My Greatest Fear #40: Having 21 Items in the “20 Items or Fewer” Checkout Lane

Yesterday I hurried through the grocery store on my way home, checking off items on my list like a professional shopper. When I arrived at the front of the store to check out, I discovered that most of the lanes were crowded, with one exception: The 20 Items or Fewer aisle.

I scanned my cart, quickly counting items. I counted about 15. Could it be? Was it worth the risk? Was today the day?

I usually have either way more than 20 items or only 1 or 2, so it was a rarity for the 20 Items or Fewer aisle to be an option. So it felt like a luxury as I took my place in line.

A luxury riddled with the fear that I had over 20 items in my grocery cart.

mystic1[1]Nervously I unloaded item after item onto the conveyor belt, counting as I went, wondering if larger items counted as more than one. As I reached the mid-teens, I discovered a whole bevvy of items covered by my canvas grocery bags. The horror. I wasn’t going to make it. There was no way.

The next few minutes played out vividly in my mind. The attendant would hit a secret button under the counter that would send Grocery Police swarming around the aisle. I’d flail desperately like Sean Penn in Mystic River as they pulled me away from my cat treats at 2-ply toilet paper, bargaining with them. “I’ll return the Hacienda salsa,” I’d scream. “It’s just a backup–I already have some at home!”

But my cries would fall on deaf ears, because the Grocery Police have their eardrums removed when they receive their badges from the Chiquita Banana School of Grocery Policemanship. They’d drag me into some dark corner of the store, some aisle that no one ever visits like the gluten-free pencil aisle (2a). There they’d punish me for my inability to count to 20, hurling obscenities at me like Eagles fans. Eventually they’d bring in the good cop/bad cop combo, something against which I have no defense.

Good Cop: Jamey, come on, it’s really not that big of a deal. You had 21 items in your cart. You were close, right? Everyone makes mistakes. Just tell us the truth about what happened and we’ll let you go home to your cats.

Bad Cop (swiping cans of gluten from the shelves): This is your home now!

And I’d give in. I’d have to. I simply love good cop/bad cop too much.

As the scenario ends in my mind, I finish my count. 17 items. 18. 19….and that’s it. 19 items. 1 under the threshold. I am victorious!

I made it. Under the judging, watchful eye of the attendant, I made it. And you can too.

Do you share this fear? Have you ever gone over the threshold? Tell us your story. It’s time the world knew the truth.

9 thoughts on “My Greatest Fear #40: Having 21 Items in the “20 Items or Fewer” Checkout Lane”

  1. I love this too much for words.

    Oh, who am I kidding? This is me, and I’m probably going to write something far too long in response.

    I can look at this from both angles, because my first job growing up was in a grocery store, and I worked the express lane many times. Kids, this was back in the days before self-checkout, if you can believe such a time existed. We had probably just converted from those old-timey registers where you pull the lever on the side like a slot machine to open the cash drawer, and soda was just a nickel. I can tell you that it didn’t really bother me one way or another if someone brought 5 items or 35 items to my register. I was there until the end of my shift no matter what, and it’s not like I was getting paid per transaction. At times when the regular checkouts were busy but express was dead, I would go looking for people with half-full carts to drag to my lane, both to alleviate the boredom and help the customers get out of there faster. Plus, I was the Fastest Checker in the West, so you’d still be trying to count your items while I had gotten another two customers out the door.

    Flash forward to last week, as I stand on the other side of the counter, now with 15 years and a few more pounds added (though the weight on my drivers license has mysteriously remained the same. God Bless you, DMV lady). I was like you because my containers of yogurt were hiding under the flour tortillas I bought for taco night. In my head I’m trying to justify it like it’s ok, as if maybe my seven yogurts only count as one item since they’re all the same (Mango Chobani, if you must know). But in my heart I’m terrified and I apologize repeatedly to the clerk and chuckle nervously as he looks at the crazy yogurt-lady and wonders when he can go home.

    • Katie–Those were the days, weren’t they? You could buy a car for $100 back then!

      Mango Chobani…got it. I’ll add that to my spreadsheet of Food People Mention in Blog Comments.

  2. I like to intentionally have 2 or 3 more items than the lane allows, and then wait to see if the cashier will call me out on it. 😉

    Do they care? Are they personally offended? Stickler for rules? At what point would there be too many items and they’d ask me to put my stuff back in my cart? Ah, the thrill of the unknown!

    • Penelope–You rogue! I can see you daring the cashier to say something. Your version of the blog entry might go quite differently.

  3. When I do my grocery shopping, I usually try to make sure that my list is well under the allotted 20 items, so I’ll be able to use the express lane (and so I will be able to use the mini-cart instead of the giant normal sized one). The times when I’ve deviated from my list, I’ll start counting each additional item as it goes into the cart, and I hope that as long as I’m only 2 or 3 over, they won’t bust me in the express lane for being over the limit. So far, I’ve managed to sneak by without any hassle from the checkers or other shoppers in line.

    What confuses me about the grocery store/other shoppers is when people use the self checkout to ring out an entire normal size shopping cart in the speedy line. I can’t remember if there’s an item limit for that line, but it seems like there should be one since that line is usually packed with people who are in a hurry.

    • Katy–Well done sneaking by the watchful eye of the cashier those few times. And I definitely agree about the self-checkout lane–it’s not the place for full carts. That sounds like something the rogue Penelope would try to do.

  4. Let’s get to the heart of this post: Jamey used the correct phrase 20 items or fewer, not 20 items or less. And I am here to give him the accolades he deserves. When half of the stores themselves get it wrong, Jamey stood up and made it right. Thus, 21 items is no matter in the face of good grammar.


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