Routines can take on a robotic nature at times, but it was not until recently that I discovered that it can be the other way around as well. Or so it seemed anyway on my daily routine stop at Superamerica, where Mrs. Roboto works the cash register every morning. Every day she greets me with the same emotionless "good morning," and bids me farewell with the equally emotionless "have a nice day." She looks right at me but has never seen me. Each and every one of her actions can be predicted with pinpoint accuracy. Never a hint of emotion or an attempt to socialize with customer or co-worker. Not once has she shown a sign of recognition at my appearance, though I am there most every day. I often attempt to sneak a peak at the back of her uniform to see if there is a switch.
Day in and day out, the questions grow in the back of my mind. Is there a soul behind those lifeless eyes? Have you ever laughed? Have you ever cried? Do you sing along to the radio in your car? Or do they turn you off and store you in the closet at closing time?
Another new day, and there she is. Morning is busy. I wait in line with my Mountain Dew and egg salad sandwich. Her hair is silver, and neatly put up in a bun. Her glasses went out of style fifteen years ago. She cares not. "Good morning four fifty-nine have a nice day good morning eight ninety-seven have a nice day." Customers come and go. She is unflinchable. She knows where every brand of cigarette is without a second of hesitation. She speaks the total before it even appears on the cash register. Nothing moves her from her routine. I am next.
We've met before haven't we? Doesn't matter. I could have landed from Mars this morning. The routine begins. "Three fifty-nine." I hand her a five. I know she will lay my change on the counter but I hold my hand out anyway. She lays my change on the counter. I turn my hand over and pick it up off the counter. "Have a nice day," she says, eyes already pointed at the customer behind me. It's then that I spot her weakness, and a plan begins to brew.
The next morning. Same as the previous morning. I await my turn. I hand her a ten. Change forthcoming. I try to get my hand under her hand to block the path to the counter, but she has lightning quick speed. I'll have to be quicker than that.
The next morning. Same as the previous morning. I'm ready. I see the open spot on the counter and my hand is ready as if I'm prepared to draw my gun. In one lightning-fast motion, my change hits the counter before my hand can even move forward. Frozen under pressure. I'll try a different approach next time.
The next morning. Same as the previous morning. This time I pay with Visa. I hand her my card and she swipes it and lays it on the counter in the same motion before I have a chance to blink.
This morning. Same as the previous morning. Back to cash. This time I hand her a twenty. My change will be sixteen dollars and seventeen cents. An odd sum like this will gain me precious milliseconds. My heart races. This is the day. She pulls out a ten, a five, and a one, and aims for the counter. But this time, in a move that would make Mr. Miyagi proud, my hand is there first. I close my hand around the bills and then glance up to meet her eyes. A brief moment of disbelief, a small glimmer of emotion in her eyes, and then....
"Have a nice day."