Yesterday I was at a shoe store so that I could return a pair of shoes. I walked in and joined a line that was about 5 customers long. I was a bit surprised to see so many ahead of me, since I assumed I could be in and out in 5 minutes, and then off to meet a friend. The line posed a challenge to that plan, but what was there to do besides settle and wait?
Whine and complain, as I was soon to learn. A few women joined the line right after me, and all of them were upset about its length. One went up to the counter to ask why only two cashiers were serving customers, and the manager explained that she was doing the best she could with all of her trained staff on the three levels of the store.The woman returned to the line in a huff, and a moment or two afterward another of the three left the store. This prompted that first woman to yell toward the counter ‘Someone left the line! You just lost a sale!’ As though that might magic up some more cashiers.
The blonde, middle-aged woman continued to grumble, mumbling about how the manager was doing a poor job and wondering why she was waiting on this line when she could get the same shoes for a comparable price across the street at a similar store. The third woman, who seemed to be her shopping companion, agreed with her, feeding into the discontent and tension that was growing. The blonde woman decided to yell again, ‘Do you see the line is growing?’ And told her friend she was considering going back to the counter to inform the manager, in case she couldn’t see for herself.
Initially, these women’s outrage fuelled frustration in me. What was mild disappointment quickly turned into agreement with them that it was unbelievable that only a few cashiers were stationed to serve a growing line of customers. After hearing the manager’s explanation, and slowly moving closer to the front of the line, I realised the system was working just fine, and those women were being more than a little impatient. I mean really, they complained from the minute they stepped onto the line, before they had waited for even a moment. The blonde woman in particular was the most obnoxious, talking nonstop; and I could feel her repeatedly looking my way, willing me to chime in. There was no way I would give her that satisfaction! In fact, I was actively wishing she would be quiet, and rest. In my calm waiting, I realised that little time was actually passing, and that although the cashiers seemed to have issues with each customer, this line was a wait like any retail other. If the blonde woman was so bothered, she could have left. No one was holding her there. But I noticed that she didn’t mention any pressing appointments to get to – she just wanted to be finished for finishing’s sake.
Finally it was my turn to get to the counter. Walking away from from the nagging woman I gave a small sigh of relief. But, since she was right behind me, it was my good fortune to be standing next to her while she lit into her cashier about her experience:
Cashier: Hello, how are you today?
Blonde woman: I’m terrible actually. I had a horrible experience on line. Your manager is really bad. I think I’m going to make a phone call.
Mind you, the manager was maybe two feet away from the cashier, so she definitely heard all these comments. The cashier tried to apologize, but the woman kept at it, grumbling about the poor service. I watched the cashier’s body language change; she angled her body away from the woman, in my direction, and her eyes looked everywhere but in the woman’s face. The cashier ringing me up was upset too, and muttered something under her breath. ‘I’m sorry?’ I asked, before I realised that she wasn’t talking to me.
A few minutes after I went to the counter, my return was complete and I made my way out of the store. And you know what? The whole thing took 11 or 12 minutes. Standing in line and going through the somewhat stalled return process at the counter. I know because I texted my friend as soon as I joined the line, and she texted me when she got to our meeting place, at which time I was all done and ready to leave the store. My feeling that the wait was hardly long was right, but if you heard this woman carrying on you’d think we were standing there for 11 hours.
While I was waiting to be served and after I had left the store, I thought about how she and I handled the situation so differently. I stood calmly, without any emotional distress. I don’t know how I was able to be so easygoing about the situation – I’m not a very patient person and I dislike standing on lines of any sort. Meanwhile, the blonde woman seemed to have her day and her shopping experience ruined by having to endure the injustice of the line.
There is so much to unpack in that. In the grand scheme of all that is going on in the world, of everything that has happened in the last two weeks – especially Hurricane Matthew wreaking havoc across Cuba, Haiti and The Bahamas, and the 100+ children killed in the Syrian civil war – what is it to stand in a well-lit, high ceilinged, air conditioned building to purchase a pair of shoes to add to your collection?
When black people of all ages across the US are exponentially more likely to be shot dead by the police going about their everyday lives than their white counterparts, and then have their killer minimally, if at all, punished, how is it an injustice to have two or three (black) women at a counter to serve you, rather than seven? How can you really allow that to make you spittingly mad? There is something incredibly wrong with that picture.
I wonder, did blonde woman tell family and friends about how the shoe store ruined her day?
Ugh, the more I think about it, the more it makes me sick to my stomach. The woman doesn’t know that it is her incredible privilege that makes her feel so entitled to a particular kind of service, and to speak so rudely to people trying their best to do their jobs in a high pressure situation. If you want to look at it from a racial angle, from a developed versus underdeveloped nation angle, from an economic angle – she has a lot going for her here.
I’m not all mad though. In fact, after I get over my own huff of disgust, I remember how peaceful I felt on the line, and how really I’m just sorry for blonde woman that she couldn’t wait quietly like the rest of us. God has been teaching me a lot about patience in the last year and a half. I’ve been waiting for a few things, all of which have yet to be fulfilled and/or revealed to me. My earnestness for answers has not diminished, but I have learned to be a little less anxious. In those times when fear and worry threaten to overwhelm me, I am a bit better at walking myself away from the edge. I guess those skills have spilled over into other areas of my life. Moreover, because I’ve come to cherish so greatly the truths about God caring for us, knowing our lives intimately, and being altogether good and wise, I have a better perspective on the everyday stresses of life. I feel like I’ve noticed a change for the better in that direction anyway, and it’s a trend I want to continue. Blonde woman doesn’t seem to have that. I’m thankful for a saviour-friend who keeps my mind and heart still through the unpleasant, disruptive moments life always throws our way.