Express Lane – Right

I’m not known as an impatient person, but one Saturday a while back I was in a bit of a hurry. Stopping off at the local market for some ice cream for my wife’s birthday, I picked up two of what used to be half-gallon cartons (which are now something like 3/4 of that) and jogged down to the “express” checkout aisle to get back home before she did. In front of me were three people, one who paid with a credit card and got through pretty fast, although there was a problem with the register print roll. It got jammed. But after a few seconds the checker had it fixed and away we went. The next person was up to bat. I figured, she had 4 items. Another 60 seconds or so, right?

Nope. This person wanted to pay cash, which is fine, but then wanted to get rid of the change in the purse. That’s ok too, but it developed into a hunt. Different compartments were checked to find the last nickle and two pennies. I swear it took 3 minutes and finally she gave up with a sigh and handed over a dollar bill. Finally. Gone.

I’m nearly there.

Next is a young very handsome couple with a sturdy little boy in the cart. The boy wants to put the stuff on the conveyer and the checker thinks it’s cute. But he can’t lift some of it, like a gallon of milk. But they watch him try for a minute to do it. He gets angry when Dad finally helps. Then there are the other items which are parsed out at a deadly slow rate, one at a time.

Finally the cute little tyke gets the stuff all out and they pay up (they had more than the 10 item limit, but who hasn’t seen that before?) and they’re gone.

Now it’s my turn. Put up my two cartons of Breyer’s and swipe my card, feeling better. But I notice something. The 5 minutes or so that it took me to get to this normality still put me at the end of the queue. There was no one behind me. Gah! I wanted someone else to be waiting. No such luck.

Someone told me there’s an old theorem in probability theory that says no matter which line you pick, it will be the worst. Next time you’re at the temple and it’s a busy day, don’t bother with the short line. It will be the one where recommends are being inspected for radioactivity.


  1. “How active are you, elder?” “Me? I’m RADIOactive.”

  2. next time assess who is that line better and gauge the probability of wait times. :)

  3. “Express line is the fastest line not always… Let’s pick this line: all pathetic single men. All cash, no chitchat.” ~Apu Nahasapeemapetilon

    Also, I wish I lived in a temple district where the temple is so busy there are lines at the recommend desk!

  4. What I hate__ I have 30 things in my cart, the store lanes are packed, the express line empty. HE waves me in__I start to unload__then three guys with one item fall in behind me. I can feel the hate in the line!

  5. StillConfused says:

    I have been there too #4. It is so awkward.

  6. In our family we refer to this as “bad line karma”. It follows us everywhere. Even if we get in line behind one individual who is already paying. I find that my only option is acceptance.

    Although I did hear somewhere recently (NPR? Some morning TV news program?) of a study that showed a better statistical chance of exiting the store first if you get in a non-express lane behind someone with around 30 items than being in an express lane behind 3 or 4 people with 2-5 items each. Apparently, it has something to do with the fact that it takes more time for each customer to be greeted by the cashier, pay, etc than it does to scan grocery items. Unless, of course, you are me. Then it will just take forever.

  7. Mephibosheth says:

    I think it was the guys over at The Eternal Universe who linked to something like that study a while back. It’s here.

    One time we decided to go to the temple as a family and it was unusually packed, standing room only, the A/C had gone out, and the frustration in the chapel was palpable. I started to complain to my dad and he shot back, “You think the line is bad on THIS side of the veil?”

  8. Mephibosheth says:

    I botched the link to the study:

  9. Since I am a regular at our local grocery store, I have learned which checkers are efficient, and which ones will take forever. I have found better success at getting in lines with the good checkers than I do by seeing how many people are in line.

  10. The important information was left out: what kind of ice cream??

  11. Chocolate and strawberry I think.