It’s six thirty on a week night, you’ve worked through lunch and you want to throw dinner together quickly. You grab the four items you need to make your signature 10 minute pasta, rush to the Express line….and wait for 10 minutes. Because the person in front of you decided to put all 38 of his items on the conveyor belt. Because the person in front of you has the requisite 15-and-under, but has coupons for each one, and some of the coupons are expired, or for brands other than the ones she’s chosen—and she wants to argue about it. Because the person standing in front of you “forgot one last thing—I’ll be right back!” And then proceeds to be gone for 10 minutes. Because the person in front of you does indeed have only a few things, but has chosen to pay for the entire purchase in change, which she has to 1) wrangle throughout her purse; 2) sloooowly count out to the cashier (“you said that’s $8.23, right? Okay, so far I’ve counted out $3.79…I want to get rid of all my nickels…”) or 3) is waiting for something that a friend is bringing from another part of the store, and none too quickly. So for the purposes of the grocery, the bank, wherever people have to wait in line and the line says Express, here’s the translation: Express means when you reach the cashier, you have the right amount of items (if the sign says 10 or less, then you have 10 or less); you are prepared to pay quickly (your checkbook, if you use one, is out; you can lay hands on your cash quickly or your debit or credit card has sufficient funds that one of Those Phone Calls doesn’t have to be made). If you’re in a bank you’ve written your deposit slip out before you reach the teller’s window. If you’re in a take-out place’s express line and the sign says “to keep it quick, no substitutions, exchanges, etc, please” take it the way they fix it or stand in the longer line. Those of us standing behind you thank you in advance. (It’s quicker that way.)
is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).