There are few things as dreadful in modern life as going to the grocery store during peak shopping hours. As someone who has taken great efforts to practice safety in this pandemic life we’re all living, I have done my best to ensure that I will not be crowded or around too many people when I must leave the house. As rules and prohibitions have loosened despite the resurgence of illness thanks to the Omnicron variant, I have begun feeling even more anxious about meeting the demands my life as a responsible adult are making of me. Especially now, amidst the holidays and the last-minute shoppers who seem determined to ignore all sense and precaution as they valiantly venture forth to acquire whatever last minute necessities they overlooked.
I just need milk. It goes bad so quickly that even rationing it means I was going to run out right before Christmas or New Years. I’ve been shopping on Friday in the early afternoon for almost the entire year because that’s when I’m free from work and the stores are usually not too busy. Now, with one Friday being Christmas Eve and the next being New Year’s Eve, I dread the absolute swarms I’m going to encounter.
I tried to get out early, to avoid this surge of shoppers, but I’ve been so exhausted and drained lately that I barely had the energy to prepare meals, let alone prepare and purchase an entire grocery list. I only did light shopping last week so I can’t skip or skimp again. I have to do a full grocery run.
If this were a post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy novel, I could wade into the seething hordes armed with my magic blade, a protective bubble, and the level of dexterity only action heroes have. I’d surge through the crowds, gathering the necessary items, and emerging near the checkout counter, a haven of safety and order protected by the mighty Tellers, ready to continue my questing elsewhere. But this is the real world and all I can do is politely remind my fellow shoppers that their mask has somehow, in some unknown and completely mysterious manner, managed to slip beneath their nose without them noticing. Or cautiously stretch as I stand in line, using my long limbs to casually enforce a minimum distance people can safely stand behind me.
There are no epic battles, no major confrontations, no engage of barbs and blades. Just glares, polite requests, and the ever-present threat that I will be banned from this particular grocery store if I physically enforce a firm six-foot social distancing perimeter again. There are no more heroes in this pandemic, just the old rules of modern society that privileges the outspoken, obnoxious, and mean people who feel the world is beholden to them. Everyone else who is just trying to do their best, those of us who have suffered along as best as we can, we must simply carry on carrying on. No special treatment, no applause or thanks, barely any acknowledgement, and that’s just the people who are enduring those blights upon society every time we are forced to emerge for supplies.
Much worse is the lot of those forced to live and work in public every day, those working retail, those poor tellers at the grocery store, who have long ago lost the grace that was granted to them early in the pandemic. All consideration of them as an important part of society has faded, forgotten as soon as people began pointing out that the essential workers were all doctors, retail laborers, and food service workers rather than lawyers, executives, or office workers. There are stories plastered across headlines one day and entirely forgotten the next as companies cut hazard pay despite the dangerous reality of the pandemic and the public that so often refuses to take it seriously.
I may sound like a pessimist or an alarmist, but I’ve been carefully watching this whole time and I am just reflecting the world I see. It is difficult to not feel pessimistic or alarmed as I look at the way the pandemic surges and US society largely shrugs in response.