Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 695, November 4, 2012

"The coming week may well change the course of
history, for better or worse. In my lifetime,
it has always been worse. 2012 my prove to be
America's last good year, the beginning of a
slide into a new Dark Age."

Previous Previous Table of Contents Contents Next Next

What's My Line?
by Chris Claypoole

Bookmark and Share

Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

This is a story about the good and the bad in people. It's entirely trivial compared to what folks in the path of hurricane Sandy are going through, and my heart goes out to them. But my experience illustrates a point, that good people can take care of problems without having to dial 911. Besides, there are plenty of stories being played out right now about how market interactions are helping more people that government actions.

I was in a Safeway store in the middle of the afternoon to buy a candy bar. ("Hi, I'm Chris, and I'm a chocaholic.") As I approached the self-checkout registers, I noticed a line of people that had spontaneously formed for the four registers, so that each person got the next free checkout space. I've been in this particular store many times, and there is no sign or whatever telling people how or where to line up. In fact, I've seen three or four variations of lines, depending on how many people were waiting, etc. At the far end of these registers is usually a Safeway employee to help anyone that has problems working the machines, as the software sometimes is glitchy (personal experience). This day it was a short female. (Be patient, the short thing plays a part later. Heck, I'm vertically challenged myself.)

After about a minute, a large, thirtyish guy, with an 8-10 year old boy in tow, approached the area with a cart that contained a few items like milk and bread. Ignoring the line, which had about a dozen people by now, he walked up to one of the registers. I said something along the lines of, "Sir, the line is back here." The guy turns to the boy (probably his son) and says that this is why he doesn't pay attention to what other people are doing, but just gets things done. I repeated that everyone else had been waiting in line, and it wouldn't be right to just jump in.

The guy then got a little pissy, saying that he didn't see any line. I said that was possibly because he was trying so hard not to. He replied that he didn't see any sign about having the line there, so he could start a line anywhere he wanted. My rejoinder was that, as adults, we didn't need to be told how to act, and had formed the line because it was the best way for everyone to get to the registers in turn. You can see the next part coming, can't you?

He starts to get belligerent, asking who was I to decide whether he needed to get in a line started by someone else, and I came back with words to the effect that he was being rude to everyone that had been politely waiting their turn. He then pushed his cart and son off to the side and got in my face with the standard "Who's gonna make me?" stuff. Remaining calm (not because that's what I normally do, but because I figured it would piss him off more), I said that wasn't the way to go. At this point, a young guy (about 20 or so) came up between us and started berating the Rude Dude, who outweighed Young Guy by about 100 lbs. Shortly thereafter, the Safeway employee noticed what was happening and came up, just as some of the other guys in line were converging on this clown. The female employee had also called for the manager, who ran up about 30 seconds later and got between the Young Guy and Rude Dude.

During this time, Rude Dude's son had started crying and asking for his dad to stop; unfortunately, this had no visible effect on him. After the manager told Rude Dude to cut it out (and mentioned that the police had been called), he took his cart and son and went off into another part of the store. I paid for my candy bar and walked out. The manager and the Young Guy were also outside by then and I chatted with them for several minutes. The Young Guy said he didn't like Rude Dude getting in my face because I was an old guy (that left a bruise on my ego), and he was taught to respect his elders. I told him that I greatly appreciated what he did, and explained to the manager the events above, as he was getting some different info from some others coming out after paying for their stuff. Another man was upset that the female employee took too long to intervene, but I didn't think that was valid, as she was shielded from the altercation by the register island (see, I told you that her height was important), and the beginning of the exchange was not loud.

At this point, a county cop shows up (the manager actually had called them; I had thought it was a bluff). I said that everything was cool as far as I was concerned: no harm, no foul. And anyone who is paying attention knows that getting the cops involved has little, if any, upside. (If you don't know, visit I kept making the point that it was all good, shook hands all around, and left.

The ultimate point that I took from this was that we had a spontaneously generated line, a person tried to take advantage by ignoring that line, and non-violent action by several people, none of whom had ever met before or coordinated their actions among themselves, ended the issue. Anarchy can work! "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!"

Was that worth reading?
Then why not:

payment type


Find Books on Sale at

Big Head Press