South Florida

I had too many items in the Publix express lane. Twitter’s justice was harsh and swift.

How many items is really too many at the supermarket express lane?
How many items is really too many at the supermarket express lane? Miami Herald

The court of social media has spoken. Guilty. I’m THAT guy. The dude who has too many items in the Publix express lane, then tries to skate on the legal technicality known as BOGOs.

If it’s Buy One, Get One Free then it should count as one item. Right?

Wrong. So very wrong. Not long after I argued my case on Twitter, a devastating five-page legal opinion came down flatly rejecting my reasoning. The decision, posted on a Miami judicial blog, was attributed to a panel of actual retired appeals court judges, which lent it serious gravitas.

Turns out it was actually written by a blogging defense attorney but its clarity is so compelling that those judges would almost certainly sign off on it. It would stand up to scrutiny from even the U.S. Supreme Court, were it an actual binding legal document and not just the Internet passing judgment on my shopping habits.

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David Ovalle Miami Herald

“Ovalle’s specious arguments are precisely why Miami Herald reporters should report the law, and not make it,” states the faux opinion posted on the JUSTICE BLOG, Miami’s source for criminal-court chatter. “Although Publix had the right to force strict enforcement of the ten-item rule, it did not always do so. Ovalle may have ruined it for the rest of us.”

I disagree with the ruling, of course, but as somebody who covers criminal courts for a living, I respect the law and vow to reform my ways. The decision also could amount to a landmark precedent in what I’ve discovered is a raging national debate about express-lane etiquette.

In my defense, I should point out that there are no actual laws on express lanes and the rules and enforcement are all over the place.

Should a cashier bother to say anything? How many is too many items? Do supermarkets need to rethink the concept of how we organized lines? Should we harness the power of social media to narc on express-lane scoflaws in real time? All important societal questions.

Do “BOGO” items count as one in the supermarket express lane? David Ovalle Miami Herald

But let’s back up first.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in Publix, with 11 items in my hand basket and little patience for the regular checkout line. BOGO baby! Buy One, Get One Free. Two boxes of Cheerios, and two boxes of LaCroix fizzy water should only count for half, so that’s nine items — just under the 10-item limit.

Or so I thought. Too much, the cashier sheepishly told me. And while I cheerfully explained my legal reasoning, she shook her head. The manager was cracking down. She rang me up. Nicely, but with a warning.

So I impulsively took to Twitter to do what social media does best: mask my petty gripe as a question. “Am I wrong?” A therapist might say I was seeking validation. Thanks Twitter, for doing the opposite.

Express-lane talk struck a chord. Get to the regular lane, they tweeted one by one. A few former cashiers chimed in to say I was wrong. A judge I know messaged me “BOGO = 2 ITEMS!” and, a few supporters not withstanding, there went the support among Legal Twitter. Even the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court agreed on a question of great public importance: BOGOs count as two items.

Then, all of this random Twittering was incisively summed up by the Faux Third District Court of Appeals, which cited “amicus tweets” and extensive case law, ruling that I “was required to go wait in line behind the abuela (that’s a grandmother in Spanish-speaking Miami) with a full cart and a fist-full of coupons and all the time in the world.”

A specially appointed judge, a blogger who goes by the moniker Horace Rumpole, issued a concurring opinion, advocating for supermarkets to move to a “single-line checkout system.” (Rumpole, a name borrowed from a famed fictional British barrister, deserves credit for the whole thing but he runs his blog anonymously and his identity is the stuff of urban legend around the Miami courthouse. I have my suspicions, but I’ll keep it to myself out of respect for his legal acumen.)

Hell, even the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. — it’s like NPR for Canada, guys — picked up on the Internet debate, feeling compelled to weigh in on my public shaming because, well, everyone has an opinion.

Well, as it turns out, Publix officially affirmed the opinion. After a couple days of deliberations, the company said in a statement “‘the number of items’ at the check out is determined by individual scanned products, so BOGOs would be considered two items.”

The Internet was right. Guilty as charged.

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