By Joe Rector
Believe it or not, Americans can be a rather nice people. Oh, we have our weaknesses and often display less than model behavior, but at the same time, we are quick to come to the aid of others or to perform acts of kindness. Our “good” sides are often taken advantage of by businesses for their profit.

One place is fast food restaurant. Places like McDonalds have trained us like pets. We stand in slow-moving line or pull our cars into ones where we sit forever to order our food; then we place our orders and again wait an eternity for them to be filled. With trays in hand, we settle at tables that might have been cleaned or might still be covered in crumbs, ketchup, or some other unidentifiable “smutz.”

After we finish our food, like good children, we gather our empty wrappers, cups, and containers and carry them to a garbage can, where we dump them and neatly stack our trays. It’s almost as if we were once again in elementary school and were being taught correct cafeteria behavior. What I’m curious about is the benefit to us to clean tables and haul trash. I’ve never done such a thing at a “sit-down” restaurant. I keep the table as neat as possible, but after paying the bill, I simply rise and walk toward the exit. Has anyone noticed a cut in prices of fast food that results from customers’ policing eating areas? What might be more noticeable is the rise in prices for smaller Big Macs and Egg McMuffins.

The same kind of behavior occurs at grocery stores. Not long ago, I shopped at the Ingles store near home. The store was bustling with customers, most of whom were buying foods for the upcoming July 4th holiday. I finished finding the items on my list and headed for the checkout area. To my dismay, other shoppers were lined up at the one register that was opened. Frustrated shoppers headed to self-checkout lines to scan items in loaded shopping carts. The anger levels rose with each passing second. I told the cashier that I realized he was working as fast as he could, but that I was pretty sure the building was a good one to locate a real grocery store. He confided that employees failed to show up and the management was too cheap to hire enough workers. My wife likes Ingles, but I don’t plan a return visit any time soon.

Of course, all the grocery stores have instructed us that we can check ourselves out and finish more quickly. We do it with no hesitation. However, I don’t think the companies are slashing prices to reward shoppers for their efforts to get out of the store in a timely fashion.

We customers have also been well trained at convenient stores. We pull up, get out of our cars, and pump our own gas. After dark, we have to go inside if our payment is to be made in cash because of others’ acts of theft. We used to have equipment for cleaning wind shields… squeegees, paper towels, and cleaner. Alas, the crashing economy must have put an end to such extravagances. Now, we can save a dime on each gallon if we get a membership card and buy enough stuff from these stores. My question is this: if these convenient stores can cut the price of gas with some gimmick, is it possible that they are overcharging for the fuel in the first place?

Some might call me a cranky ol’ coot. Maybe I am, but the point here is that customers are blindly obedient to companies. Why should I clean a table to keep up profits for the golden arches or the king’s restaurant? What happened to staffing a grocery stores with enough employees so that customers don’t stand four or five deep and wait while their frozen foods thaw in the carts? Finally, when did we buy into pumping our own gas while prices skyrocket and companies make fortunes off our efforts?

It might do us all some good if we demanded a little something for our extra efforts. No, it doesn’t have be a fortune. Just a little goodwill from businesses that have trained us to be blindly obedient would be nice if a cut in prices is out of the question.