Yesterday I stopped by the grocery store to pick up just a few things. As I went to check out I searched, as we all do, for the shortest line. Usually no matter what line I pick, I’ve picked the slowest, longest line. Do I love that? No. I admit I get peeved at people who go through a ’12 items or less’ line with a full cart. Sometimes when a customer chats too long with the clerk, I get impatient. But to all of these annoyances I react silently, with perhaps an eye roll or two for my own benefit.

Yesterday as I got into a line with one person paying and one gentleman ahead of me. All of a sudden from three check outs down the way, a guy called to the manager. His voice was loud but muffled and he sounded angry. I heard him say that he’d been waiting too long and he needed to leave immediately. The manager promptly had someone open another check out and helped this guy’s wife move her groceries to that line. The guy continued to yell, getting louder and cussing out the manager who had just opened a new line for him.

I admit I was a little ticked. Why should he get a line opened for him just because he’s yelling and causing a scene? What makes him think he’s so much more important than the rest of us? The guy ahead of me turned and asked me if I knew what was going on. He then got out of line and walked down to eyeball this guy. Whatever, I thought.

But the yelling guy didn’t let up and his cussing got more vulgar, directed now at the manager and the check out person. You could feel the tension ramp up by the checkouts. I saw one Mom send her two little kids back down an aisle with instructions to stay there until she came to get them. There was a palpable feeling that this could get dangerous really fast. I found myself thinking, “I hope he doesn’t have a gun.” This is a grocery store, early on a Friday and I found myself thinking through what I should do…leave, move to the back of the store…it felt that unsafe.

The guy blustered off to yell at the people behind the service desk, saying that the front end manager had disrespected him. R.e.a.l.l.y? They called the store manager and the guy went to leave, still yelling, while his wife trailed behind pushing the full cart of groceries.

I paid and then went to where the front end manager and the store manager were talking, the one near tears. “You handled that perfectly”, I said and I meant it. I realized she saw the danger long before I did and decided the best thing was to open a line to get this guy out of the store as quickly as possible. She was shaking and I understood that too. “Really”, I told the store manager, “she did the very best she could under awful circumstances”.

Out in the parking I lot I found the guy who was ahead of me in line just walking back to his car. “Was he yelling out here too,” I asked. This guy told me he walked behind him to his car wanting to talk to him and tell him you didn’t talk to women that way and that he was way out of line. But he said, “he’s a cabbie and those guys all carry guns so I got his cab number and license plate and I’m calling the cab company right now. I don’t know if they’ll do anything but they need to know they have a loose cannon driving one of their cabs.”

Wow, all I wanted was milk and fruit. But I got a lesson along with it. Nothing in any grocery store or the time it takes me to buy it is worth yelling at people who are doing their jobs the best they know how. People get uneasy in situations like that, wondering if this is the next place someone pulls a gun. And NOTHING would have been served if there were more people with guns at the ready, standing in the check out line.

And for just a minute, while people chatted after the guy had left the store and others went to offer support to the store employees, that place became a community. A community made of uncomfortable moments and the reality we all live with in this sad, sad world.

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