Voices | Navigating the grocery aisles requires planning, quick thinking, and newfound flexibility

Like Mel Gibson in Mad Max heading out into a ravaged, dystopian society, my recent trip to the grocery store today had been well planned out the night before. Armed with a mask, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer, I felt well-equipped for the outing. Gearing up for a day out in the public meant actually getting dressed — jeans! a bra! — strangely foreign feeling after weeks of lounging in sweats and PJ’S. Odd, I wondered, how is it my jeans have shrunk so much?

There was a line of somewhat elderly shoppers waiting to enter the grocery store. Unaware that I was blundering into “senior shopping hours,” the shopping time reserved for seniors, I blithely queued up. An elderly gentleman lined up behind me, coming dangerously close to violating the required 6 foot barrier. When I gallantly offered to allow him to cut in line ahead of me, he responded, “What, like you aren’t a senior?” Shopping can be cruel.

I chose my shopping cart carefully, inspecting it closely for finger smudges or other evidence of contamination — certain I could spot COVID-19 waiting to take me down. I whipped out my disinfectant and gave it a quick wipe down. I was off and running, like a heat-seeking missile, to the paper goods aisle. 

I felt like Indiana Jones locating the lost Ark of the Covenant, congratulating myself, as I eyed the toilet paper — in stock! The early bird had caught the worm! My joy turned into dismay when I observed it was institutionally thin — the dreaded single ply. Glumly adding it to my cart, I considered how my forebears must’ve made do with shredded newspaper.

I was immediately consoled by the availability of paper napkins. Score! I thought — and just like Draymond Green approaches a rebound — I went after it greedily, trying very hard not to go after a second package. I coached myself not to be that kind of person, even though I was certain everyone else is that type of person.

I cornered the aisle on two wheels, accelerating into the produce aisle.  There was no noticeable gap in the supply chain there. Big Tobacco must have been replaced by Big Kale as the cruciferous vegetable appeared everywhere. Next they will be marketing the stuff to children, I thought to myself. Absentmindedly, I squeezed a few tomatoes and avocados before choosing them. If looks could kill, I’d be dead, as a menacing group of shoppers stared in shock and disappointment. Reminder: wash your produce before consumption.

Mindful of social distancing, I loitered in the dairy section until the sea of shoppers parted in front of my favorite yogurt array.  Gratefully, I went in two-handed. I inched down toward the half & half. Comically the only kinds remaining were lactose-free or non-fat half & half.  COVID-19 is revealing products I never knew existed.  I reluctantly grabbed the lactose-free, even though I had no desire to be free of lactose. (Turns out, it’s not so bad.)

Ground turkey, tuna in water, and very expensive eggs — all scarce during previous market forays — were plentiful on this fine morning. I hoped my luck would continue in the baking aisle, but alas, there was no flour, yeast, or vanilla. Most shelves were empty. On one sat a very small, sad sack of corn meal. A wave of FOMO washed over me at the sight of these empty shelves. While I did not know what had been on those shelves, I knew I missed something critical.  

On to the pasta aisle, afraid of what I would find: Dang it, there is no spaghetti! I settled on fettuccine, proud of my new found flexibility given the profound differences in these key products. 

I relished the abundance of riches in the ethnic foods aisle — spices, steak sauces and specialty items all well stocked — as I thought about the emptiness of life without my favorite hot chili oil, Worcestershire sauce, Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning, Gebhardt Chili Powder, or Tajin Clasico. Normally I replace these items when I’m running low. However these are not normal times. I stocked up heavily, fearing enforced home cooking enslavement and my limited repertoire.

On to beverages: there was no Gatorade, Diet Coke, or Coke Zero.  I settled on Vanilla Coke Zero. Wine and spirits were plentiful, but there was not a single handle of essential staples like Ketel One or Grey Goose.  I calendared a cost-saving bulk run to Bevmo for the near future. 

The checkout lines were long but orderly. With well-defined six feet tape markers on the floor and signs instructing me to wait until summoned by the clerk, I was clear on the process. All this clarity should have been calming, but no. That required some work on my part. So I practiced a yoga mountain pose while waiting in the line. I relaxed my shoulders back and down, and I took some deep breaths into my face mask.

Finally, my groceries were loaded into paper bags. I cringed at the thought of wasted resources — I hated to be deprived of my chance to save the world — but understood we are in a brave new world. I drove home, enjoying the empty roads and clean air — even without my recycling efforts.


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