The Grocery Store. Day 23
The Grocery Store. Day 23
I’ve been to the grocery store three times in the past 23 days. It is my only outing, and the only way I feel that I can accurately gauge the gradual escalation of the pandemic in the public.
I went shortly after the government was asking people to quarantine themselves, but no shelter in place had been ordered yet. While I shopped for toothpaste, a man a few feet away held up some soap and asked me if it would kill coronavirus. I assured him that I, a stay at home mom, did not know if that specific soap would kill the virus, but I think that frequent, vigorous, and thorough hand washing with ANY soap was the key.
The women who checked out in front of me bought the last of the toilet paper the store had. Even the overpriced “organic”, “eco-friendly”, scratchy paper. She bought it all.
This time a masked man stood at the entrance of the store, disinfectant and cloth in his gloved hands. I jokingly asked if he was intending to spray me down upon my entrance. My joke was not well received, instead he wiped down the handles of a cart and pushed it in my direction.
There were less people in the store, and the popular items: beans, flour, eggs, meat and milk were scarce. No toilet paper. Few people wore masks, and many people stopped to smile at me. I was able to find most of what I needed. There was blue masking tape marking the six foot marks for the checkout lines. This caused the lines to drag halfway back into the store. People shopping had to cross the paths of those waiting at their six foot mark to check out, but they did so with caution. Once the family in front of me at checkout was loading their groceries and had scooted past their blue line, I leaned over to place my items on the conveyor. The store clerk sternly corrected my error, and told me to stand behind my blue line. I was put off by her tone, but then it occurred to me that she was scared, probably tired, and she had no choice but to come into work and hope that she didn’t contract the virus. I smiled, apologized, and thanked her for her hard work. I made a mental note to mind my blue lines better in the future.
Saturday, April 4th 2020.
It was wet and cold when Ryan dropped me off at the door to the store. He had been laid off two days before, and was now in quarantine with us. I am thankful I didn’t have to worry about arrangements for the kids so I could grocery shop alone. There were no rules against it, but it was heavily frowned upon for more than one person per family to go into a store.
Before I even entered the store, it felt different.
Signs were posted on the front of the shops windows:
“Our response to Covid-19”
“Our new store hours”
“ENTER ON THIS SIDE ONLY”
“EXIT ON THIS SIDE”
“Max capacity: 70 people”
There were people placed at the entrance and exit of the building, wearing masks and gloves, holding radios in their hands.
Wearing masks was a topic of debate, after the CDC had previously suggested that messing with a mask on your face could increase your chances of falling ill, they were now recommending that everyone wear masks. I imagined it would be required soon to go into public places, although N95 masks were so limited, and healthcare workers were the priority, even a bandana could be counted as protection, and it’s merits are questionable.
There were pre-disinfected carts lined up for you to take on your way in. I entered, and assessed. There were not many people in the store, and about 40% of them wore masks. I first observed a family in the checkout line. The mom wore a mask, her husband, and the teenage daughter did not. The husband was flirtatiously popping the masks on his wifes face. I internally shook my head. Foolish.
An announcement came on over the store speakers urging shoppers to practice social distancing. It didn’t seem real, or like something I should understand and be so familiar with at this point. It seemed more like an audio clip from a sci-fi apocalypse or zombie movie.
Magazine stands were mixed with light-hearted Spring-themed covers, probably scheduled for print before the world turned upside down, and magazine covers warning of our impending doom. Cashiers had plastic shields between them and the customers, and everyone working in the store wore gloves and masks.
Blue masking tape lines were now mapping out six feet distances across the entire store. Entering for a shop was like beginning a real-life game of pac-mac, mapping out your route to find your most needed items while always maintaining a six foot social distance.
It seemed like such a trivial distance, and I could have never dreamed that I would become so accustomed to what a six foot distance looks like. Some people made little or no effort to avoid crossing paths in the store. Others took the recommendations very seriously. I spotted one such man waiting for me to finish making my selection on the cereal aisle, I hurried up so that the aisle would be freed for his perusing. I finished and headed his direction to find the next item I needed, and because a woman who was both of our elders sandwiched me on the other side. He scurried away from me as I moved towards him “er, sorry. I’m bad at this” I mumbled.
Wait, was I supposed to be suddenly skilled at weaving in and out of aisles and never coming into contact with other humans?
In the early days of the virus coming onto local soil, it seemed to me that people would go out of their way to make eye contact with each other and offer up a reassuring smile. By now it seems that social distancing was becoming so engraved into our routine, that it was settling into people’s habits beyond physical distance. The only person who made eye contact and smiled at me during my trip this time, was one man who wanted to signal me to stay put, because he was crossing in front of me for an item he needed.
Today there was no whole wheat or all-purpose flour. The baking aisle had corn meal, almond flour, coconut flour and rice flour scattered about. I wasn’t desperate enough for those options yet. There was no milk or eggs, no chicken breast, and of course, no toilet paper. Although, I was hearing that larger stores were frequently well-stocked at this point. There was almost always, plenty of fresh produce.
I came up to the item I had come for, and faced a dilemma. I was on a quest for cream of tartar, my intention to bring hours of inside-the-home entertainment to my kids with homemade play dough. It was in the buk spice section. The other bulk items, like oats and nuts had been taken out of barrels and pre-bagged to avoid having multiple people scoop food out of the same bucket. The spices were still in big’ol’ bulky containers. Dang. Was it wrong to help myself to it? I stood there staring at all the spices, making that whole section impassible. I finally decided to place my hand in a plastic produce bag, before measuring out the cream of tartar. Success.
I found my way to a blue line for checkout. A shopper to my left was trying to stand the safe distance away, while making a price request for a specific item. The shopper and the cashier couldn’t understand each other under their mask. I backed up so the shopper could stand in front of me and repeat her request. The cashier still couldn’t hear her, so she stopped swiping items and reached up to remove her mask.
“Oh no, please don’t do it” I thought. But she did, she slid her mask off her face with the same gloved hands that had touched keypads, debit cards, and countless store items. OH.MAH.GAWD.
I finished my checkout and headed towards the door designated for exits where I faced yet another dilemma. If I left my “contaminated” cart here, it could get mixed in with the disinfected ones. But for the sake of everyone working hard at the store, I hated to leave it outside in the rain. I decided to take it to the car with me. Zipping past the man at the exit, he radioed the news of my departure to the other side of the store. “Anna has left the building!”. Except I was shopper 35, or something like that.
I circled the long way to get to my car, to avoid the woman loading her groceries in the vehicle parked next to ours. Back into the car, back with my people, back in our quarantine bubble. I squirted my hands and wrist with sanitizer, and reminded myself to wash them thoroughly at home before touching anything.
How many more shops to go in this pandemic? Do pandemics end suddenly one day, or do you gradually and cautiously integrate people slowly over time?
I thought back to Christmas, which was only three months ago but felt like a different lifetime.
I loved shopping during the holiday hustle. The first two years after my mom passed, seeing three generations shopping together, holding sticky-well loved recipe cards, or picking out items to build gingerbread houses together, was hard for me to see. In the recent two years, those sights warmed my heart. Three months ago, you couldn’t make your way down a single store aisle without brushing shoulders with a stranger. It was common for people to stop and waive at the kids, or even pat their heads. An employee stood on the baking aisle wearing a festive sweater and a light up necklace, announcing every few moments that she was available to help assist people in finding items on their list. Another employee made his way through the store with a cart full of wine samples. Stationed every few aisles were carts with festive food ideas, recipe cards, drinks, or more samples.
We took those crowds for granted.
Oh how I hope they will be back again soon.