in Line

63: Lessons in Line

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Lessons in Line

The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: decide what you want.

~Ben Stein

Recently I was standing in line at the state university bookstore. I find myself there periodically for game gear and various sundry items I can’t find elsewhere to cheer on the college team.

This day the line at the checkout counter was several people deep and into the aisle. I was in the middle of it. Ms. Perky Cashier had her fingers dancing across the keys of the cash register faster than my eyes could follow. They seemed to have a Caribbean beat as she punched in merchandise codes and prices for each customer. She was clever, witty and fast. She had the situation under control. She didn’t need a second cashier. Although the people in line didn’t talk much to each other, they smiled and seemed pleasant about the short wait till their turn.

Still several customers back, I was close enough to hear the conversation when a young man moved up to the counter with his dad. Ms. Perky Cashier took his purchases from his hands and set them on the counter. “You hardly seem old enough to attend the university,” she said smiling. She had excellent customer service down to a science.

The young man was pleased she’d noticed. “Well actually I’m not old enough,” he said. “I’m only a kid. But my dad here said that maybe I needed an incentive, you know, a carrot.” He pointed to the quiet older man on his right elbow. “You see,” the kid went on, “I am just in high school so I have two years left before graduation. I really want to go here after I graduate. My dad says I will have to work really hard to get in.” Unlike his father, the kid had no clue as to the fight he faced.

The young man had tripped over the word “incentive” and it was clear he was not a high-performing student. This was not the class president, high school valedictorian, or some political or business go-getter. This was a regular kid who had been passed over a lot because he didn’t sparkle. He gave the impression, though, that he was hard working and sincere.

Ms. Perky Cashier’s fingers danced again across the keys as she typed in the codes and prices for his really nice T-shirt and a hoodie in the university colors. She hit the subtotal and the register added the tax for her.

“Is there anything else you need?” she asked as her fingers stopped. She made eye contact with both the father and son while noticing the customer line had lengthened considerably. “Well,” said the father shyly as he slowly raised his hand from his side. “It’s not so long until I will be needing this, so I will just get it right now.” He laid a university car-window decal across the sweatshirt Ms. Perky Cashier had folded on the counter. The kid smiled so wide it seemed his face would crack. He must not have seen his father pick up the rear-window sticker while they were shopping for gear.

The people in line turned away, their eyes moist. Even if this kid didn’t get into college he would always know his father believed in him.

Ms. Perky Cashier was also taken back by the tenderness of the moment. Her fingers moved slowly across the keys as she added in the additional purchase and called out the amount due. The cash register yawned open. She regained her composure and put the items in a plastic bag with the university logo on it. The dad handed her exact change that she put into the open mouth of the register and shut it.

Taking the handles of the plastic bag, she again made eye contact with the kid. “Well, young man,” she said. “We will be seeing you soon then.” She spoke as if she expected to see him later in the week to buy books for this semester’s classes. The kid thanked her and moved towards the door with his father behind him.

“May I help you?” she said to the next customer. But no one moved up to the register. The line of people was staring after the father and son, sensing the price of their own goods had just included a free parenting lesson.

~Pamela Gilsenan

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