Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Rise of the Machines

I got into a fight with an obstinate inanimate (yet interactive) machine this past weekend. We're not talking about a simple disagreement; I mean an actual shouting match. Well, I guess in truth I was really the only one shouting, but still.

On my way to a party this weekend, I ducked into the Harris Teeter to purchase a dessert. That's all I wanted was a dessert, nothing special, nothing fancy, just a quick few bucks on decent food to share. I figured rather than wait in a line, I would use one of those self-checkout lanes.

Yeah. Those things are less fun or efficient than one would think they are.

First, there is literally no way to do it as fast as the checkout people do it. You can't just take your stuff and go BEEPBEEPBEEP and have all your items rung up quickly (if you have more than one item). As the artificially patient computer voice tells you, after scanning an item, you must place it in a bag at the bagging area right next to the scanner. You may not scan another item until it senses that you've placed the first item down in the bagging area. (There's clearly a scale or something there.)

I figured with just one item it couldn't be that much of a hassle, right?


I picked what appeared to be a nice sized chiffon cake with some cherry drizzle on top. I forget now what it actually was (that's not important to this story now is it?). I didn't plan to eat any of it, so hey, I grabbed what looked pretty and was reasonably priced. Then HAL 9000 decided to pick a fight with me.

After I "touched here to start,"* then decided I neither had nor would be able to scam someone's discount card from them (oh, the pain of an additional $2!), I was ready to rock. I placed the cake on the scanner and let it do its magic.

Okay, at first yes, it was my fault for not realizing that the bar code wasn't facing either of the two scanning surfaces. "What the heck?" I found myself thinking. Why isn't it going BEEP? I'm used to the Whole Foods, where they put the bar codes on the bottom of containers so that the cashiers can just run it over the scanner. There was no bar code on the bottom of this plate. I had to turn the thing until the code was in the right spot on the side of the packaging. Okay, no biggie.

Then the fight began in earnest. "Please place your item in a bag," HAL told me.** I dutifully placed the cake on the area near the bags (it didn't fit in a standard bag so I figured I'd take care of it later, after having paid).

"Please remove any additional items from the bag and place them on the scanner." Uh, what additional items? But HAL was adamant. I was to take something or another from the bag and put it through the scanner.

So I took the cake off the bagging area again. "Please scan your item," HAL told me.

"But I've already scanned this!" I told it. (Yes, I actually started talking to it.) I could see it on the screen: there was already a line item on the receipt for this cake. I would be damned if I was going to scan it again.

So I put it back on the bagging area. Apparently this was not what I was supposed to do.

"Please remove any additional items from the bag and place them on the scanner."

"There are no additional items!" I exclaimed, starting to get a little annoyed. So once again, I removed the cake from the bagging area.

"Please scan your item."

"No! No! I will not be charged double for this damn cake!" I cried. I refused to scan the item again, knowing full well that if I double-scanned it, I would only have to call over a manager, and that would be, well, extremely embarrassing. I suppose I should have thought of this before I started screaming at a machine.

I put the cake back on the bagging area and, of course, was predictably met with an all-too-calm request to take the item off of the bagging area so that it could be scanned.

This happened three times. What's the definition of stupidity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yeah, that's me. HAL, 1; Me, 0.

Finally, I noted a button on the screen that said something to the effect of "No More Items." Shrewdly keeping my cake off the bagging area, and knowing that the cake had already been rung up, I pressed that button.

Thankfully, the rest of the process resolved itself without a hitch. The machine even successfully accepted three pieces of paper currency without once spitting any of it back, which I found most impressive.

I then split, heading off to my little party, cake happily in hand. Then it promptly got blown away by some gale-force winds. It bounced three times before I caught up to it and by then the cherry icing was slathered all over the inside of the container. Lovely.

* That would make a great intro to foreplay. Like, on a person instead of an automated checkout machine.

** Even though I call it HAL, the voice was female, which is good. Because if it had been a male voice, I think I would have freaked.


anne said...

I would have crumbled, in tears, at its second injunction...

Nicole said...

Could have been worse your name could have been Dave.

katie said...

Hate hate hate those stupid things. I always get stuck behind someone with like a million coupons, and it ends up being 30 times slower than if I had just gotten in a regular line.

Steve said...

Sounds like very those ultra-annoying voice mail menus. I have yet to see self checkout anywhere around here. It sounds like too much work anyway.

duane said...

When this happens, I just turn, cross my arms, and glare at the attendant. I hate that!

mysterygirl! said...

I totally need a button that says "touch here to start."

I hate the self-checkout, too. When it tells you to place your item back on the belt (or whatever), I've learned that if you wait long enough, it will "forget" and allow you to finish your transaction. Yep, I just wait for the machine to become senile. Yay, technology.

Ryan said...

I'm sorry. I don't have the patient for this shit. You're talking to somebody who stopped playing Resident Evil 4 becuase I kept getting my head chainsaw'ed off on the first level.

It comes to a point when you just gotta take that chiffon cake and RUN, dude. RUUUNNN!!!! :p

HomeImprovementNinja said...

I think it says something about the incompetence of DC cashiers that stores will spend thousands of dollars designing machines to accomplish a task that high-school dropouts used to be able to do a generation ago. Are we, as a society, getting dumber?

I have difficulty working those machines too sometimes, but it's not from lack of brains...really. I, uhhhh, specialize in other things.

Sleepy Girl said...

This happens to me every. single. time I try to use one of those machines. I've just stopped using them to spare myself any further humiliation.