I went grocery shopping today.
Big deal, right? Yeah. It was a much bigger deal than I expected it to be.
My husband and I were early in preparing to shelter in place. We expected not to go out for a month or more and had planned accordingly. We were forced out into the world due to an oversight. Delivery would take days. We decided only one of us should go.
I raised my hand. If we had to go out for one thing, we'd replenish what we needed and I am the meal planner of the family. Besides, I wanted a bit of an adventure. I am lucky to live in a small town with a major grocery store. Shopping mid-week, I figured I'd have the place pretty much to myself.
We tripled checked the list the night before. We YouTubed and Googled best practices for staying virus free. Some of the steps were a bit over the top, but safety is safety, and knowing we were starting the clock again for any exposure, we were willing to take precautions to keep our peace of mind.
Planning made me feel like a special agent. Gloves. Mask. Dirty area. Decontamination process. My adventure was beginning!
The store created special early morning hours for seniors and I wondered how they would enforce that. It's been years since I had to skulk past a bouncer, but this time I wanted to be carded.
My first shock: At 6:00AM, the store lot was nearly full. It seemed like people had even parked their cars in a social distance way leaving a space between each.
My first disappointments: I was not carded and I could not bring in my reusable shopping bags.
A sign said to keep six floor tiles apart. Employees in gloves, some in masks, counted people in and out of the store. Red tape marked where folks should stand in line. One employee wiped down each cart.
By the time I passed half-full refrigerated cases, my sense of fun had begun to wilt. I was no longer shocked or disappointed. A prevailing feeling of numbness crept in as I walked inside a movie set of dystopian life.There was still plenty of food, but the choices had thinned. Many shelves were empty. I did not sense tension among shoppers as I had during an earlier shopping trip when news of the virus was just breaking. People were resolute. Everyone wore gloves. Those who wore masks or scarves seemed to make an extra effort to put a smile in their eyes. I know I did.
I took note of who was there. I checked my normal impatience at the door and shuffled at least six tiles behind everyone. A stooped rail of a man peered at his list, then up at a shelf, and back. Heavy scrawled letters on the wrinkled paper confused him. I had visions of his wife at home, taking care to write as clearly as she could, knowing the choices would be bewildering to him.
It took a minute, but he made his choice and moved on.
I almost reached for the sole remaining paper towel roll. A knotted hand reached out for it. I stepped back and continued checking off items on my list.
Every-other register was open and a line formed to retain social distance. Employees helped manage the cue and give instructions for checking out safely. While I waited, I realized how fortunate I was. I could buy food. I felt safe. I wondered about too many people who did not have the options I almost took for granted in my zest for adventure.
I followed the new rules and loaded up my car, switching out one pair of nitrile gloves for a clean pair.
Then I put my face in my hands and cried.