Chris Johnson

No more bag boys is one of many signs how grocery stores are changing


When I was 16, I got my first steady part-time job as a bag boy for the IGA grocery in Oglethorpe, Ga. I don’t like to brag, but they paid me $3.35 an hour. My boss thought that was about $3.34 an hour too much.

To this day, I’m not sure I’ve had a more difficult or dangerous job. If you don’t believe being a bag boy at the IGA is dangerous, then you obviously never got chased by an old lady after her loaf of bread got mashed in the bag. Hell hath no fury like a woman who’s bread just got mashed. They must’ve made those canes out of steel because those suckers hurt.

It was difficult because my boss drove us like we were in a North Korean work camp — and because I had to keep passing a display of delicious Slim Jims while stealing hardly any of them.

These days, the grocery store employees I see work at a calmer, more reasonable pace while making more than double the riches I was raking in back then. Hardly any of them appear to have been beaten with steel canes, so perhaps that’s illegal now.

In fact, much has changed since my bag boy days at the IGA, now a Piggly Wiggly. Heck, even the bags themselves have changed. There was no “paper or plastic” question back then. It was “Paper or paper?” Some folks who care about the planet even re-use fabric bags over and over, but I read recently that they’ve discovered a new solar system with seven planets, some of which might even be inhabitable, so I’m not worried about saving this one anymore. We have spares now.

You also can mash your own bread and have to beat yourself over the head with your own cane. Yes, many stores prefer you do your own scanning, checking out and bagging. Soon, I’m sure I’ll be in the meat department cutting my own t-bone with a side of fingers.

I actually like the self-checkout if I only have a few items because I really hate making small talk. And the human cashiers have to say things like, “Hi, how are you today?” Since I hate making small talk, I have to respond with bigger talk like, “Well, I’m kinda worried about what effect a 20 percent reduction in the State Department budget might have on our dealings in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and the other Stans.”

“That’s nice.”

Of course, sometimes the conversation with the self-checkout machine is worse. “Please wait. Unexpected item in bagging area. Select payment type. Assistance needed. Stop drop and roll. This machine will self-destruct in 10 seconds.”

“I just wanted this gum and a Coke Zero!”

Then you get a receipt that’s 4 feet long for that gum and Coke Zero. It’s got coupons for every competing product, a survey where you could win a free pack of gum and some of the store’s favorite chapters from “War and Peace.” I didn’t need a buggy when I came in, but I’m gonna need something to carry this receipt out. Is there a bag boy available? Or bag girl?

When I do go through a line with a bag boy — or girl — I like to nod and say something about my days as a bag boy, so that they know I’ve been in those trenches and experienced their pain.

You’d think I’d get a nod of respect as a grizzled old grocery veteran, but usually it’s just a bewildered look to the effect of, “They had food back then?”

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