Month: August 2022

I am not a crook!

(The following true tale may include hyperbole and drama not contained in the actual events).

I was a difficult convert to the cult of Costco. I resisted for years. It wasn’t until a good friend of mine, I’ll call him Mark, gave me a gift membership, that I embraced the goodness that is Costco.

Once I actually shopped there, and had a few samples and of course a hot dog, I was a convert.

As a good Costco member, I have oft-questioned the receipt-examination procedure one must go through to exit the facility with one’s 300-pack of AAA batteries and lifetime supply of Nutella (there’s no such thing, by the way). But I’ve questioned lightly, not wishing to anger the Costco gods. But really – what is the point?

For years I have successfully exited Costco facilities in various states without a fuss. Routinely I exchange a friendly salutation and a weather-related comment with the Sharpie-wielding clerk and am on my way to the parking lot to begin the “Where did I park…?” seek-and-find adventure.

My most recent visit was this past Sunday. It had been many months since my last trip to worship at the house of Costco and I felt rusty. It took me several harried moments to remember that I had to flash my Costco Membership Card to gain entry to the hallowed grounds. The embarassment! I felt like a lowly newbie.

Every trip to Costco is a social experiment about to go off the rails. This trip was no different. The entire state of North Carolina and a large part of nearby Virginia were shopping. It was packed wall to rafter with humans of all descriptions.

We had our list and proceeded to work it. It wasn’t a long list, but it contained some items that we prefer to get at Costco. There of course is the thirty-dollar bag of chicken breasts, plump and in their own little freezer-friendly cocoons. Then the mixed nuts with sea salt, a happenstance purchase of a bottle of red wine from Portugal, a couple of bags of snack items to test and finally allergy and indigestion pills.

As I’ve already hinted, the joint was hoppin’! The pharmacy area was the last we visited which is near the checkout lanes. An examination revealed that the lines went all the way back into the store, to the camping tents, grills and tofu samples.

There were many lines.

Many lines of carts overflowing with goodness.

Many lines that were not moving.

A mass of humanity that looked weary, tired and close to tears.

But then I noticed the new self-checkout lanes – and they had essentially no lines! Perhaps I was saved!

In general, I avoid the self-checkout option. While I fully admit my lack of skill may be at fault for these machines routinely failing to scan my goods, it nonetheless makes me self-scan averse.

And let’s not forget the $4 bottle of red juice from Portugal – that would throw a wrench into the do-it-yourself works.

However, I bravely filed a change of flight plan and started the tedious process of redirecting my cart through rivers of folks: tall, short, wide and narrow, clued and clueless, so that I could align with one of the self-check lanes.

Once I was queued, the air was filled with various Costco clerks singing out: “Scan your membership card first! Scan your membership card FIRST!”

I was ahead of them! I assumed that’s how the process would begin, and I was ready! I had my card in hand and was poised to scan.

That’s when the confusion started. This machine beeped and talked a lot. It’s as if it had spent a year in solitary confinement and was finally released into the world and had things to say. My, did it have things to say!

“Scan your first item. Item in bagging area. BEEP! Lift your right foot, step behind the line, take off your hat. BEEP!”

I scanned my first item.


“Place item in the bagging area. Beep! Did you know Costco has great prices on tires?”


I scanned the next item.


But I saw no item recognized on the screen. Do I scan again and risk a duplicate? I waited. I sensed anger building from others waiting for my machine. I tried to read messages on the screen, which was cluttered with ads, instructions, unnecessarily truncated text and issued forth beeps of different pitches and volumes.

I scanned my fowl breasts once again. This time the “Beep!” was followed by proof that my item had been scanned.

“Put your item in the bagging area and be sure to visit our commissary for some cooling frozen yogurt!”

I scanned some more and again was berated for not putting my item in the bagging area fast enough. We sort of learned that we had to place the item and let it rest before adding it to our bag (yes, THIS time, we remembered to bring our own bag!).

As you are a wise reader, you know the wine was next.


“Beep, beep, beep! Age-restricted item in self-checkout lane four! Beep! Beep! Adult Beverage Violation Code Four!”

Lights now appeared on a pole attached to the whining machine. Fortunately, a Costco clerk was not long in coming and overriding the message (she didn’t even ask for my I.D. – rude!).

As I said, our list was short, just eight items (remember that number – it will become ever so important).

While preparing my payment card for action, a Costco clerk stopped in to say that “These machines require that you place all items in the bagging area and leave them there until all items are scanned and you touch the ‘Pay Now’ button.”

Well, okay. We were done at that point…but I quickly had the question about when someone has more than will fit in the “Bagging Area.” I wanted to ask – to further my knowledge for future Costco escapades, but the herd of people on my six was growing ever less patient.

As that day’s luck would have it, the touchless method of card payment failed me. I waved, I tapped, I parried my card – it would not be read. I resorted to the barbaric, ancient method of inserting my card into the reader.

Thousands looked on, basking in my embarrassment.

But the worse was to come!

Our transaction complete, we pedaled our way toward the exit, which had two Costco Receipt Evaluation And Sharpie Engineers on duty.

Being left-handed, I stuck to the left lane.

“Good afternoon, did you find everything you were looking for?” Gwendolyn queried.

“Yes, we did. Looks like rain. We could use it.” I answered.

Gwendolyn, swiping her Sharpie across my receipt, said “Have a nice day.”

But before I could take one step, “Hold on, you have eight items in that bag, not six.” Gwendolyn stated.

In a tone.

She must be confused, of course she is. Everything’s stuffed in the bag, she can’t see everything, she’ll paw through the bag and let us go.

But no – her highly-trained eagle-eyes did in fact correctly spot a discrepancy. You see, our receipt indicated SIX items paid for and she pulled EIGHT items from our bag.

“Step aside, step aside, right here. I’ll have to get a supervisor to evaluate your issue.” Gwendolyn said in not a quiet voice, which no longer seemed to care if we’d found everything we wanted.

She continued to get on the public address system to announce “I need a Front Line Supervisor to the Receipt Check Area for an incorrect item count investigation. Security, please secure the exits.”

I had that sick feeling in my stomach. My legs went weak. AAA still has free bail coverage with their road service, plan, right?

Everyone entering and those trying to exit stared at us.

“I AM NOT A CROOK! No, seriously! Yes, Nixon was a little bit dodgy, but I AM NOT A CROOK!”

After many minutes in the purgatory that was the “aside” area, the Front Line Supervisor arrived.

She took the receipt from my hand and started removing items from our bag.

“Oh, I see you didn’t want to pay for the Prilosec and Allegra – the most expensive items in your cart today. You do realize that you must pay for EVERYTHING, not just some things, right? This isn’t your pantry – this is Costco!”

Her hands on hips and her head set to a jaunty angle, I lamely tried to defend myself.

“I’m sorry, I was sure I scanned everything. I must have missed them.”

“It sure looks that way, doesn’t it?” Samantha the Supervisor declared.

“Give me your membership card and a credit card – I will extract your payment for these items.” Samantha ordered.

I meekly handed her my cards and she disappeared.

Was she going to shred my membership card? Would I be banned?

Were those sirens the sheriff or an ambulance?

Samantha returned with my cards and yet another receipt for the two items from my ATTEMPTED ROBBERY.

“Be more careful in the future. Make sure each item is reflected on-screen before going on to the next one. We’re watching. You won’t get away with this.” Samantha advised.

“Is it okay for us to go now?” I asked, still trembling.

Samantha: “Yes, though it looks like rain.”

But then Gwendolyn returned to the scene: “Samantha, don’t forget to Sharpie the secondary receipt to close the investigative loop!”

“Oh, yes, thanks Gwen.”

Samantha grabbed back the receipts soaking up the sweat in my palm and squiggled black ink around.

“Thank you for shopping at Costco. We sure could use the rain.”