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CYBURBIA

Scanning the Minds of Supermarket Checkers

January 25, 1998|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What do supermarket checkers think about while standing behind a moving black belt, scanning products and weighing produce? What do they think of us, the customers?

Now you can find out.

"Big and shocking news for the die-hard coupon shoppers at our store. We are no longer taking expired coupons! Gasp!! What will those cereal hoarders and coupon queens do now?"

That's the opening line of the current issue of the Supermarket Checker, a zine on the Web that is written by a real-life supermarket cashier.

The site is a welcome oasis in the midst of Web zines specializing in matters of limited interest, such as piercings, UFOs, conspiracy theories and self-empowerment. Even if you're interested in these topics, they've been so overdone on the Web that they seem positively mainstream.

The Supermarket Checker doesn't pretend to be hip or rebellious. But it's so down to earth that it's truly cool.

"This week, I share information I received from Kraft Foods about cheese. Some of the stuff is pretty interesting, like, did you know you can freeze cheese?"

The checker who created the site lives and works in Fontana, a foothill community east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County. She does not disclose her name on the site, and one could hardly blame her. But she tells us a lot about herself in the zine, new issues of which appear on an irregular basis.

She is a former movie theater manager who is married to a firefighter. She has kids and, like most of us, enjoys finding a bargain. This has become especially important to her since she cut back on her hours.

"I've gone from six days and mega hours down to a paltry 20 hours a week. I miss the money but the time off is nice. Ah, such is the life of a part-time supermarket cashier. I have even dusted off my substitute-teaching certificate."

She delves into topics of concern to checkers and, by extension, all of us who shop in supermarkets. On the matter of expired coupons, she shares the little-known fact (at least I had never heard of it) that some markets accept them. At least hers did, until some shoppers abused the lenient policy.

"We had a woman and man who regularly cleaned out our cereal aisle with coupons dated from 1989," she writes. "Yes, you can do that, though the idea wasn't to do this to give all the relatives in Arkansas free cereal from California.

"As it goes with many things, a few people ruin it for everyone."

In a past issue of the zine (they're archived on the site), she writes about a high-tech, self-checkout system being tested in some markets. Customers using them scan and bag their own items, and pay by swiping a card or feeding cash to the machine. Not surprisingly, the Supermarket Checker takes a dim view.

"I find it hard to imagine a supermarket without the perky personalities and wit and wisdom that we supermarket checkers bring to a store," she writes, and then goes on to admit: "Most supermarket cashiers, present company included, aren't as perky as we always should be."

She doesn't think her job is in jeopardy. Yet.

"It's just too hard to imagine supermarkets being able to afford such advance computer technology," she writes. "But then again, these machines probably don't ask for medical and dental benefits, either."

The Supermarket Checker addresses questions about food products, such as: Are there major differences between name-brand and lower-priced butters? If you're looking for investigative journalism, you'll have to search elsewhere, however. The Supermarket Checker called a representative of Land O Lakes, the makers of one of the name brands.

"She told me the reason their butter cost more than the store brand is because they use the best cream available. What makes a cream the best? I don't know. I forgot to ask."

You also can't look to the site for gourmet recipes. But the "No Cook, Really Easy Cheesecake" recipe given to her by a customer and reprinted on the site, does look as though it could be made in minutes, as long as one has canned pie fillings on hand.

The one thing I didn't like on the site is her endorsement of diet pills she obtained from a doctor in Mexico. She admits she doesn't know exactly what's in the pills and says they didn't keep her from putting back on some of the weight that she had lost.

Otherwise, the Supermarket Checker is a delightful and rare item--a look into the life of a profession we often take for granted. She convinced me of the value of real-life checkers--and I promise that I will never engage in coupon abuse.

The site can be found at http://www.pe.net/%7Echecker/index.html.

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Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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