Solving the bagging problem, one insulated bag at a time

I am married to The Bag Lady of Shoreline Proper, which is quite handy, considering the sorry state of “baggage” in Connecticut supermarkets.

Unless you shop with the Flintstones and Rubbles at Bedrock Rib and Thigh, and bag your groceries in receptacles made from dried Tyrannosaurus skin, you’ve probably been affected by the new regulation governing the use of single-ply bags in retail outlets. On Aug. 1, a new Connecticut regulation went into effect mandating retailers to charge customers 10 cents per single-use plastic bag, those typically used to collect groceries and similar items. Governor Ned Lamont proposed the fee to discourage retailers from selling the environmentally harmful bags.

Rather than irk customers by charging for bags historically provided free of charge, most Big Box outlets have purged their inventory of single-ply bags. Instead, local chains such as Stop & Shop, Shop Rite, and Big Y have offered heavy duty paper bags (for a limited time) and/or lightweight reusable totes, at a modest price. These outlets also have encouraged customers to use their own bags.

Some prescient shoppers, such as The Bag Lady of Shoreline Proper, aka my wife Deb, switched to their own bags years ago. Today, she boasts an inventory of tote bags that rivals the New York Public Library’s selection of 53 million items.

There’s the heavy-duty, reusable bags from the Rachael Ray collection, including the hallmark ‘Chill Out,’ which is strong enough to lug 13 granddad-sized watermelons from a store’s produce department to your awaiting automobile. She also sports a myriad uninsulated cross-shoulder totes from Thirty-One. These feature lovely designs of curlicues, bright flowers and spotted spots.

This assortment of bags comprises the foundation for Deb’s weekend shopping system she calls “The System.”

Never more was The System tested than when we went grocery shopping on the opening day of the new NFL football season. It took us a mere 40 minutes to shop; the challenge came when we tried to check out.

The front end of the store teamed with frenetic, zig-zagging people of all ages and genders, many clad in oversized, bright jerseys bearing the name and colors of their favorite football teams. Meanwhile, eight cash registers were open, each manned by a wide-eyed attendant certain to break down from the crushing blitz of impatient and hungry linebacker-sized shoppers.

Lines crisscrossed each other until the space between the aisles and cash registers overflowed with a near gang-tackle among the dozens of shopping gridironers.

“I know its’s the start of the NFL season, but this is ridiculous,” a woman with a snow cone of downy white hair and pale blue, impatient eyes lamented, from a serpentine checkout line adjacent to ours.

“Probably the confusion over these silly plastic bags,” I added. “Neither the customers nor the cashiers quite know what to do with or without them.”

For instance, one bald man in line five had an IKEA bag, large enough to hold a child’s crib, slung over one sloping shoulder. A preteen blond girl with a face full of thousands of freckles held in one hand a box of Twinkies; in the other was a freezer bag, sadly frozen shut with God-knows-what “stickum.”

Not surprisingly, cashiers and baggers alike struggled to process their customers’ orders efficiently. As a result, it took us 21 minutes to reach the checkout register.

When we did, we faced a 60-something female cashier with a taut mousy face (probably from stress) and a voice like a parakeet’s (probably from stress).

“How are you folks?” she asked somberly.

“Fine. We have our bags!?” Deb said a little too cheerfully, perhaps. She handed a stack of some 66 totes to the bagger, a middle-aged, pallid man, probably wan thanks to the avalanche of bags he’d stuffed throughout the morning. He glanced at me, stared into Deb’s hypnotic blue eyes, and then fumbled with the tumbling mountain of totes. He dropped at least 27 of them onto the dirty, unforgiving concrete floor. (The five-second rule also applies to grocery food bags.) He quickly collected himself and the overturned bags and began opening them, very deliberately.

Deb then snapped me into action by barking like a quarterback, “You know my system, start unloading.”

I did. First to hit the conveyor belt were the frozen items – excluding Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden – which would go into three of the high-cost, high-protection Rachael Ray “leak proofer” totes. Cold items, next – round fruit into one bag, oblong fruit into a second sack, and “hermefrifruits” such as tomatoes (fruits often confused for veggies) into a separate container.

Broccoli had its own bag, because cauliflower and broccoli do not make for good bag fellows. Cold drinks followed - into the less expensive insulated sacks. Household goods — canned items, including beans, Chef Boyardee products, wet dog food for the clairvoyant canine - went next, headed to a bag impervious to scratching. Cat food for finicky felines addicted to National Public Radio would get its own bag. Cereals — all 30 gluten-free flavors favored by my daughter Commander B — would need five more bags. Poisonous products such as Beard and Mustache Coloring for Men without Mustaches and Beards, and Drano drain and pipe cleaner for pipe smokers would find their own bag. Then, stuff for the mind and body: aspirin, Tums (the 500-tablet bottle), rectal thermometers (family pack), toenail clippers for Ethiers and reptiles, etc.

And so it goes… if all went well.

Which it did not.

While I may know Deb’s system, the bagger did not. So frazzled was he in trying to figure out which items went into which bags that, halfway through checkout, he called a penalty on us for “Illegal Use of the Bags.”

Undaunted, I shoved my way through the mountain of totes and piles of goods, took a spot beside the man, at the foot of the register. I opened three bags, and, following The System, loaded each item into its proper receptacle. When those were chock full, I opened three more bags. And so on, until every item was in its proper bag and every bag held its proper items.

Finally, just before kickoff time, we paid our bill and rushed breathlessly out of the store, leaving our cashier and bagger waving for a “time out.”

As we loaded the 66 bags of groceries into our SUV, I pondered our interminable shopping fiasco, thanks to The Baggie Affair.

I wondered, “Why is that when the government tries to do the right thing, it makes everything worse?”

Connecticut Media Group