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international librarian of mystery

Friday, December 17, 2004

At the Warehouse

Rather than take the risk of getting to within a couple of days of Christmas without having bought anyone presents, and then realising I had no money to do so, this year I resolved to do all my shopping the day after my pay went through, so I wouldn't fritter it away over the course of the next fortnight on frivolities like food and phone-bills.

I went the Warehouse on Tory Street to stock up on cheap imports for random distribution to my nearest-and-dearest on the holy day. My normal plan of buying a delightfully thoughtful book for each of those close to me had been sunk by a lack of funds, even buoyed by my recent pay-day. The Warehouse, for my non-Australasian readers, is a big barn retailer, similar, I assume, to things like Wal-Mart in the USA. Mass-produced crap, basically.

After maybe two hours of aimless wandering from aisle-to-aisle, picking things up, wandering a bit more, picking up something else, abandoning one of my earlier, now superceded finds by hiding it in the Italian-shampoo section, I had completed my Christmas shopping. I went to the check-out. There was no-one in front of me, I waltzed to the front. The red-uniformed check-out drone scanned my items, one-by-one, until the last - a screwdriver set I thought noizyboy might like.

"Do you have the sticker or bar-code for this?" asked the drone.
"Umm, no, I just grabbed it like that off the shelf."
"Price check aisle two," droned the drone into his mic. There was a corresponding, but considerably more indecipherable garble from the store's in-house PA system.

I looked around. There was no immediate action from either of the two staff I could see stationed at the information desk. Eventually, one of them caught the eye of my drone, and he motioned her over.

"Screwdriver set, don't know how much," said my drone to the price-checker, who, from the frown chiseled into her brow, wasn't getting a lot of job satisfaction today.

They both looked me up and down. Obviously I had committed some sort of horrendous shopping faux pas.

"All right," she moaned, waddling off and disappearing around an aisle.

"Er, I might just serve this gentlemen?" the drone half-asked, half-informed me, indicating the middle-aged guy holding a couple of kiddy t-shirts, a wetsuit and some knickknacks behind me.
"Oh, sure," I said, smiling at the guy, standing aside and moving to stand behind him, at the new end of the queue.

Suddenly, a woman laden with t-shirts, swimsuits and various other items of clothing swooped past me, and dumped her wares on the counter.

"Just add these, dear, and I just need to grab..."

Something else, presumably, because she was gone by the time either her partner or I could hear. The drone started scanning the clothes that were sprawled around the checkout counter. Each piece of clothing had to have its hanger removed, its anti-theft bolt unclipped, the barcode scanned, and then get folded, whereupon it was placed into a bag. This process took about half a minute per item - longer when the drone couldn't find anti-theft bolt or price-tag.

The price-checker arrived after a few minutes and had a brief discussion with the drone about the screwdriver set. Standing a bit further from the checkout, I couldn't quite catch what was said, but they held up the box, and the price-checker pointed to something on the underside of the casing. The drone nodded, and the price-checker departed. Then the clothes-hording women returned, this time with about two dozen plastic-crap toys which got added to the pile of clothes that the drone was slowly working his way through. Now content with her gifts haul, the woman started to prattle on loudly to her partner about plans for their Christmas Day festivities, which, as far as I could tell, involved getting her partner's family drunk on the cheap white wine they'd stocked up on, so her side of the family could indulge in the good stuff later on.

I would have just called it quits and joined another queue, but the drone still had all my screwdriver set and all my other gifts stashed behind the counter, and I didn't want to run the risk of another price-check delay.

Eventually, probably half an hour later, the clothes-horder and her partner collected their now paid-for shopping and departed. I stepped up to the counter.

"Ah right," said the drone, "the screwdriver set. Let's see..."

He held up the case and looked at it. There were some numbers on the bottom of the case that presumably had some relevance to our dilemma, and he typed them into his till.

"Oh, that's not right," he said.

I peeked around - the screen was showing the details for a 5-piece pots and pan set.

"Price check aisle two," droned the drone into his mic, again. And again there was the wait while the price-checker took her own good time to make her way over to us.

"It's not that number," said the drone.
"It's not?" asked the price-checker.
"Give it to me," said the price-checker.

It was handed over, and she wandered away back to the information desk to consult with the other staff member on duty there. They huddled over a computer, stabbing at keys and scratching their heads at the resulting output.

"If I might...?" asked the drone, gesturing to a couple behind me, who had a kit-set study desk precariously balanced in their trolley.

This couple looked pretty set to go, and with only the one item in their trolley, retreating behind them was a risk I was willing to take. But (ah, yes, you saw that 'but' coming, didn't you?) then...

"That'll be $119.95," said the drone.
"Oh no, " said the man, "it's on special. $80."
"I don't think so," said the drone, doubt etched into his voice.
"I am certain," said the man.

The woman looked less certain, and rolled her eyes at me. And then the inevitable call came...

"Price check, aisle two."

It seemed that the information staff of two were too engrossed in their task of trying to figure out the price of the screwdriver set, to come over, so the checkout drone asked the guy if he could just show him where he had got the desk from. The couple and the drone walked off together, leaving me alone at the checkout. I was sorely tempted just to go behind the counter, grab my bag, forget about the screwdrivers and do a runner. The large and scary looking security guy planted by the door persuaded me this might not be the best plan of action. After another interminable wait, the drone and the desk-buyers returned. The desk hadn't been on special. He grudgingly paid full-price, and I retook my place at the front of the line.

"Ah, right, screwdriver set," said the drone. He went off to the information desk to see if they'd had any luck. After another couple minutes of waiting, where I watched all three staff now involved in the search questioning each other and the computer about the problem at hand, they eventually seemed to come up with something. The drone returned.

"$4.95," he said.

He rang up the price manually, and popped it into the bag with my other acquisitions.

"Have a nice Christmas," he said.
"You too," I replied.