The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Grand Opening

graphic of page

A lady paralleling me in line took an alternative stand. "I've been through
strikes before, and I learned that you have to hold your ground. It must be
something about working conditions. The clerks don't look very happy, but
they're bound to clear it up in a few minutes. The manager can't afford to lose
all these customers. It took me two hours to load up my basket, and I'm not
about to leave and start all over somewhere else. You'll see. They'll get this
strike over within fifteen minutes, or I don't know what I'm talking about."

"Since you don't plan to leave," I said, "I wonder if you would save my place
while I try to find out what the real story is."

"Sure 'nuff," she agreed. "We're not going any place very fast. I'll be here
when you get back."

Already the strike theory had spread, and one could sense the fear and
frustration enveloping the customers. The choice was heady. Was it better to
wait for an incalculable stretch of time, or to leave and forfeit the goods that
had been a challenge to amass?

I inched toward the main entrance. A policeman there appeared to be the only
person communicating verbally with the public. "Is it true the clerks have gone
on strike?" I asked him.

"Wow!" He threw back his head and roared. "Did you hear that one? They think
you're on strike," he told the nearest clerk.

"Who started that rumor?" the clerk asked, stupified.

"Some of the customers," I replied. "If you're not on strike, then what is the
matter? Why aren't the check-out lines moving?"

"The computer broke down. Damn thing just up and quit. Can't do a thing with the
registers until someone comes to fix it."

This struck me as being a severer problem than a strike. At least a hike in
salary could mollify an unhappy employee, but what can be done about a
cantankerous computer if there is no knowledgeable repairman on tap?

"How long will it be before someone gets here, and where are they coming from?"
I asked.

"Who knows?" another employee shrugged. "Just hang in there."

Hang in? And for how long? I decided to query the service desk.

Three girls huddled together behind it in vague fear. They knew little about
what had happened and nothing about what could be done to remedy matters. "Oh
dear, oh dear. What can we do?" one muttered. "Look at the mob in the aisles!"

Addressing another girl, I asked, "Is your manager in the store at the moment?"

"Is he in the store? He'd better be, that's all I can say, or we'll all go

The third girl, slightly more composed, suggested that he would be on the upper
level where the computer held forth. "But you're not allowed up there," she
remarked, defensively.

I sensed that she suspected I might try to storm the computer--or attack the
manager--or perpetrate a violent act of the sort befitting a berserk customer.

"I have no intention of going up after him," I assured her. "I'm just pleased to
learn the source of the difficulty. I'll go back now to report to the customers.
They are becoming angry."

There was no denying their churlish deportment. Sporadic chants demanding
immediate service swelled to a steady throb.

It was push and shove back to my shopping cart. All along the way, I cried out
to as many customers as would heed my words that the strike rumor had been
erroneous. "There is no strike," I repeated, over and over. "There is no strike.
It's just the computer."

My words mollified some of the more belligerent customers who consented,
reluctantly, to grant me passing room.

Upon locating my cart, I discovered that my message had advanced faster than I
had. "Don't worry," the woman saving my place assured me, "they say it's just a
computer. There is no strike."

"Just the computer!" a nearby man hollered. "Who're you kidding? That's an
impossible mess! You don't get computers repaired for days, sometimes weeks.
Probably the company is headquartered some crazy place--like Texas! That would
be just our luck!"

That tore it! The rumor erupted, inviting anger to billow forth as word
ricocheted around the store that the computer had blown up and would have to be
replaced. A new one being shipped from Texas would not arrive for at least a

The mob surged forward. Or was it merely pressure amassed from shoppers queuing
up behind us?

By now, all of the aisles facing the check-out counters were packed solid to the
rear of the store with customers, their shopping carts laden with food. Surely
thousands of dollars were at stake. Each person demanded immediate attention,
computer or no. Hadn't the flyers received in the mail, the newspaper ads, and
the gala banners strewn across the facade of the building promised super

These people let it be known they had not driven all the way from Elizabeth,
Glen Rock, Ho-Ho-Kus, and Heaven-Knows-Where to be done in by a microscopic
computer component.

"So get a cash register!" someone yelled.

"Cash register? Phooey! Get a hand calculator!" another suggested, in an unkind

"Whatsa matter?" a more practical man boomed. "Ain't youse never heard of addin'
wit' paper?"

A small child up ahead screamed with fury as the mob drove him into a magazine
rack. "Gun shots!" someone gasped.

A sharp, metallic edge had popped the child's huge balloon bearing a slogan
suggesting strict allegiance to Shop-Rite Super Markets.

In retaliation for his loss, the boy kicked his mother, who responded in kind by
slapping him smartly and yelling for all nearby to hear, "Shut up, you fool kid!
It's those jerks behind me who ain't got no manners! Quit your shovin'!"

The child screamed bitterly, but his cries were drowned by the drone of
dissatisfied customers. Many among us were becoming edgy toward our adjacent
fellow man with whom we were presently congregated for no reason other than we
had elected to patronize the Grand Opening on this fateful Friday afternoon.

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