Messing with Trader Joes Customers

The customers at the U-District Trader Joe’s in Seattle are an oddly-stressed bunch of students, employees, and housewives. They’re often terse, slightly confused, and more often than not extremely cranky. So I naturally like to mess with them in small controlled experiments. Here’s one of my favourites.


Go to Trader Joe’s in a mid-afternoon or other period where they’re busy, but not crush-level busy. When you’re ready to check out, look for two adjacent checkstands that both have customers currently being checked out, but have nobody else in line. Simply speaking, you’d be the first person in either line if you get in one.


Instead of getting in one of these lines, simply stand in the middle between the two. The reasoning (which is entirely logical to me) is that I can just get the next available checkstand, and then anyone who wanders in behind me can get the other one. It’s simple. It’s fair. It works well.

The Results

I did this today, when TJs was hardly busy. There were two mothers and their children checking out ahead of me, and I just placed myself between the two, content to getting whatever one was next. Then a female (and it’s always a female, for some reason) walks up and we have the following conversation:

Customer: What line are you in?

Me: I’m in neither; I wasn’t sure who was going to be done first, so I’ll just get the next one that opens up.


She doesn’t respond. I consider the conversation over and that she accepted my plan of action.

Then I hear a line told in only a way that someone who has rehearsed it many times in the past with her failed relationships.


Customer (annoyed tone of voice): Can you commit?

Me (incredulous): What?

Customer: Can you commit to a line?

Me (seeing one that was almost done by then): Okay, I pick this one.


This whole exchange is a little unsettling, and it’s happened more than once to me. I’m basically forced to choose between a few different conclusions:

  • They are unable or unwilling to stray from the queueing paradigm in favour
  • They believe that by forcing me to choose a line, I may pick the incorrect one, and thus have to wait longer to be checked out even though I was next.

The latter concerns me much more than the former, as it implies that there are people who are basically saying “rather than being fair, I have a chance of making this person pick the wrong line, and thus I’ll actually be checked out before him.” They see it as something of a 50/50 chance of getting ahead by screwing the person in front of you. Well, howdy 21st century!

Leave me Alone: Open Letter to Sidewalk Leeches

The Setup

First you started showing up near shopping centers downtown with your brightly colored vest, laminated pages, notebook, and cheerful personality. We brushed you aside with ease: the sidewalks were large and there were a lot of individuals around. You were a minor inconvenience and we felt bad for hating those who worked for charities. Then you spread from downtown and went from being a minor roadblock to an extreme annoyance.

I see you half a block away when I’m walking down The Ave. There are only two known ways to avoid them: walk in a group, or be talking on your phone. Since I’m usually walking to lunch and can’t pull out my phone without them noticing, I’m trapped. Briefly considering crossing the street, I quickly stop when I realize they have another operative on the other side: cutting off that avenue of escape.

Deploying the standard countermeasures, I try to avoid them: walking quickly, getting as far away as possible, and avoiding eye contact. They usually don’t work. “Hi, can I talk to you for a moment?” you exclaim, holding out your hand. “Want to save the children today?”

With contact inevitable, I shake my head, shoot a glare while looking forward, and say a very firm “no, I don’t.”  While walking away, they usually continue talking to you in a suddenly dismissive manner. “I guess you don’t care about starving children.”

The Grievances

You judge me.

I know what you’re thinking when I don’t talk to you or donate. “Here’s a soulless person who doesn’t care about animals or humans.” How do I know this? Because you attempt to publicly shame anyone who doesn’t talk to you by calling them out.

You have no idea who I am, or what I support. Your logic must be something like this: if (person doesn’t donate to me right now) then (they are animal abusers). It must be wonderful to live in such a protected cocoon from the world and make rash judgements about people you’ve never met before and know nothing about.

For all you know I could support the ACLU, ASPCA, and multiple local charities on a monthly basis. I could be a local volunteer at a homeless charter. Perhaps I’ve spent my life fighting for animal rights. But suddenly I need to prove this to you by giving my credit card number to some annoying person on the street? I don’t think so. Get a life.

You break every rule of civil motility

I’m not making eye contact, I’m trying to actively avoid you, and I’m wearing headphones. This does not mean “please, stand in my way and try to shake my hand.” It means “get the hell out of my way.”

But you choose to ignore every bound of common courtesy. No, I’m not shaking your hand. No, I’m not going to stop and talk. No, I don’t want to talk to you. Ever. The only reason I’m even in earshot of you is because you spotted me like a lone prey a hundred feet off and started running towards me.

You give good organizations a bad name

I try to donate to local charities that make a real difference in my community, but I also acknowledge that there are a few large organizations that I strongly believe in. I willingly donate to them, but every time I see your blue or red vests with their logo on the back, I cringe inside and consider stopping my financial support while sending a strongly worded letter to their headquarters. It’s one thing to solicit donations, but it’s another thing entirely to annoy someone so much that they will actually do the opposite of what you want.

I’m Not Alone

This is a pretty good article on the subject: Gross Profit: Money Given to Clipboard Kids Rarely Makes It to Nonprofits

Tugboating “The Freighter”

I haven’t done a wall of shame in a while, but this is too out of whack NOT to post about it.

This post probably makes me a bad person.

Every few weeks, I take the Seattle->Bremerton ferry to visit my family on the other side of the water. Due to work and scheduling, I almost always take the 6:45PM ferry. Another character who seems to take this same boat is who I shall call “the freighter.”

The Freighter usually arrives early, and always rockets to the front of the queue line. This wouldn’t all be that unusual except for the critical piece of information that The Freighter actually weighs at least 400 pounds and scoots around in a motorized carriage. The Freighter has no qualms about getting as close as possible to others with her carriage, and apparently likes to go as fast as possible and always be first to leave, and first on.

One of the activities I partake in is what I call “Tugboating.” If I arrive before her, I’ll make sure to get right in the front of the line, and pretend to be tuned out in my music and not noticing her slowly sneaking up to the front of the line. I’ll move ever so slightly out-of-the-way, only to move back and block her. I know this is working: she has a pretty angry face after a few minutes of this.

When we start boarding, she also likes to go as fast as possible and somehow move between people walking. Now imagine a 400lb woman in a scooter that weighs at least another 100 pounds. Now imagine that she has some speed behind her and going downhill. This is downright dangerous, and she tries to go as close as possible. She usually succeeds in passing everyone, probably because everyone else is scared of getting their legs broken by The Freighter.

I often participate in Tugboating at this stage as well. I’ll work to block all of the gaps in the people walking, so she can’t pass anyone and gets stuck somewhere. This is even more redeeming, as she often says “excuse me” in an angry voice and tries to get through anyway.

Yes, this is probably the highlight of my weekend.

Why I Hate The Post Office

Amazon had me at “free shipping” with the free offer of Prime to students for a year. Quick shipping speed, no minimum price limit, and great prices means that I’m a frequent customer of the US Postal Service insofar as I receive a large number of packets on-time and undamaged.

Being a customer of the US Postal Service when shipping items, however, is an entirely different experience. I ship things on a fairly regular basis, and it didn’t take me long to figure out a few things about the post office, such as:

  • You can use any box you want, even one from home that has “Amazon” written all over it. They really don’t care what you use. If you do decide to buy a box there, it’s okay to write on it while waiting in line to pay for the box and the shipping.
  • If you have something special regarding this shipment, such as “delivery confirmation,” “priority mail” or “sending to a foreign country,” there are forms you need to fill out.  You should grab one in line and fill it out before going to the counter.

Seems simple, right? I now present to you the denizens at of the U-District post office, and the root of my anger.

I’m not talking about the employees. They’re calm, efficient, and very friendly. I’m talking about the customers who I have to wait in line behind and silently wish would spontaneously combust in front of me. Oh yeah, it’s that bad.

Let’s take a look at an average situation when I go in to mail something.

Normally mild-mannered Nikky has packaged and labelled a box he wants to ship. All that needs to happen is to hand it to the employee, have them weigh it, and then pay for postage after being told a few price points. Done in 90 seconds, tops.

When he enters the facility, there is an average line of about 6-8 people in front of him, and 2-3 postal workers processing the queue. However, Nikky soon realizes these people are completely unaware of how shipping actually works.

First there’s the “shipping something to Thailand” customer. They usually manage to at least get something packaged and addressed, but either a) had no idea shipping something overseas involved customs forms, or b) knew there were customs forms, but had absolutely no idea how to fill them out. These transactions usually last 5 minutes.

Then there’s the classic “box in front of the post office employee” customer. They will select a box to buy, and somehow think that they are not allowed to place anything in it or write on it until they get to the counter. So we all have to wait for them to package it before their transaction is finished. Approximately 3 minutes.

As a companion to the aforementioned box-difficulties person there’s the “stuff everything into the wrong envelope” individual. Their characteristic trait is to randomly select a priority mail envelope, notice that it doesn’t have a price, and stuff some extremely heavy and low-priority shipment into this envelope. When they hit the front of the queue, the employee then has to explain what priority mail is,  de-package the content, and tell them that the envelope has to be flat and that placing a literal brick in it is not allowed. Approximately 5 minutes, because the customer usually doesn’t understand what “flat” means.

We also have the always fun “price complainer” who usually shares a category with the priority mail or international shipment customers. After everything is going smoothly, they then decide to complain about the pricing. This forces the employee to stop, explain the price, and wait for the customer to make up their mind. After taking about 400,000 years (approximately), they usually decide to continue the transaction after confirming at least three or four times that they really are getting the cheapest option to ship an elephant to Iceland. Approximately 4 minutes.

Finally, there’s the customer who thinks it’s okay to package their materials in something roughly comparable to saran wrap. This, of course, is not recommended and the ditful employee has to re-package it with proper materials and methods. Two minutes.

Then it’s my turn. I ship my package in 60 second transaction and leave, silently resolving to never return.

“Huskies for Israel” = “Tree Killers”

So the geniuses at the group “Huskies for Israel” seem to be blanketing the campus with their flyers, which I don’t really have a problem with.

Until I noticed two of the priceless cherry trees on the Quad. Covered with little blue 4″x5.5″ flyers. That are stapled to the trunks.

I’ll repeat that. Stapled to the trunks.

What a bunch of idiots.

Note: I forgot to take a picture of this I was so angry. If you snag a shot, hook me up. :)

How to spot a legit deal on craigslist

From: Eddy <**************>
To: Nikky <***************>
Subject: Think he’s legit?
Date: Tue, 9 Sep 2008 19:32:12 -0700


Yes it is!
Would you like to buy the 8gb iPod Touch for $200? If so,
where/when would work to meet up?

i really appreciate for the mail in quick response i intended to make pick
for the item but due to some circumstances am facing in my business am out
the state presently all left with me now is my paypal account and for the
package am sending it to one of my client in oversea who went there for a
proposal on my new location so don’t be annoy with me for not making
available pick up for your item am adding additional $100 to your money to
cover the shipping through usps {EMS} GLOBAL EXPRESS MAIL SERVICE so with
prestigious heart kindly make haste in response with your paypal account id
for the fast payment into your account thanks very much and await your response soon