November/December 2004

     The Window Guy

A Big-Box Experience
Price Check on Register One

Since I entered the freshman years of “geezerhood,” (that’s over 50 for you younguns), I have noticed I start a lot of sentences with certain disclaimers: “Back thirty-five years ago … ,” “We never had …,” “In the old days … ,” and “What’s wrong with these kids today … ” 

I entered the computer world the same way my Mom gave birth to me—kickin’ and screamin’. But just like with Mom, I got accustomed to my new surroundings, and worked through the adjustment period, except for one thing.

A few weeks ago, I was in a man’s playground—Home Depot.

“I entered the computer world the same way my 
mom gave birth to me, kickin’ and screamin’.”

It was on one of those runs where you spend more on fuel than merchandise—all two 5/16” x 3” bolts, two 5/16” nuts and two washers to complete the ensemble. I was in no big hurry, standing second in line behind a guy who had two sheets of plywood cut into about 17 pieces, and, of course, the piece that had the bar-code was missing. So I heard, “Price check on register one.”

One of the advantages of geezerhood is that you have learned that this is really no great setback in life. I mean how bad could it be? I’m next in line. And then, SHE appeared. The familiar orange apron with 35 patches for various employee awards, was giving me the finger. Not that finger. The index finger seductively used to lure me away to another register. It was as if she had placed a spell on me. I had no control; I stepped from my comfort zone (second in line) to risk her temptation of being first in line.

Halfway to the register, I hear the words, “Would you like to try our new automated check out?” 

“OH! No!” I thought. 

I have been avoiding these robotic money takers for months. It can’t be better; it’s not the same way I always do it, but I’m already here, so let’s get it over with.
First, I have to put my glasses on to read the multiple-choice monitor. (You don’t have to do that with a real person!) Of course the first words are “Welcome” and “Thank You,” and then we get to the directions. 

“Touch the screen to” was next, so I figured that if I’m paying for the nut and bolt trio, then I’ll just use the 5/16” x 3” bolt to do the screen surfing. 

Apparently, the robot supervisor heard the metallic sounds of the bolt on the monitor screen, and came racing over like a mother bear protecting her cubs. 

“You must use your fingers”, she said with robotic authority. “Have you ever done this before?”

I thought the answer was obvious, but I told her no anyway. 

“Let me help you with this,” she said.

I’m thinking, “Sure lady, I wanted a real check-out person anyway.” 

At lightning speed, her knuckle danced all over the screen. Then she said, “Okay, go ahead and scan that bolt.” 

So I waved the bolt about ten times until I heard a loud beep. It was cool, except the price rang up $5.49 for the bolt. The robot boss said that it “misread” the bolt. “Ya think?” I almost blurted out. Confounded, she took the bolt to her private register and comes back to enter in a thirteen number code.

The part about “this was no big setback” is slowly slipping away, after noticing outside the front door, the guy with the seventeen pieces of plywood just slammed the tailgate of his truck and is on his way. 

“Go ahead and scan the nuts,” she said. 

Do you know how silly it looks shaking these little things in front of a TV screen? 

“You’ll have to put them on the scale,” she said. 

Oh great, so buying hardware has been reduced to the status of bell peppers. No surprise here; the scale doesn’t recognize the 5/16” nuts. 

We’re down to the last of three items—the washers. At this point, I just want to go home. I’m worn down and willing to pay whatever the scanner wants to charge. With hesitancy, I scan the washers, and hear yet a third distinct beep. The robot den-mother hears the warning, grabs her book, takes the washer from me, places it over the picture in the book, and, you guessed it, another 13 number code. Then in big bold numbers, my total displayed, “You owe $1.43.”

As I make my choice of cash, Visa, MasterCard, Discovery, American Express or the in-house credit card, I see that the lady on the first register is giving people that finger because she has no one in her line. 

Not to be distracted, I press “Cash.” 

“Please submit bill” appeared on the screen. I place a clean Alexander Hamilton in the slot, it swallows it and then spits it back. The machine goes through this regurgitation process about five times and finally my new best friend, the robot princess, comes to my rescue and it won’t work for her either. 

“Let me take you to my register,” she said. 

Of course, now the transaction on the robot cashier cannot be transferred to the “live” register. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, sir. Let’s just start over,” she said.

Even though she’s the robot supervisor, she’s still a real person, and I’m just dying for human contact. She scans the two bolts, two nuts and two washers. The prices appear, the tax is added, and she proudly says, “That will be a $1.43, sir”. 

I hand her the rebellious ten dollar bill, and she hands me back the appropriate change. (Just like a real person would.)

As I head toward the door with my six pieces of hardware, I meet the lady from check-out stand one, wearing street clothes and apparently off work. She turns to me and says, “Weren’t you in here earlier today?” (Sometimes real people are cruel.)

The moral of the story is that people still like to deal with “real” people. I have stayed away from the temptation of using an automated answering operator because I really believe a live voice sets the tone for the caller. They have a feeling that something will be accomplished. Most of the time when I hear a recording, it asks me to enter the last name of the person I want, and I know him as “Joe.” (A real person wouldn’t ask you to spell anything.)

You think I make this stuff up don’t you? 

R. Mark Reasbeck is owner of Legend Windows for the West, a Las Vegas-based window dealership.  He can be reached at


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