When we realized our supply of dog waste bags was dwindling, I knew it was coming. When our fresh veggies, Splenda, veggie stock, and coffee started to go, we began making a list. When my husband announced he needed to pick up an important prescription, well, it was time to face the music. We needed to go shopping. You know, during the deadly upswing of a global health crisis.
The last time we stocked up on groceries, we went to each store together. Oh, how things change in a matter of weeks. Now, it’s too risky. Not just for shopping, but for a lot of things.
Our local officials recommend wearing masks when out in public. We’re supposed to clean everything we bring into our home with sanitizer wipes. There are conflicting reports about social distancing; some say six feet is adequate; in others, it’s nowhere near enough. And COVID-19 has crept too close to home already. My husband and I both know people who are sick.
So yeah, we needed to re-evaluate how to go about grocery shopping. We decided the safest way for us to shop right now is to divide and conquer: my husband goes to the first store or two, picks up whatever he can from our list, and then I make a second trip out to look for the items he couldn’t find. We figure this strategy limits the amount of time we spend as individuals in the world that we once knew laid back, beautiful San Diego and has now morphed into a truly terrifying episode of The Twilight Zone.
After my husband brought home round one of our haul and we’d properly cleaned and stored our groceries, it was my turn. I took my Prozac, strapped on a homemade cloth mask, donned some plastic gloves, hiked up the hood of my hoodie, and drove to Von’s looking like I was planning to rob a bank.
Let me tell you, it was an adventure.
During my hour-and-a-half away from home, I experienced prime examples of both of the goodness and the baseness of humanity. Let’s start with the negatives so we can end on the positives, yeah?
As I moved through the grocery store, it became immediately apparent that either people are quite bad at judging six feet of distance…or fear wins over patience the majority of the time. Sadly, I think the latter is most likely.
With a safety-first mentality and a personal dedication to practicing legitimate social distancing, folks should wait a full six feet away for shoppers to vacate certain areas before reaching in to get the green bell pepper they so desperately need, right? But fear makes us take risks – and it’s way sexier than safety.
It’s human nature to want to get the hell out of a potentially threatening situation as soon as possible. So, despite the invisible elephant in the room that is COVID-19, we get close to each other. We reach around folks to scoop up groceries to lessen our time in the store. Ultimately, we’re risking our health, and the health of others, in order to obtain things we think we need. Either consciously or subconsciously, we’re putting the sum of its parts ahead of the collective whole.
And while that was more of a philosophical observation, I also observed some straight-up nastiness.
Due to the large number of people shopping yesterday, their larger-than-usual hauls, and the social distancing measures put into place by Von’s, checkout lines cascaded down the vast majority of the aisles of the store. Entirely expected, right?
While wandering down the cereal aisle in search of bran flakes, I heard a male voice boom, “Do your damn job!”
I blinked, startled. But yeah, this was happening. A man in one of the checkout lines was berating the folks working at Von’s. (Who, by the way, were doing an absolutely incredible job. I watched them wipe down the conveyor belts, point-of-sale transaction stations, and all surfaces in between each customer. They were doing their best to keep people distanced. They were hustling. They were offering free bags to those who needed them. I can’t imagine how stressful their jobs are right now.)
Y’all, this man was loud. It was clear he wanted to be heard. But…did he seriously think his complaining would magically transport him to the front of the line? Oh sir, I’m so sorry, I see you’ve been waiting. Please, cut in front of all of these people who are being patient and waiting their turn, because you matter so much more than any of them.
A manager came over and told the man he needed to get himself under control and lower his voice. If he didn’t, they would kick him out. This guy was seething. I could feel the bad mojo pouring off him half an aisle’s length away. I honestly was afraid he’d start throwing punches. Luckily, that didn’t happen. Instead, he abandoned his basket and walked out.
To play devil’s advocate, maybe this guy was having a terrible day. Maybe this pandemic has touched him personally. Maybe this Von’s experience was a symptom of a larger issue.
But people who work in grocery stores are literally saving us right now. They are helping. They are putting themselves at risk. They are allowing us the privilege to stock up so we can stay home and hopefully never come into contact with this virus.
I know it’s stressful and scary, y’all. But don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If you do, someday that hand will turn up empty.
Blessedly, my shopping adventure concluded with a much-needed dose of positivity!
As I was loading groceries into my car, a white-haired woman in a RV rolled up next to me, leaned out her window, and asked if I wanted to hear the “ridiculous joke of the day.” Um, of course I did!
And here it is, ladies and gents, a truly corny joke delivered by this sweet stranger who just wanted to spread a little laughter during a crisis.
White-haired woman: Can you name the stinkiest pencil on the market?
Me (after a brow furrow and pause): You know, I don’t think I can.
Lady (after a dramatic pause): The number two!
Y’all, she sang that punchline with unmitigated glee in her voice. She was cracking herself up, and she certainly cracked me up, too! I applauded her as well as I could in my plastic-gloved hands and thanked her for the laugh. After that, she simply wished me a good day and drove off.
It was a brief interaction, a minute tops, but I needed it so badly. I wonder if she could tell. Or perhaps she’s just a woman with a hopeful spirit and I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
But her kind gesture reminded me of why we’re staying home, despite how hard all of this has been and will continue to be. Humans can be great. Interactions with other people can make our days. We naturally crave community.
Don’t get me wrong, COVID-19 is making everything really hard. We’ve started losing people. Everyone’s mental health is compromised. Quite frankly, we’re all living with trauma right now. Our existence, individually and collectively, is a fragile thing.
But on the other side of this, I hope there are still sweet souls who approach complete strangers armed with Dad jokes. Because those people, they remind us that this life—this life together—is worth fighting for.