The Old Coot misses the grocery box

“Paper or plastic?” That’s what you hear in the grocery store. Plastic was okay when it first appeared. It was strong. You could tie a bunch together and tow a car or load one up with cans of soup and vegetables and walk to your car, confident that the bottom wouldn’t fall out. Now, you have to tip toe to your vehicle, supporting a moderately heavy bag from underneath and hope it doesn’t erupt in the parking lot. Even when the clerk double bags your stuff, you’re not sure it will hold up. 

A lot of shoppers opt for paper, but paper bags usually don’t have handles. If they do, they are glued on in such a way that gives little assurance. And, handles are important. I watch my wife, Marcia, get out of the car and head for our back door with six bags clasped in her left hand four in her right. “Can I help?” I ask, swinging open the door. “YES! Get out of the way please!” There is no safe way to slide a bag or two out of her grasp, which by now is clenched so tight the circulation in her fingers is nonexistent.   

Before there was plastic, paper ruled the mercantile scene. Back then, the option was – “Bag or box?” I’m sure everyone from Gen Z thinks I’m nuts when I refer to a box-boy, that tall, lanky teenager from yesteryear with a couple of zits on his face that helped the cashier get groceries loaded into bags, and just as often, into a box, from the pile next to the checkout station. A typical box, expertly loaded by an experienced box boy, and yes, the vast majority were boys back then, could hold the equivalent of three or four paper bags. A lot easier to handle than trying to juggle an armload of bags stuffed with groceries. You didn’t have to worry about the trip from the store to the car; the box boy handled that leg of the journey. A ten-cent tip sufficed and he had plenty of time to get back inside and pack up the next shopper because there weren’t any scanners in that era; the clerk had to locate a price tag on each item and punch the amount into the register, a much longer process than today. I miss those box days. I miss those box ways.  

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