Pens and paper in hand, Dave and I planned our strategy. It was the evening before shop-day, and we discussed, reviewed, cross-checked, and re-copied our lists before bed. We wanted to be ready and well rested for the next day’s challenge.
I woke at 3:30 AM, however, and Dave woke soon after. I was nervous, I have to admit. As Covid cases and related deaths continued to mount, it had been a comfort to near the two-weeks-in-quarantine mark and feel well, to think we were probably safe. A trip to the grocery store meant starting the clock over, but it had to be done.
Sleep, that elusive treasure, had slipped away for good. “Let’s move up the schedule,” I suggested. Dave agreed.
We postponed our morning showers until later, when we’d take full-on decontamination drenchings upon returning home. We suited up and collected our masks and gloves to be donned in our separate parking lots: this was a divide and conquer expedition.
Our departure times were staggered, based on destination and hours of opening. “We’ll touch base around 7:30?” I confirmed as Dave headed out.
“Sounds about right. Good luck!” Dave replied as he kissed me good-bye.
Who says "good luck" when you’re going to the grocery store? But it’s not a cliché in Covid world. These are uncharted waters, where a head of broccoli or an over-enthusiastic hello can harbor danger. Our quarry was neither pangolins nor fruit bats, possible origins of the disease, but our stock was running low: we needed an infusion of vegetables and dairy products.
Dave arrived at Whole Foods as the door opened for “senior shoppers.” Distressing as that label might be, for now we’ll take it to get the early slot. At 7:35, I checked in with him from my position at Super Stop & Shop as he completed his initial assignment before heading to BJ’s.
“How’s it look, Hon?’ I asked as I unfolded my list and surveyed the asterisked items we’d suspected might be harder to find.
“Pretty good,” he said. “No paper products here at all, by the way, but if you can find the frozen okra and spinach, broccoli, capers, and maybe a couple more potatoes, that’d be great.” I circled those items on my list, slipped on my gloves and mask, and nabbed a cart from the parking lot.
Stop & Shop was a gold mine. I found everything on my list, and scored two 4-roll packs of Scott toilet paper, an unexpected and extraordinary bonus. In my life, ever, would I have thought that unclaimed toilet paper on a grocery shelf would spark a burst of elation in my chest? No. But so it was.
Next: Trader Joe’s. TJ’s ghost pepper chips, smoked salmon dip, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, and peppermints might not rate with toilet paper, butter, and broccoli, but in this time of crisis, they were the boost that mental health required.
Store entry was not to be taken for granted I discovered. By this time, 9:00 AM, I’d missed the early window advantage. The store was strict in limiting the number of shoppers to allow for social distancing, so the line at the entrance stretched to the end of the sidewalk with shopper-hopefuls spaced six feet apart. It was brisk out, and many had anticipated a quick hop from car to store, so people hugged thin sweaters tight, danced from foot to foot, and chatted with those around them. “I pray they have toilet paper,” said the young woman in front of me. “I’m down to two rolls at home.”
“I’ve two packs in the car,” I assured her. “If they don’t have any; you can have one.”
Behind me, a woman did leg lifts, stretches, and lunges to pass the time. A white SUV pulled up next to us, the window open, music blaring. The occupant surveyed the line (which by now stretched around the corner), was apparently daunted, and hit the gas, abandoning us with a screech of tires.
A female member of the TJ’s crew, garbed in a neon yellow vest and gloves, collected carts from departing shoppers, sprayed them with disinfectant, and swabbed them down. She checked with another attendant in the foyer and waved for the next five people to enter. After a twenty-minute wait, I wheeled past purple orchids and cheery daffodils and began my rounds. It was a small triumph, I felt, even to gain entry. You know life has changed when the simplest of successes – a toilet paper purchase and access to Trader Joe’s – provides satisfaction, a Covid lesson I hope to hold onto.
Mindful of the chilly souls waiting outside, I made the rounds quickly. The shelves were well-stocked but for paper goods, yet my young friend from the line sought me out to brandish a pack of toilet paper. “I got the last one!” she grinned.
At check-out, gloved cashiers sprayed and swabbed counters after every transaction. They did not wear masks, nor did many shoppers.
Once I returned home, Dave helped unload the groceries, then I shed my clothes on the porch and headed into the shower. Having left the house at 7:00, Dave and I re-united at 11:30, after completing our separate missions and decontamination. Now the two-week clock begins again: were our precautions enough?
P.S. Yesterday, two days after our shopping trip, my daughter texted to tell me our local Trader Joe’s had been shuttered, the staff on a 14-day quarantine, as an employee had tested positive for Covid-19.