The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Grand Opening

graphic of page

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 week.

Suddenly, the loud speaker commanded our attention.

"All Shop-Rite specialists to the front ofthe store! I repeat:

all Shop-Rite specialists to the front of the store!"

It took some doing for the specialists to reach their goal.

Nobody in line was about to relinquish his place despite
the plea, "Coming through, please,coming through." The
specialists endeavored to assure the agitated shoppers that
it would be to their ultimate advantage to step aside.

I recognized them as the product representatives who
earlier had been supervising the stock boys stacking the
rapidly emptying shelves. All were garbed in business suits,
conservative ties, and deep frowns. They appeared to be
out of their element in the role of cashier which they
assumed presently.

Other employees shoved through the crowds and
tapped those whose carts contained ten items or less. These
lucky ones were advised, "Take your selections to the
liquor department."

The liquor department cash register was not wired to
the unfortunate computer system; smaller orders could be
handled there. This proved to be token assistance, as most
shoppers had stocked up for the week, but at least some in
the crowd would be dismissed promptly. One man, overlooked for transfer to the
liquor counter, tugged at an
employee's sleeve. "Hey, buddy, How about me?"

The employee surveyed the cart, then relented, "O.K.

Go ahead. You have only fourteen items."

An elderly lady near me, prim and genteel of mien, had
six selections in her cart, "You can be waited on at the
liquor counter," I prodded her, believing she had not
understood the directive.

"Neverl" she retorted. She was adamant. "You'll not
catch me near a drop of liquor!" Doggedly, she stood her
ground behind eight carts brimming with groceries.

Ugly dispositions began to flare. A pugilistic man far to
the rear of our line took exception to the liquor counter
decision. Why should customers with small quantities be
serviced and the rest penalized? Mouthing his protest in XRated terms,he rammed
his heavy cart into the person in
front of him. The chain reaction of cart into flesh reached
me moments later, resulting in a raw heel and a run in my
stockings. By the time all the victims in our line consolidated their ire, the
culprit had melted into the mob.

Another chain reaction erupted as a wave of furious
customers abandoned their carts willy-nilly and stormed
out the doors. En route, they verbalized their resentment
for the indignities being thrust upon them. Several
enjoined the rest of us to follow suit. "Let's show the management we mean
business," one agitator cried.

A few more stoic customers were embarrassed by the
actions of the rash ones, and a girl asked me to guard her
place in line while she did the very least she could do as a
concerned citizen: return the meats and frozen foods in
the abandoned carts to their proper counters.

The compassionate girl need not have worried about
losing her place at the checkout, for we were in the
identical spot when she returned. The customers who
remained-and there were dozens, even hundredsseemed resigned to waiting out the
ordeal. However, most
made it vivid to everyone within earshot that they had no
intention of revisiting the premises. One man put it
succinctly: "It's bad enough being trapped in a Grand
Opening mob, but it's an aboslute crime to be kept
prisoner by a broken-down machine."

He vowed to scrutinize henceforth each market he
enters to make certain it features ". .. good, old-fashioned
cash registers." These, he pointed out, might individually
cease operation on a whim, but odds are they will not all go
on the blink at once.

Several husband and wife duos began bickering as to
whose idea it had been to shop at this store. One man
accused his wife of being unable to resist a Sale, and she
retorted that if he was not such a poor provider she would
not be forced to buy at Sales and Grand Openings in order
to live within his lousy salary.

Numerous epithets were noised abroad, all hinting
darkly of conspiracy in high places, infiltration of the Mafia
into the computer industry, and a secret move afoot to subdue the public. The
general consensus was that computer
programming is the initial step toward the dehumanization of mankind, and if we
submit to its authority, it will be
no time before the communists who design and manufacture computers invade our
private dwellings and spy on 
personal activities.

One man, gifted with sonorous delivery, decried the
implementation of computers in any capacity and spewed
his hatred equally between computers which seldom
operate properly to those which soon will be planted
covertly on our very persons. His captive audience tended
to concur with his prophecy, although their bewildered
faces clearly reflected a failure to trace his blustery line of

Up ahead, two adding machines, newly located, had
been moved into position at two counters. Computation at
the other eight aisles would be done by pencil and paper.

In short, third grade arithmetic was rushed to our rescue.

Hope soared when a computer specialist arrived on the
premises, but he promptly reported that the problem
hovered within the jurisdiction of an electrician. It was anybody's guess when
one would arrive.

No matter, I detected a faintly perceptible forward
motion of our line. The child whose balloon had been
demolished was still whimpering, but his mother buoyed
him with hope. "They're moving along now. See,'the man
is adding up the groceries with his crayon. Hush! Maybe
we'll get out of here some time tonight." Then, more
sternly, "If you don't shut up, the man won't let you out of

Inch by inch, item by item, we battled our way to the
counter as the Shop-Rite specialists patiently added
column upon column of figures. Sometime after 6:00 P.M.,
my order was tallied and packed snuggly in eight brown

Mayhem persisted throughout the Grand Opening
weekend, my neighbor reported, despite the fact that
three registers returned to service late Friday evening. I
shall not belabor her adventures in the store except to
report that she is convinced the world will arrive at a standstill soon thanks
to hysteria born of malfunctioning computers.

Today the Springfield Shop-Rite Super Market basks in
the glory of an operational automated check-out system,
but one cannot help speculating when and where the
public will be treated to the next nightmare sparked by a
capricious computer gremlin.

  An editor read this story and commented, "How clever, it ,
 sounds almost real" The reason it sounds real is because it 
 actually happened and every detail in this account is 
 absolutely true. '

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