You may think that the story I’m about to tell you has one lesson, but be careful what you conclude that lesson is. It’s not what you may think. You may, for example, assume from the photos and the story that you should panic.
The apocalypse is coming! We’re all going to starve! We’re all going to turn into cannibals!
You may assume, as well, that you run fast–don’t walk, don’t dawdle–to the nearest grocery store and fight for survival, grab toilet paper out of other customers’ hands, that you growl like a wolf and stockpile loads and loads of grocery items. That, however, would be a stupid assumption. Did I mention that it would be imbecilic? Really, this is the closest thing you’re going to get in your adult life to a valid IQ test.
Let me emphasize, guys: There’s nothing wrong with our food supply. Taliban bombers haven’t carpet-bombed our farms. There’s no plague of locusts besetting the land. No terrorists have blown up all the Vons trucks. Tomorrow morning, you will still have a great choice of produce, packaged goods, canned goods, frozen dinners, and even all that disgusting junk food that you can stuff into your piehole.
What’s wrong, see, is the people. Some of the simplest among us are panicking. Without reason. Without any reason at all.
That said, I shopped for two today. First, I was shopping for my live-in girlfriend and myself. And secondly, I was shopping for my mother.
Mom, see, is at high risk for death if she contracts COVID-19. She’s 89 years old, soon to turn 90, and she smoked for 40 years. Even though she quit in the ’90s, her habit left her with a gift that keeps on giving: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which impairs lung function. Ever prudent, Mom started isolating herself hard two weeks ago. She shopped for groceries at 7 am, when nobody was in the stores. She avoided any other retail stores. She stayed inside.
Then just a week ago, Mom saw the writing on the wall and started isolating even harder. She decided she was going to stay inside her four-bedroom, two-story suburban house almost completely. She and her little Shih Tzu Phoebe would shut the world out absolutely. She wouldn’t even shop for herself. She wouldn’t go to the bank. She wouldn’t meet anybody for coffee.
Of course, this strategy only works if you have somebody to shop for you. That’s me, thank you. I volunteered to do it because I’m at fairly low risk. After all, I have exercised about an hour a day for the past 40 years and have terrific lungs. I’ve never smoked. I’ve never had anything go even mildly wrong with my body. I’m as healthy as a hose, even if I can’t always spell. Plus, I’m doing it because–hello!–she’s my mother.
So this afternoon, I drove down to Albertsons Grocery Store in La Habra. It’s the nice suburban community in Southern California where I live. I walked in with three cloth grocery bags, because I didn’t want to put my hands anywhere near any filthy, germ-laden grocery cart. I would just pile all my groceries into the bags and carry them around the store.
Stepping into the store, I knew there would be shortages, but I had no idea how extensive the shortages would be. First, I checked out the essentials that everybody is stockpiling: hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, toilet paper, and water. Predictably, those products were all cleaned out.
But I was surprised to find that some related products were cleaned out, as well, including dish detergent, baby wipes, diapers, and various cleaning products.
As I strolled around the store, I discovered other more offbeat shortages, as well. For example, all the tortillas were sold out. It makes sense, I guess, because the store is right on the edge of a Mexican-American community, but really, can’t you give a guy a break on his beloved tacos and burritos?
There were also no potatoes at all, only yams, and the only onions left were red onions. Turns out tomatoes and carrots are pretty popular, too, because they were nowhere to be found.
All the eggs were gone, too. I love my omelettes!
And rice, beans, and pasta sauce were gone, too.
In all, I bought $37 worth of groceries for Claire and I, and $95 worth of groceries for Mom. By the time I got to the end of our grocery lists, I was lugging around three heavy bags. I considered going through a regular checkstand, but decided against it because I didn’t want anybody filthy checker’s hands touching my products. So I decided to do self-checkout. That was a little dicey, though. There was a lot of tapping the touchscreen and putting products on scales. And then whenever I made a mistake, a grocery employee jumped over my shoulder and pushed the right buttons, uncomfortably close.
By the time I got to the car, I immediately jumped into the driver’s seat and slathered gobs of sanitizer onto my hands. I couldn’t believe I had gotten through that ordeal. It took me over an hour.
I drove a half-hour to Mom’s house and called her from her driveway.
“I’m here, Mom,” I said.
“Okay, I’ll open the garage door,” she said.
Within moments, the garage door started opening. I took her two grocery bags out of the trunk and left the bags inside the garage. Then I walked outside of the garage. She grabbed the two bags and headed for her kitchen.
“Make sure to wash the bags!” I said. “Don’t forget to wash the handles of the bags!”
“I won’t,” she said.
“And wash all of the products!”
Within a couple minutes, Mom was back in the garage, washing the cloth grocery bags in a sink. She used bleach, just to make sure. Then she dried them. All the while, I kept a respectful 25 feet away from her. Finally, she left the bags in the middle of the garage for me. Once she had moved back a safe distance, I stepped up and grabbed the bags.
“Love you!” I said, and left.
And, in fact, that’s quite true: Love has a lot to do with it.