The self-checkout terminal I've mastered. January 2013.

The self-checkout terminal I've mastered. January 2013.

There's a comedian with a bit on self-checkouts in grocery stores, bemoaning the lack of service. (Apologies for being unable to find the video clip in a search.)

I couldn't agree with him less.

I'd rather have more people on the floor to tell me where things are shelved and to wrap up meats and such than people at the end of a conveyor belt to finger all the food and household items I've selected, make small talk, and ask me inane questions:

  • "What's this?" Rhubarb. "What's rhubarb?" A root vegetable. "How do you use it?" Really? Are we about to trade recipes?

  • "I had no idea they made organic Pop Tarts." Yep. "Hey, Sacker Guy, did you see this? Organic Pop Tarts! They think of everything these days." Yes. Yes, they do.

  • "Don't you just love bacon?" Does this need to be asked?

  • "How are you today?" Really? Where exactly are we going with this conversation?

Get out of the way. I'd rather wrangle with a haywire self-checkout kiosk.

Because yes, as technologies go, the janky, pseudoautomated self-service checkouts at grocery stores are somewhat behind the era of, say, space flight and robotic surgery. Yet they are still better than coming before the grocery-register inquisition.

Fortunately, if you stick with the same supermarket chain, you can learn how to finesse its specific model of persnickety machine into working sweetly. This is similar to back when you had to jiggle the cartridge just right in your Atari after blowing into it to get the game to work again.

I'm not alone in my self-checkout preference. On a recent shopping trip, two tellers with empty lanes offered to ring up my items as I walked past them toward the line of people backed up at the self-checkout.

I smiled, kept moving, and said, "No, thank you!"