With the recent announcements about gradually reopening the economy, I look forward to seeing how the new normal will unfold, even though we have already been adapting to progressive new normals like mice working their way through a maze.
By necessity, for the health and safety of employees and customers alike, businesses that were able to remain open have had to make significant adjustments.
This was also true for citizens being told to only go out for groceries and pharmacy items, and to only step out once per week to accomplish that if possible.
For me, cutting back on shopping trips wasn’t so challenging in itself because as I get older and more practical, the urge to shop seems to be on a downward slope. Similarly, with the finish line to retirement clearly within sight, it’s not like I need to stock up on collared shirts, pants or dress shoes. For those reasons, shopping only for the essentials wasn’t a huge adjustment.
The big adjustment was in HOW I shopped for the essentials.
The first thing to go was my ability to casually and spontaneously do errands. In the old normal, after my work day, if there was a traffic tie-up on the highway (which, due to a major construction project, was becoming most nights), I would make the best of it and use the time constructively to do errands in the neighbourhoods around the office, picking up a few items here and there. By the time I hit the highway later, with less traffic, I could actually be home in less time.
Also, with only a few items in hand, I could swiftly pay for my purchases through the stores’ express lanes.
The other benefit to my approach was that with the help of sales flyers, I could plan an itinerary to pick up items on sale at different stores on my way home, which helped to stretch my shopping dollars.
And for someone with recurring back issues, running smaller errands was ideal because I would be walking out with only one bag.
The experts’ advice to try to buy everything at one store was a bit of a struggle for me. Let’s be honest, no matter how many acres a single store may occupy, walking out with absolutely everything on one’s list is not a guarantee. When compounded by people grabbing enough staples for a six month isolation, the resulting shortages had me editing the week’s menu plans and rejigging grocery lists on the fly.
And when heeding the advice to buy from only one place, my treasure hunt for picking up sale items at different stores was no longer possible.
My small errands at multiple stores at short internals usually yielded individual totals in the 20 to 40 dollar range. The first time I had a grocery order that crossed over the three digits, I could feel the beads of sweat popping out of my forehead. The last time I had a total that high was Easter 2014, when I was preparing a dinner for 15 guests.
One week, I had an 8 day interval between shopping trips in which I had used up many staples. When the cashier announced my total was over $170, I asked her to repeat it… twice! Admittedly, if I took the time to add up my receipts from my old method with the multiple stops, it probably would have added up to something close to that, but I never really saw it.
Becoming a list keeper is not new to me. I’m usually pretty good about keeping a grocery list and to note items as they are close to running out. But in the first few weeks, I was tormented repeatedly when discovering that I forgot a key ingredient within minutes after returning home. With practice, I got pretty good at taking quick inventory of all staples and anticipating what might need replenishing.
The security briefings before stepping into stores were appreciated but so unlike our usual way of doing things. I remember one clerk advising I should “shop with your eyes, not with your hands.” I thought that was wise advice and hoped everyone else did the same. But trying to pick firm oranges with your eyes is not easy. When the first three I picked up with my freshly sanitized hand deflated on contact, I stepped away from the display and concluded that risking scurvy was the lesser evil when compared to risking Covid-19.
With grocery aisles not quite allowing two metres for social distancing, I appreciated the arrows on the ground that turned each row into a one-way street. But they didn’t come without their own share of issues like the dude parked in the middle of the aisle calling “Honey” to find out which flavour to buy. There was no way to get around him safely to respect social distancing rules and I feared the dire repercussions of doing a three point turn and going down a one-way aisle illegally. Who knew that my new normal would become this kind of traffic tie up?
With a full cartload of groceries, the express lane was out of the question, as I stood semi-patiently on my red dot, two metres behind another frowning shopper with a full cartload of groceries, grunting as he threw his items on the conveyor belt.
And then it was the production of hauling multiple grocery bags back to the car and then into the house. Every step felt infinitely more cumbersome and time consuming. Oh, and I found out the hard way that paper bags are crap on a rainy day.
And then when I got home it was the decontamination process of the items, of me, of the car, of the front door, of the entry hall, of the doorknobs, of the light switch, of the railings, etc. That, in itself, was enough reason to reduce the number of shopping trips.
Between the sanitizing, the social distancing, the bombardment of signage and the multitude of lines, arrows, dots and crosses on the ground, doing groceries wasn’t a heck of a lot of fun. But each time, I recognized the need for all of these precautions, to remain safe, healthy and to not become a community transmitter.
Through the first two months of the outbreak, I didn’t realize how much I would miss something as simple as breezing in and out of stores to run quick errands. Getting into the habit of less frequent trips to acquire more items was indeed a significant adjustment, but given the risks to staff and my fellow shoppers, the adjustment was worth it in the long run to do my part to help flatten the curve.
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