He tosses a box of coffee into the air with a light-hearted flip on its way from the price scanner to the grocery bag.
He wants to know how your day is going. If you answer affirmatively, he responds, “Yay!” Negatively? He offers sympathy.
He calls you “young lady” or “young man,” and he gives you a choice about your receipt. “It’s free,” he reminds you, and laughs. If you tell him to “have a great day,” he replies, “Only if you do.” Or: “It’s always a great day.” And laughs again.
Spoiler alert: If you’re in a bad mood and want to wallow in your grump, don’t shop when Peter Steffens is working.
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Steffens is a checker at the Albertsons on Vista Avenue. He’s been there for 24 years — it was his first and only job, working after school and weekends. Over the years, he’s graduated from being a bagger and courtesy clerk to a job that suits him just fine: cashier.
“I love what I do,” he says simply. “I love people, and I like to talk to people. I like being able to exude that joy with them, the love and the laughter.”
Shopper Sarah Bigger says she listens specially for him because you can hear him all over the whole store.
“And when I hear that laugh, I go to (his line),” she says. “... He’s infectious.”
Kristin Taylor says she shops at Albertson’s nearly every day, and loves seeing Steffens. His attitude not only makes her smile — but rubs off.
“Pay your kindness forward,” she says. “He just makes you want to be nice to (other) people.”
Steffens describes himself as an extroverted introvert, rather shy, even. But when he goes to work, something clicks on.
“I just have to say: I’m going to choose joy today,” he says. “It just makes life better.”
If people think that Peter has quite a schtick, they’re mistaken. Although he cultivates his happy, Steffens says he was born with a sense of joy.
“It was just in me,” he says. “Honestly, I believe that God put it in me.”
Over time, he realized that people responded to his attitude and would often reciprocate with their own laughter and happiness. “It was a great feeling,” he says. “So if that’s the way I am, I’m not going to hide it.”
He laughs. Of course.
“I have this innate ability to have a positive outlook on things,” he says. “People, too. I try to give everybody the benefit of the doubt.” It’s his philosophy.
“Everybody has the choice to not be good. But everybody has that ability to be good, too.”
That choice applies to one’s attitude, as well. From his own life example, Steffens sadly remembers 2014 when both his grandparents died within a month of each other, and then his mother died, just a few months later. Their deaths were devastating, and one day at work, he broke down and cried.
There were things he did outside of work that helped with his grief — going through family photos, listening to music; being with his wife and kids, and his dogs as well. But sometimes at work, he had to, as they say, just put on a happy face.
“There were were days when I subconsciously … overcompensated,” he says, searching for the word. “(But) it really helped. Honestly, when you put (happiness) out, a lot of times you get it back. …
“When I get to hear, ‘Hey, you really made my day today,’ that’s amazing. It really kind of feeds back.”
In other words, if you choose positive, you get positive back. It’s a cycle.
“There’s something about what you put into your mind and into your heart and into your personality and your soul,” Steffens says. “If you’re careful about what you put in, that’s what you’re going to get out. I truly believe that.”
Sometimes, Steffens gets migraines. If he’s at home, he rests; if he’s got to go to work, he goes. His regular customers can often tell he’s not up to par.
“It may be that I don’t have an exuberant joy — but I try to smile even still,” he says. Because somebody might be in need of a little boost and he feels responsible to provide that.”
And in this world of famines and wars, of terrorist attacks and devastating disasters, positivity is even more important. While there’s not much Steffens can do to solve world crises, there is something that can be done, right here, right now.
“There has to be some hope out there,” Steffens says. “I mean, if I can (offer) it — why don’t I?”
Steffens loads groceries into a customer’s cart.
“You’re so great,” he says. “It’s so good to see you.” He waves as they roll off and turns to the next person in line.
“Awesome to see you, as always,” he says. “How have you been?”