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One Dad's Tricks for Surviving a Crowded Grocery Line

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The headline caught my eye as I scrolled through The New York Times on my iPad: “How to Pick the Fastest Line at the Supermarket.”

“Shop five minutes before closing,” was my immediate thought. That always works at my local grocery store. And here’s a tip for mom bloggers everywhere: Exhausted cashiers attempting to close out their registers invariably accept whatever coupons you thrust their way. Even ones lacking barcodes, since they expired during the Kennedy administration.

The article, written by Times correspondent Christopher Mele, contained suggestions ranging from the semi-obvious — be aware of lines with obstructions — to the head-scratching: Get behind a shopper who has a full cart. Number-crunching experts in Mele’s article say this works because it actually takes longer to ring up multiple shoppers with fewer items.

While I am eager to try all of Mele’s submissions, I remain skeptical. Perhaps it’s because I’m prone to bad decision making whenever I encounter assorted lines of humanity jockeying for position as they attempt simple tasks such as securing airplane seats, checking into hotel rooms or paying interstate tolls.

Or maybe it’s because I frequently grocery shop at Costco, a chain where a “single” item could be a 40-pound pallet of seedless grapes, a transaction that requires multiple employees encouraging each other to “bend with your knees,” as the item is hoisted onto the conveyor belt.

Resigned to the fact that waiting in grocery lines will never be a speedy experience, I offer an alternative to Mele’s tutorial; namely, how to pick the most entertaining line at the supermarket. If anything, the correct choice will make your wait time seem shorter.

I tend to sidle up behind men shopping solo, and then peer into their carts for a glimpse into their personal lives. Recently I found myself behind a dude with exactly two items in his cart: a 12-pack of Budweiser and a toddler.

“Not everybody is cut out to be a stay-at-home Dad,” I thought.

Although they are difficult to spot, the man with at least one feminine hygiene product in his cart is also the source of great theater, particularly if I decide to engage him in conversation regarding his choice.

“My wife’s a Tampax gal. Always has been,” I’ll say loudly. “Just wondering why you went with that brand? Do you have a coupon?”

Mr. Mele listen up: This might actually be the fastest way to speed up the line, as the customer would rather pay with a $100 bill, say, “keep the change” and scurry for the exit as opposed to answering my query. On that note, if I want to improve my line position, I wait behind the husband clutching a list. As all husbands can attest, that list always contains one overlooked, impossible-to-locate item, one that will require exiting the line, thus allowing me to jump ahead.

The “foodie couple,” with no children in tow and a cart full of unpronounceable spices, assorted French cabernets and steaks individually wrapped by a butcher who now loathes them, is a sitcom in waiting. Stand back and observe the inevitable in-line argument between two people who, mere minutes ago, had entered the grocery store oblivious to the world’s travails, so infatuated are they with their perfect life together. Usually the subject of their squabble is something IMPORTANT like his stupidity in grabbing saffron oil when she informed him the risotto recipe SPECIFICALLY calls for truffle oil.

Finally, after 5 p.m. on weekdays, stand behind the working mom and ask which item in her cart has, in her opinion, the most nutritional value for children: frozen pizza, frozen lasagna, frozen Salisbury steak or frozen burritos. Do this only if you are prepared to hand her a tissue when she begins weeping uncontrollably.

I’ll be heading to the grocery store this weekend. Strictly for amusement. Besides, there’s nothing good on Netflix.

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