Too old, too slow

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My mother and I went to a local grocery store today–THE local grocery store chain. We went to a store in the next town because the store in our very small town doesn’t stock several things that we regularly buy. I was putting bags in the cart and dealing with the heavy stuff and my mother was paying. My mother is 68, five feet tall, and walks with a cane. She can’t lift a jumbo-sized jug of laundry detergent, so I let her pay and I do the lifting.

My mother is slow and careful with putting away her cards and her change. She had her wallet on the shelf beside the keypad and was putting her money away when the customer in line behind her–an employee, wearing a windbreaker with the store’s name embroidered on it–started getting in my mother’s personal space.

First the woman was impatient. Sighing. Looking at her watch. Complaining under her breath to the cashier. She was actually behind my mother when she was swiping her card, looking over her shoulder. Then when my mother got done with the transaction, she tried to reach AROUND her to swipe her own card. Finally she got very huffy and spun the keypad around to face her while my mother was still standing there with her wallet on the shelf.

When my mother moved out of the way, I walked up to the woman and said, “you’re being rude. You need to back off.” This woman actually got in my face. She was hostile and aggressive. “I thought she was done.” “No,” I said, “you didn’t. You saw that she was still trying to put her money away. You’re an employee. You know better than to act like this.”

“Yes I’m an employee but I’m a customer right now.”

I was in disbelief by this point. I said “When you are wearing that jacket, you are an employee. What is your name?”

She spat her first name at me. “Your FULL NAME?” I said. She gave me her last name. The hostility radiating off of her was palpable. I said “Well, I am going to call your manager as soon as I get home and have a nice chat about you.”

“Good. I hope you do.” And she stormed out past us.

I called the store and spoke to the receptionist. I asked that a manager call me back later because it was 5:05 when we checked out and the store was slammed. The customer service manager called me back about 7:30. I told her every detail from start to finish. I had given the receptionist the lane number and the exact time we checked out so that a manager could look at the security camera footage, identify the employee, and see her inappropriate body language. The manager apologized over and over, said the employee’s behavior was inappropriate, that she would be dealt with. I asked that the employee, who is about my age (43) be made to go through customer service training again as if she was a 17-year-old cashier who had just started at the store.

So that’s one incident resolved, but the problem is not solved.

This is the first time I’ve had to confront someone who got impatient with my mother at a store, but far from the first time I’ve seen impatience on the faces of people in line behind her. And I’m sure every elderly and/or disabled person can relate to this story. Too old, too slow.

As I said, this woman was about my age, and I could tell she was a bully because she moved toward me and immediately went into attack mode when I confronted her. I’m quite sure she’s been pushing people around for a long time. Now she’s in a position of “power” and feels so emboldened by that that she behaves abusively towards customers while wearing the store uniform.

But she was just more visible because she was still in her work clothes. The problem is endemic to our society. The old, the disabled, the person who just doesn’t move fast enough is not someone to be helped or at least allowed to move at their own pace. They are obstructions. Not people. Where was this woman going in such a hurry? Not to an emergency. She had a boxed salad in her hand. Nothing else. She was going home. My mother was an obstruction to her getting home at the speed of light.

This has to stop, and now more than ever, we need to say something when we see someone vulnerable being mistreated. If your mother or grandmother went to the store and someone treated her the way this woman did because she was trying to put her change away, wouldn’t you want someone to come to her defense? So look at everyone as your mother or grandmother or grandfather or disabled neighbor.

Ironically, when I was putting our groceries in the car, I saw an elderly black man using one of those electric scooter carts going to his car. A white man my age called to him and told him he would put his groceries in his car for him. He wasn’t an employee.

Be that guy.

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