Thursday, February 20, 2014

More Progress = Nothing is Easy

A few weeks ago, hurried and on my lunch break, I stepped into the Barnes and Noble bookstore in downtown Royal Oak. My goal was simple: purchase a newspaper.

Every Friday I cash my paycheck in Royal Oak and then take in lunch somewhere in town. But I'm one of these people who can't eat alone if I don't have something to read. Hence the newspaper.

My usual provider, the gas station by the bank, was out of papers, so I remembered B&N.

The bank took longer than usual, so the sands in the hourglass were dwindling. But hey, it's only a newspaper, right?

The newspapers at B&N are located behind the cashier's counter. They're not self-serve.

So first I had to wait for a cashier, which knocked off precious seconds from my meal time. But that wasn't the worst part. The worst part came when I voiced my request.

"Detroit News," please, I said to the college-aged cashier.

He retrieved it. I had my dollar ready, eager to pay, leave, and look for sustenance to jam down my throat.

He needed to scan the newspaper, and that took a few tries before it beeped.

"Are you a Rewards member?" he asked.

No, I am not, I told him, as I jabbed the dollar toward him.

"E-mail please?" he asked.

My jaw dropped.

"For a newspaper?"

He gave me a sheepish look. "I just want to see if you're in the system."

Again, I said, "For a newspaper?" although with much more irritation in my voice.

By this time I sort of tossed the dollar toward him. But he still clutched my newspaper, holding it hostage.

He could see that I was not a happy camper---my annoyance was hardly subtle---and he looked at his co-worker, as if unsure of what to do with a man who just wanted to buy a newspaper and who wasn't a Rewards member and who didn't want to provide his e-mail address in order to purchase said newspaper.

I had had enough.

"I'm in a hurry. Can I just please have my newspaper?" I said.

Finally he relinquished it.

Now, this entire exchange obviously took less time than it did for you to read about it, but when you're in a hurry and all you want to do is buy a newspaper for one dollar and you can't do it without being asked about memberships and e-mails, your stomach grumbling, each second translates to ten times its length.

Thankfully, my normal newspaper provider (gas station) hasn't run out of papers since. And if they do, I'll be damned if I wander into B&N to purchase one. I'll do without, or try to find a box dispenser.

I love the gas station, by the way. I grab a paper, give the attendant a dollar, and walk away. If there is someone ahead of me in line who is buying cigarettes or lottery tickets (don't get me started), I just put the dollar on the counter, wave my newspaper so it is seen, then walk away. The attendant has my back.

At the gas station they don't need to scan the paper. At the gas station they don't ask me any questions. All they do is take my dollar and tell me to have a nice day. I love the gas station.

But this inconvenience, such as displayed at B&N, is happening all over. The ability to make simple purchases without being asked to present membership cards or provide phone numbers and e-mail addresses is slipping away from us. K-mart asks if you want a paper receipt or one e-mailed to you---even if all you're buying is a gallon of milk. And the answer you give can't be verbal---it has to be registered on their debit card thingy.

But hey, this is progress, right?

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