At the checkout, I was greeted by the young cashier, who was really quite friendly considering that the store was a madhouse of people who had apparently delayed all of their holiday shopping until the day before. (The person right before me had a $412 order including two turkeys, a leg of lamb and a ham!) He rang my order and I slid my American Express card through the customer terminal, chose the "credit" option, pressed the "enter" button and waited. In my experience at this particular store, the next screen I should have seen would have been the acceptance prompt: "Your total is $x.xx. Is this okay?" Instead, the screen said "Waiting for Cashier."
The cashier looked at me, expectantly. I looked at him. After about 15 seconds of this impasse, I asked "is something wrong?" He looked at his terminal and read aloud "It says 'system busy, please wait.'" I nodded. With the volume of business the store was doing, I wasn't surprised. (Plus, we're out in rural nowheresville, and it was freezing cold and snowing, so it wouldn't have been odd for a communication line to be out of commission somewhere.) We waited a bit more and the cashier turned to the co-worker on the next line over and asked her if her terminal was working. She said it was. He asked how he could reset things so that we could try my transaction again. She said she wasn't sure and he should ask their front line manager.
Just then the front line manager came stomping over with this scowl on her face and snarled "What now?" at the cashier, as though he were a perpetual screw-up. (Which, perhaps, he is, though I saw no evidence of such, and this wasn't his fault, in any case.) He stepped aside and showed her the "system busy" message on his terminal and said "How do I clear this?"
The front line manager starts hitting keys with a heavy sigh and says "she didn't do it right" meaning that the problem was my fault. Uh, no. Then she says, under her breath "damn ACCESS people." My eyebrows were up somewhere on the top of my head at that, I knew she didn't just go there. But she did. She looked up to me with a sneer and condescendingly said "You have to slide your ACCESS card again, you didn't do it right. You have to read the screen."
ACCESS is the name for the electronic balance transfer system used in Pennsylvania for recepients of food stamps. The card which program recepient use are, to the best of my knowledge, either white or bright yellow with a blue logo and no hologram or embossed name or number on them. My American Express card, which I was tapping on the top of the counter at the time, in plain sight, looks like this. Not white or yellow, no blue logo, hologram, embossing, picture of centurion, the whole deal. There's no reason why anyone with working eyes (and hers were, she didn't even wear eyeglasses) who wasn't colorblind (and I'm guessing she wasn't, as colorblindness primarily afflicts men) would confuse it with an ACCESS card.
The best I could figure is that the front line manager concluded that because I'm not a white person I must be using food stamps, and because there was some problem, it must have been something I did.
The cashier said, in a soft voice "It's an American Express card." but the front line manager had already stomped off to ruin someone else's afternoon. I swiped my card again, this time the system worked -- slowly, but it worked -- and I signed the receipt was getting ready to go when the cashier said "I'm really sorry about that. You have a real good holiday, ma'am." I thanked him and was ready to leave when I decided that I wanted to talk to the manager of the store.
After waiting ten minutes, the store manager came out to the customer service desk and I was able to tell him what happened. I said "You know, I see absolutely nothing wrong with accepting assistance to feed your family when you're having a rough time of things. That's what programs like ACCESS are for. But I have a really big problem when someone ignores what's plainly in front of their face and presumes that I'm a food stamp recepient and then proceeds to treat me badly because of that presumption." The manager hemmed and hawed and finally, the best he could come up with was some half-hearted non-apology that glossed over the front line manager's intolerable rudeness, including the line "I mean, uh, well, most black people who come in here are on food stamps." I was flabbergasted. My jaw may have literally dropped open. I gave him the dirtiest look I could muster, and stated in my nastiest voice "I. Am. Not. Black. Even if I were, that doesn't excuse anything. In fact, it makes what just happened here all the worse. Good day, sir."
I turned on my heel and left the store. I remain, however, spitting mad. Completely and totally spitting mad.