Southern Oregon Journal: A salute to the grocery checker

Every so often I like to take a closer look at those many hardworking souls I take for granted. They’re the regulars in our lives — the invisibles. They serve faithfully, don’t reap an extravagant salary, and often put their physical and mental well-being on the line.

I submit to you for closer appreciation a person with whom we may never make eye contact, let alone breathe a kind word to, even though we stand within two feet of him for several minutes — the grocery checker.

Most everyone who shops at the north Medford Fred Meyer will recognize the subject of this week’s column. His name is Tim Klein, and he’s faithfully shown up and checked our groceries day-in and day-out for, get this, 33 years.

“It’s only by the grace of God I’ve made it that long,” Tim said. Doug and Marilyn should also be mentioned here. Doug has been there for a slightly shorter time than Tim, and Marilyn a little longer. I see them all as understated heroes who deserve a simple thank you.

Tim had just finished another eight-hour shift at Freddy’s when he was kind enough to take a few minutes with me over a glass of iced green tea at Mellelo’s. I didn’t pick Tim just because he always announces to all within earshot, “Here comes a future Pulitzer Prize winning author,” as I come through the line.

He has scores of little old ladies, children and everyone in between wrapped around his little finger. That’s why his line is long. His regulars simply choose the wait over a stranger.

Tim’s cashiering stint began in Crescent City before scanners were a thing, and it was cash or checks only — no cards. He had to push each key and call out the prices of every item. Of course, this baited the consumer to tell him what the price should be.

He moved to the Rogue Valley at the urging of his sister following a personal discouragement, and he loves it here — with the possible exceptions of July and August. I get that. Fortunately, he still has family in Crescent City for cool escapes.

I asked him about the obvious physical wear and tear of standing on his feet in one place all the time, bent over picking things up, same movements over and over.

“The older I get, the more I appreciate my recliner,” Tim said with a characteristic chuckle.

He wears Birkenstocks, and Fred Meyer supplies their checkers with quality mats with lots of cushion. He feels good overall and visits his massage therapist and chiropractor monthly for necessary tuneups. He hasn’t phoned in sick since the ’80s.

Holidays can be stressful for a lot of us, but for cashiers it’s a time to dread. It doesn’t stop.

“I try not to let people get to me,” he said.

But sometimes stressed people in eternal lines give him grief for things beyond his control, like a card that won’t work, or something out of stock.

“I wish people would just be nice,” Tim said, while assuring me that far more of his patrons are exactly that. “Old men are the biggest whining cry-babies.” His words, not mine.

And there is a common peeve among checkers, so be forewarned. When an item doesn’t ring up, don’t glibly reply, “Well, it must be free,” followed by self-satisfied laughter. There may be a tipping point.

Tim plans to remain the opening cashier, 7 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., Monday through Friday (seniority has earned him nights and weekends off) for just under nine years more. After that, golf, motorcycles and church activities will fill the hours once spent at family-friendly check stand three, with no plans for a rocking-chair existence.

Thank you to all the hundreds of under-appreciated cashiers out there. While I may not feel your pain, I certainly appreciate your being there for us.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. You can reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.

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