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Groceries and Neighbors During Shelter in Place

April 1, 2020

Courthouse News’ western bureau chief talks shopping and neighbors during shelter in place.

Chris Marshall

By Chris Marshall

Western Bureau Chief for Courthouse News Service since 2014. San Francisco Federal Reporter and Northern California Bureau Chief from 2006 to 2014. Passionate about photography, camping and history.

I expected things would be worse.

Not in Washington. The normal callous disfunction reigns.

The stimulus package is a start, but that’s it.

But this is not a political column.

(For somebody who doesn’t write political columns you sure like to take pot shots at politicians.)

(Hush with your valid retorts, little voice in my head.)

Yes, dear reader, at day 16 of shelter in place, the never-silent voices in my head are growing louder. I still realize they aren’t real. I haven’t lost it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Or with the infection numbers, though evidence is emerging that sheltering in place is helping.

I mean the situation at the grocery store wasn’t as bad expected.

A young worker stood at the entrance. Figuring they must be limiting the number of shoppers to make it easier to maintain six feet of distance I prepared to wait. But people walked past and she didn’t stop them.

“Do you want a cart?” she asked as I approached.

“Yes, please.”

Gloves on, she grabbed a spray bottle and a towel and sanitized a cart.

Images of barren shelves flashed through my mind.

But fresh produce almost overflowed the area at the front of the store. A few shoppers, many wearing masks and gloves, quietly went about their tasks.

Feeling lucky, and not for the first time since Rona stopped the world, I did too, finding all the fruits and vegetables on my list except real sweet potatoes, a luxury even in good times. No affordable frozen salmon for the second trip in a row in the neighboring seafood station, but Arctic char is a fine substitute.

At the rotisserie chicken case a man with a mask on looked at my gloved hands, then my face. I glanced at his mask, then his bare hands. I wondered where his gloves were. He might have wondered where my mask was.

Fear not, the beer and wine sections were well appointed, and though the selection was meager I was able to secure two cartons of eggs.

I decided to check on toilet paper, not that I planned on buying any. Empty shelves. Not a square to spare.

Little in the way of canned goods, pasta or sauce, but they had my green beans.

Only the cheapest cans of tuna remained, but plenty of canned trout and sardines signaled to me the situation had not become desperate for most.

Trained from a young age by my father to appreciate the oily goodness of tiny fish from a can, I grabbed a few tins.

Most of my fellow customers tried to maintain a safe distance at the checkout stands, where gloved cashiers stood behind plastic shields, cleaning bottle and rag close at hand.

Strange days indeed.

Stranger, my neighbors have discovered other people.

Growing up in small-town Maine I was taught to acknowledge people while out walking. You can wave, say hello, ask how someone is doing. But you should at least nod. If somebody doesn’t, they are rude or, worse, from away.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the majority of people walk right past neighbors without any greeting. To be fair, a minority are friendly, including one lonely and slightly loopy neighbor who likes to talk about my cat. I’ve told her more than once I don’t have one.

But now most look me in the eye and say hi while I’m out walking Klaus the dog. Some even ask how I’m doing, from at least six feet away, of course.

The other day we passed a man removing groceries from the trunk of his car. He smiled and asked how I was doing.

“Good and you?” I replied.

“Doing great,” he said.

He headed into his house.

A teddy bear painted on the front window waved to passersby, next to the words: “Be The Reason Someone Smiles Today.”

I’ll take it.

(Chris Marshall / CNS)
Categories / Health, Op-Ed, Regional

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