July 13, 2008
When I was a child going to the grocery store and watching the bag boy work was always fascinating to me. Standing at the end of the conveyer belt, he sorted items into different bag. Some items were shunted aside for later bags, occasionally an item was repositioned in a new bag. They were fast and efficient, able to keep up with the checker, and having everything in the cart ready to be wheeled to our car by the time my mom had paid and gotten her change and receipt.
Today stores like Walmart have done away with the bagger; putting the bags on a rotating stand next to the checker, so that he or she can scan the item and deposit it immediately in a bag. The layout of their workstation doesn't lend itself to the priority sorting the bag boy of my youth was able to perform. There isn't a place to set things aside until enough items of similar consistency, fragility, or heft are amassed and ready to be bagged.
Moreover, it seems that few of these people paid attention when they were last in a store that employed baggers. Even when we position items on the belt in logical bag groupings, they seem to be able combine in the worst possible ways. Bananas in a bag with soup cans. Frozen, and therefore covered with condensation, items with dry goods that hadn't ought to get wet at all.
Some, higher end stores, still have the bagging station at each check out lane, but often as not there isn't a bagger there, leaving the checker to do both jobs. I almost always position myself at the bagging station and start filling bags, in part to speed things up and in part to fulfill the brief childhood dream of being a bagger. Even at these stores, the baggers seem not to quite understand their responsibilities. These items are no longer the stores, they have been bought and paid for by the customer, and should be treated with respect.
Bagging, I fear, is a dying, soon to be lost art.