Ten deep at each register. Baskets full of notebooks and colored pens. Flip flops and sweatshirts.

The scene was OfficeMax on Kings Highway and it was the Friday afternoon of the first week Fairfield Public Schools were back in session. I'd run out of printer paper and needed a new appointment book and figured I would just make a quick dash out, not immediately remembering what day it was.

"Mob scene," sans pitchforks and fire torches, is one way to describe the environment I encountered. Mothers with children, teens with their friends, clusters of young adults ... and of all makes and models.

These packs roamed the store like hungry coyotes, picking clean the shelves of ring binders and Post-Its and markers. They raided the ink cartridges, composition books and textbook jackets. They raked out coffee filters and creamer and other items that might be necessary for late night paper writing.

Parents pushing carts dutifully followed their younger spawn, collecting the educational hardware and mentally tabulating the financial toll. The college set brashly went solo, shiny new credit cards tucked in their back pockets ready to pay for their own salvaged treasure.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry and, while the store had lain in enough supplies to meet demand, it had not counted on its register computers to act up. Something to do with the cloudy/rainy weather and satellite communication apparently. So, the digits of patrons wishing to pay with credit cards would have to be manually called in for purchase approvals. No problem, and, in fact, it gave those of us on line a chance to visit with each other.

Older schoolmates, all tan and relaxed-looking from summers spent at the Cape or Nantucket or other like vacation destination, recognized each other in line. And like they were encountering each other on campus on the first day of a new semester, they exchanged pleasantries and remarked on each other's appearance.

Younger schoolmates spotted each other as well and, less patient about waiting, went running around product displays and the camera counter.

Moms that had been busy all summer with their families said hello to each other, too, recognizing that these types of store trips would be the norm over the next nine months. Runs for poster board, report jackets or other needs that commonly arise as related to special school projects.

A little girl standing next to me in line with her mother had placed on the counter a package of refrigerator magnets with smiley faces. "Those are cute!" I remarked. "Will those hold your artwork and go up on the refrigerator?" She thought about that for a second and the prominence her work would soon achieve, grinned and said simply, "Yup!"

Another mom in front of me had three children of varying sizes with her and each had their own basket full of supplies. "Triple the damage, eh?" I said. She nodded, definitely aware of the bottom line, particularly in light of this down economy.

The register person asked for her card, flipped through a manual, phoned in the woman's transaction and had her sign the electronic keypad, then off she went with a wave. One line over, a commotion erupted as three female college friends spotted each other and embraced. It being a Friday, no doubt they'd soon be somewhere near the beach with red party cups in hand, starting not only their academic year but a new term of social networking!

Good luck kids, do well and make us proud!

Fairfield resident Mike Lauterborn's "Man About Town" column is published every other Friday in the Fairfield Citizen.