GAYS MILLS - For a very long time now, at this point I’m not even sure how long, I have been avoiding stores as best as I could.
Chasca and I have always joked, long before the pandemic made it cool, that we were food hoarders. It was often by accident, our deep pantry made it sometimes difficult to see what we had or we’d simply forget to check before our big monthly shop. Then suddenly, there were four tubs of mayonnaise and 15 boxes of stuffing knocking around in there. So when things got weird and everyone was out and about jamming their carts full with reckless abandon, I was able to get by with a few calls to Johnson’s One Stop and the Kickapoo Exchange Food Co-op for just our fresh staples.
I’ve been filled with overwhelming gratitude for these local stores doing what they can to make it work for all of us. I even have small tinges of guilt at times knowing they’re in there, exposing themselves to others and the public at times, just to make my own life safer. So if any of you essential workers out there are reading this–THANK YOU.
All of this aside, after what feels like a millennia wrapped up in pandemic life, the moment finally came that I needed to go to a regular store and restock the shelves of my pantry myself.
I had decided I would make the most of my trip and do shopping for myself, my dad and my friend’s mom who broke her wrist and was unable to get out on her own.
I knew for a couple of weeks I’d have to do this and I found myself going through these stages of mental preparation. So when the day finally came, I was ready.
I had chosen Aldi as my store, which isn’t totally unusual because I shopped there a lot before. But right now, they seem to be really doing their part with working to keep their employees and shoppers safe compared to some other big box stores that will remain unnamed.
When I got there bright and early in the morning (but after the hour window reserved for elderly and vulnerable shoppers), I donned my cloth mask and gloves. I saw other shoppers undergoing the same rituals in their vehicles as they prepared to go in.
At the entrance, there was a young woman awaiting shoppers, also in gloves and mask with a jug of disinfectant in her hands. She politely instructed me that the carts to the right were already disinfected and she went back to disinfecting the carts on the other side.
Once inside, I kind of felt like I was on an episode of that old show, Super Market Sweep.
I flew through the aisles with laser focus on the items I needed. I kept thinking get in and get out. I found it was hard to really avoid getting too close to other shoppers though.
I was surprised to see that most of the people who appeared to be in the age range of 20s-30s were shopping for just one or two items with no personal protective equipment to speak of. On the other side of the spectrum, the older folks in the store were all at least wearing cloth masks, a few had on gloves and one older man even had what appeared to be an old-style, military-grade hazmat suit on. Not even kidding, I really wanted to ask him for a picture, but didn’t want to be THAT weird.
With my cart filled to the brim (nearly over flowing) I tossed it all on the belt for check out. The friendly employee, covered in PPE behind a Plexiglas window made quick work of scanning my items, which on the way out filled a cart and a half. This amount of groceries did invite many a dirty look surprisingly. I guess people assumed I was one of those food hoarders they heard about in the news.
I opted to bag everything at my car, which on a mild spring morning in Prairie du Chien wasn’t all too bad.
I was happy to have it done and as I was tossing the items in my trunk I couldn’t help but wonder if I’ll ever enjoy the mundane tasks I used to like shopping for groceries, much less the exciting ones I used to love like going to concerts. I hate feeling afraid of other people and what might be lurking in their droplets. It gave me fresh reason though to be grateful once again that there are people willing to be bold and come to work every day just so I can have the luxury of going to a grocery store.As of now, I don’t know when I’ll have to go back out into the larger public beyond quick trips to Gays Mills or Seneca, but I’ll tell you, I really can’t wait to be able to browse the aisle fearlessly once more.