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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Checker, please

by Mike Masterson | July 6, 2021 at 3:01 a.m.

Attention Walmart shoppers, I believe I've experienced the future for the retail behemoth's customers. I also predict there are those who won't be all that excited.

In fact, a tongue-in-cheek social media meme likely expressed the feeling of many Wallyworld shoppers by claiming the company owed him for putting him to work as "a checker without training."

After gathering items in the Walmart Supercenter at Branson the other day, I looked in vain for a checker-operated line with fewer than five waiting customers. I didn't see even one line because there wasn't a single checker to be seen.

Call me spoiled, but I've become conditioned (by Walmart itself) to having a smiling cashier earning their living by handling the transfer of my money into the publicly held corporation's account.

What I discovered in their place this day were at least 17 self-service checkout stations and a dozen folks waiting in a single line to acquire an open machine and pay the world's largest corporation what we owed it.

Although the self-service line moved a bit faster than anticipated, it was difficult to spot a smile among the shoppers.

The experience also left me wondering how many jobs will be lost by this transition to electronic beeps and an impersonal recorded sendoff from the machine that repeats, "Thank you for shopping at Walmart!"

I also couldn't help wondering how many customers in the future might choose a shopping experience elsewhere that still includes cashiers. I did notice competitor Dollar General Stores across Harrison was closed for several days to fully remodel to offer more merchandise.

I asked an employee in a yellow vest on my way out if her store's self-service approach represents the future of Walmart. She smiled, saying, "I sure hope not."

Yet I won't be surprised (if it's not already on the drawing board in a Walmart boardroom) to see stores of the future serving mostly as merchandise and grocery transfer centers. We will order online or by app to be delivered to waiting vehicles or perhaps our homes.

SUV fast track

Speaking of obsolescence, I didn't believe it when Jeanetta told me two friends with competing auto sales lots advised her SUVs are taking over the market, selling faster than conventional cars, and are the wave of the future. "They told me cars will become obsolete," she said.

There was no doubt to me that SUVs of all makes and models are as popular today as pickups. But ... surely not more than our beloved automobiles?

But doubts began to swell as we drove the freeway the other day.

Just for fun, we began taking note of vehicles we saw coming and going. Our running tally over a few miles went something like this: "SUV, SUV, pickup, SUV, car, SUV, SUV, SUV, pickup, car, SUV, SUV, SUV, crossover, car, pickup, van." OK, enough already! You get the picture.

There is no earth-shattering revelation here, I suppose. Yet it should be enough for valued readers who consider resale value in a vehicle important and a point worth considering when trade-in time swings around.

Wake up, Hollywood

We went to the movie theater last week for the first time in months. The comfy new power recliners were perfect for kicking back. The popcorn tasted even better than I remembered. Hooray.

Then came the movie. I've written previously about Hollywood's obsession with churning out boring films centered not around great acting and compelling writing (think "Shawshank Redemption," "Dances With Wolves," "Cape Fear," "Saving Private Ryan," etc.) but rather mindless, non-creative violence, sex and special effects.

The car-chase scenes, endless explosions, bedroom scenes and obvious attempts at social engineering left us looking at each other with no need for words. We'd had enough after 30 minutes.

Coming attractions were promoting the same ilk. There wasn't one among them that appeared the least interesting, unless you're a fan of Marvel comics, loud noises, blood and gore.

No one asked, but had they, I'd tell them Hollywood is going to have to do far better if it hopes to lure people away from TV streaming services by providing some films entertaining and creative enough to fork over at least $10 each to watch.

We enjoyed three compelling movies and two series last weekend on Netflix and Amazon that put the theater offerings to shame.

I feel certain I'm by no means alone. There were eight other people in the theater when we walked out. One was asleep.

Get ya one

Still have some of my CDs "Rhythms of Life from a Southern Journalist" available for free, containing 14 timeless columns dating to the turn of the century (just kiddin'). I'm asking a whopping $5 to cover cost of mailing. You could use it as a plastic disc for your dog should the contents leave you cold, or perhaps a cure for insomnia: 1002 West Bunn Ave., Harrison, Ark. 72601.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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