First off: thus far, everyone at Casa Jaquandor is fine.
So, as of this writing, we’re roughly one month or so (however you choose to measure such things) into Covid-19’s grip on American life. This is roughly about when, in March, I started to think that maybe this wasn’t going to simply be one of those diseases that comes and goes but doesn’t amount to a whole lot. But looking at the timeline, by the 5th of March, the World Health Organization hadn’t even classified Covid-19 as a pandemic yet. That wouldn’t happen for another six days. On March 12, Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for the virus while filming a movie in Australia; right around the same time, American sports leagues began canceling events, flirting with the idea of playing in empty venues, and then eventually postponing seasons altogether. From my vantage point, it seems deeply strange that these events aren’t even four weeks behind me yet.
You may or may not remember that my day job is in facilities maintenance at a large grocery store. As the food business is considered “essential,” for obvious reasons, we are not threatened with closure, which means that unless I get sick or things in the world deteriorate to the point where we do have to close (and in that case, we’d probably be looking at some kind of apocalyptic horror kind of thing), I still have a job and am earning money. The Wife also still has her job, as she can work from home (and really, how fortunate are we right now that she ended her long career in restaurant management a year-and-a-half ago!), and The Daughter has her part-time job. We’re OK. In terms of a direct hit to our lifestyle, this crisis isn’t really that big of a blow to us. We’re all pretty introverted, and mostly we stay at home anyway, except for occasional treks out to stores or restaurants. We’ve bought some takeout food, and since I’m at The Store anyway, I do my shopping on my work days, thus making extra trips on the weekends unnecessary. When we are out and about (and when I am working), we’re observing every precaution regarding social distancing and constant handwashing that we can. It seems to me that we are very well positioned to get through this mess.
There are some unfortunate sides of this, obviously. At least one of our favorite restaurants has closed “temporarily,” and we fervently hope that they can reopen once the danger has passed. This is by no means a lock, however, and it would be especially tough for us because The Wife is celiac and finding restaurants that make good gluten-free food is always a challenge. Also, as it’s become clear that this pandemic is not going to be over before May, a number of events in that month–including two that we attend each year–will not be happening. Rochester’s Lilac Festival and Buffalo’s Nickel City Con, both in May, are now officially canceled. The Nickel City Con cancellation is especially hard for me, because that was where I was going to launch The Savior Worlds (The Song of Forgotten Stars, book 4). The next event on which we have our gaze focused is my brother-in-law’s wedding in Idaho, which is scheduled for the first week of June. We’re hoping, but not optimistic. Meantime, we stay home, we cook, we read and watch our teevee shows in streaming. And we still go on walks with the doggos; at least outside is not denied us! Cane and I still do our weekly nature walks at local parks. We’ve seen more people out and about in the parks lately, which is expected, and not only that, but more people are venturing off the main roads and paved areas for the trails in the woods. Maybe more people will find themselves back in nature as they can’t go anyplace else.
And at least this happened when (a) it’s spring after a mild winter, so being outside is an option, and (b) when we’re living in a house! That’s a huge blessing for us. I can’t imagine how this long period of social distancing bordering on (if not being actual) quarantine feels for people in apartments.
If you’re wondering what it was like working in The Store through all this…it’s been surreal. As the threat started to settle in and the panic buying set in, The Store’s sales doubled in a day. It was a Thursday and it was astonishing. The only thing I’ve ever seen that rivaled it was back in 2014 when The Store was closed for four days after that seven feet of lake effect snow buried Buffalo’s Southtowns, and then everybody dug out and The Store reopened. This was truly breathtaking as all the paper products and cleaning supplies and gigantic amounts of the actual food were cleaned out in a matter of hours. I worked an extra day that week to assist with restocking on a Saturday morning, when The Store had already changed its hours from 24-hours-open to opening at 6:00am and closing at 11:00pm just to give everyone a fighting chance to regroup. At 6:10am I pulled an entire pallet of toilet paper onto the sales floor. By the time I got the pallet to the aisle 17 where the TP goes, there was only a third of the pallet left. I just dropped the entire pallet right there and went back for the next one.
TP continues to be an issue, along with paper towels and facial tissue; cleaning supplies are also only starting to filter back onto the shelves. Hand soap and hand sanitizer are also very hard to come by (we have plenty of soap and we don’t use sanitizer at home). Those first days, the pasta and pasta sauce were obliterated, as were the dairy supplies. Fortunately, I had just bought three dozen eggs and half-and-half and what cheese we needed days before, and supplies are slowly coming back as we get to needing more of that kind of thing. Also, this is an area where The Wife’s celiac disease is a kind of weird pseudo-blessing: the regular pasta was completely gone, but the gluten-free pasta, in another part of the store? Untouched. We’ve never come close to running out. In fact, as I’ve been shopping of late, I’ve been buying heavy on certain staple items. (It also helps that as an employee, I can actually go in and do my shopping before The Store even opens. Hey, we have to eat too, and my management has been very understanding of the reality that in this environment, oftentimes employees are finding essential items long gone by the time they get to shop if they wait until the ends of their shifts.)
I’ve noticed that a lot of people have no real appreciated for how supply chains work in large retail. Our stores got hammered, with sales doubling in a time that can be meaningfully expressed in hours, so of course the orders went way up; within days the warehouses were emptied. Then the warehouses passed along huge orders to the suppliers and manufacturers, who don’t maintain huge back inventories because it’s just not cost effective to do so. Demand shot up so high that supply on some items is still likely to not rebound for another week or two. Most of the people I’ve talked to during this crisis have been understanding and not jerks at all, but still, there’s a frightening degree to which the average person is unaware of the gigantic infrastructure that exists to keep them able to get to a grocery store to buy milk and bread.
And that was just the first blast. As the “shelter in place” orders came down, and as the magnitude of what has been unfolding settled in, The Store has changed dramatically. Gone are many of the large displays that filter customers in one direction or another, forcing them to look at some nifty thing we want them to buy; the recommendations for social distancing demand us to open up as much space as we can. Self-serve food bars? We had more than a dozen of these. They are all shut down now. Too risky. Same thing with the bulk foods. The cash register area had to be reconfigured with stanchions and barrier-lines, to force customers into queues, in order to minimize the length of time a customer is standing near a cashier. Just this past week, we installed Plexiglas barriers for added protection. More and more customers are wearing masks and gloves as they shop. And more and more are showing awareness of other peoples’ personal spaces, which is a very welcome development.
That’s where we are right now. I do have some politically-natured thoughts on all this, but I’ll save those for another post. For now, April is upon us. It will likely be worse than March was…but as they sing at the end of Les Miserables:
For the wretched of the earth,
There is a flame that never dies;
Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise!