Summary: This is a story format message which doesn’t make its point until the very end.
About once every two or three years I get sick. It happened to me Sunday afternoon while I was delivering our son Kirk back to UC San Diego. Coughing, wheezing, runny nose, the whole shebang. So on the way back north on Monday morning I stopped at the Kmart in Temecula to stock up on Kleenex and drugs.
I don’t know what it is about Kmart – they’re pretty much the same everywhere – dingy lighting, narrow isles, and stock hanging off the shelf. And, yes, there was a message over the PA system that thanked me for helping with the Kmart recovery and reassuring me that they are going to be around for the long-haul. I have my doubts, since I think I was the only customer in the whole store (and this is a BIG K!).
When it came time to check out, I walked to the front and not a single cash register was staffed. About that time a second customer walked into the store. He could have been the assistant manager -- for all I know. But I think he was just a nice customer. He saw the bewildered look on my face and pointed me to the self-check-out line. No cashier needed! Cool! I can now go to Kmart and never have to relate to a person! AND I get to swipe my own merchandise across the all-knowing upc reader which rewards me with a beep (just like Pavlos’ dog) each time I successfully make a transacation.
The automated cashier was easy enough to work. But I made a terrible mistake – a grave error of judgment. I used my credit card to pay! And that set off all the sirens and whistles and brought a cashier my direction. Why? The machine required human verification of my photo ID. It said so right on the self-serve screen.
Why is it that I had just pumped $20 worth of fuel at the gas station and that machine didn’t even require any kind of signature – let alone someone to look at my driver’s license? But when I bought $4 worth of Kleenex and generic pseudoephed someone had to come look at my ID and my signature.
Frankly, I find it humiliating every time some proprietor wants to see my license. It’s an affront to my dignity. I can understand that some stores don’t trust their customers as much as other stores. So they have some kind of loss prevention strategy – but it’s still humiliating. Kmart didn’t have faith in me – even though I was at that moment a part of the new Kmart miracle -- restoring the corporation to solvency. And I use the word "miracle" loosely. Don’t blame God if they don’t make it! After all, they just wasted big bucks on a self-serve check-out system which still requires human attention for most every transaction.
Of course, it’s not only Kmart that disses the dignity of their customers. A few weeks ago I was going thru the check-out line at the Turlock Target store and the 18-year-old cashier wanted to see my ID. Oh, did I mention that he’s a member of our congregation and I preach to him every Sunday? He plays in the youth worship band with my number two son. He knows my face better than he wants to. But still, he has to ask for my picture ID – “company policy.”
This is how people living under totalitarian oppressive regimes must feel -- humiliated -- a thousand times worse than what I feel at some big box store. Every time they cross a checkpoint or enter a store they have to whip out their ID and undergo a personal inspection. Again, I can understand why the Israeli soldiers do that sort of thing to the Palestinians. It’s a part of their loss prevention strategy. But it’s also a part of the humiliation strategy. And it shouldn’t surprise the Israelis that humiliated people backed into a corner are going to behave like wild animals.
The irony, of course, is that we live in the “land of the free – home of the brave.” So when someone wants to see an American’s ID it’s usually not a government agent – but a corporate agent. Unlike the rest of the world, we aren’t humiliated by the government as often as we are by our businesses. Where is the real power center of this nation?
So, what should we do about it? I’ll tell you what I do. I don’t get mad. I get even. Every time some 19-year-old credit card jockey wants to see my ID I muster up as much enthusiasm as the day allows, smile as big as I can, and say, “Sure, no problem!” This enthusiasm, of course, raises their suspicions so they look twice as long and twice as hard at that little picture that no longer looks like me.