Bernhardt column: What happened to Alpha Bits?
I was standing in the parking lot of my local Food Lion this morning, and I had one of those ěflashbacksî you hear about from time to time.
There was no strange music or out-of-focus images like in the movies or on TV. Just a memory trip to a time long ago when life was, well, simply different.
I had just finished loading my own grocery order onto a checkout conveyor belt where each item was scanned by a laser and placed at the end of the counter. The cashier then bagged the items himself and placed them into a buggy for me to roll to my car and unload myself.
ěWait a minute,î I thought.
I seem to remember a time when the cashier actually unloaded the items from your cart, scanned each item with her eyes for a price sticker, rang it up, then placed your merchandise at the end of the checkout counter where a real live bagboy would bag them up and load them into a buggy. You would then drive by, and yet another employee would load your groceries into your car.
What ever happened to that?
Little by little, it disappeared, thatís what. That kind of service became too expensive to maintain, and it slowly faded from existence.
Itís a little sad when you think about it. You see, I worked at Food Lion in the days when it was Food Town, and providing that kind of service is what I did, right down to sweeping the parking lot early each morning.
I was called a ěfront end manager,î pretty much just a glorified bagboy. We had regular cashiers who manned their posts faithfully, and I would float from checkout to checkout assisting them however I could.
I would price check a can of Spam one moment, help with a cleanup on aisle two the next, count up a customerís soft drink returnable bottle money, and ěoh, thereís the bellîÖoutside Iíd go to load a customerís groceries into their car.
I was a man of many talents. During cashier lunch breaks, I would even ring a few orders on my own. All for about three bucks an hour, after I was promoted to front-end manager of course.
My brush with the past got me thinking about other things that disappeared while we werenít looking. So I made a small list that seems to keep growing:
Those returnable bottles I just mentioned. Kids could easily double their allowance by picking up a few stray ones on the side of the road.
The NBC peacock. It gloriously reminded us that the show we were about to watch was ěbrought to you in living color.î I guess at some point, there was no reason to point that out anymore.
Meg Ryan. Does she make movies anymore?
Kids knocking on your door asking if they could do some odd jobs for extra money. In the late 60s, my neighbor paid me five bucks to mow his lawn each Saturday. Five bucks was a fortune back then.
Catchy theme songs at the beginning of TV shows. ěCar 54 Where Are You?î had the best one. Most shows today have a very abbreviated theme if they have one at all. ěThereís a holdup in the BronxÖBrooklynís broken out in fightsÖ..î Classic.
The late June Faith Fourth of July Street Dance. I just turned around one day, and they werenít having it anymore. It used to be the social event of the summer, even if you were like me and couldnít dance.
Charles Chips ń delivered to your home. Yes kids, every Saturday afternoon without fail, a man driving a potato chip truck would show up at your home with a fresh can of Charles Chips. All we had to do was give him the old empty can and a couple of bucks. Sometimes weíd treat ourselves and get two if momís canasta night was coming up.
David Hartman. I know heís still alive, but whatís he been doing since he left ěGood Morning America?î
The Frito Bandito. Fritos were so tasty, heíd steal them from you. Too ethnic, I guess.
Crispy Critters Cereal. ěThe one and only cereal that comes in the shape of animals.î And while Iím on the subject, has anyone seen a box of ěAlpha-Bitsî lately? My sources say they were taken off the market in 2006.
Ushers at movie theaters. Man, could we use them todayÖespecially a few tough ones to go after cell phone users.
These are but a few of Americaís staples that have slowly vanished from our lives. Iím sure you have your own list.
Iím not complaining. I know life is an ever changing journey. But right now, Iím really craving a bowl of Alpha-Bits.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury