I strapped a homemade mask to my face, pushed a rickety cart through the sliding doors and immediately realized that the coronavirus hasn’t changed any of the realities of life in the New Jersey suburbs:
There is no social distancing down the product aisle.
The crowds at the ShopRite in Bloomfield where I normally buy groceries were half what they would be on a normal Sunday morning, but given the narrow aisles that still meant this place was crowded with humanity. There was no hope that I could get through this experience without getting within six feet of other buyers every time I turned a corner.
This was the shocking first part of this experience. Next was the number of people who seemed oblivious to what was going on around them. A short walk from the supermarket, I met a man who was emotionally asking an employee if the store had any avocados in the back.
“Are you SR for going out?” He asked.
Hey buddy, I love guacamole as much as the guy next door. But now is not the time to be picky about the contents of your shopping cart. Take something and get moving!
The client, an older man, was not wearing a mask. I would estimate that about a third of customers were, even after the CDC recommendation a few days earlier. Even more strikingly, many cashiers and baggers also did not wear masks. Given that employed in at least 25 ShopRites had tested positive for coronavirus, that stunned me.
I felt like half the people in the store saw this experience as a Walking Dead scene, moving cautiously from aisle to aisle with one goal in mind – to get the hell out of there. And the rest? It was business as usual, just another shopping spree, mindlessly checking the items on their list and complaining about empty shelves.
I encountered a man in a motorized cart barking at an employee who kindly asked him to obey the six foot rule while he was in line. “But I was within six feet of people all the time when I was shopping! He stressed. He was right about the absurdity of that, and absolutely wrong to question her.
And the whole scene seemed, well, deeply stupid.
Just steps from this supermarket, Brookdale Park – a beautiful 121 acre green space – is cordoned off with yellow tape like a giant crime scene. If you sneak under this strip and try to get around it, the police will apprehend you and chase you away. I’ve listened to enough of Governor Murphy daily briefings to understand why this is necessary.
But, back in the ShopRite, I ran into another shopper looking for the latest box of taco shells, I found myself stuck in a crowded cereal aisle when a couple were arguing over the choices (or their absence) and stood three feet from a cashier behind a Plexiglas Barrier which was basically useless if either of us moved our body in another direction.
The voice over speaker, the Jersey-accented sage who typically informs customers that ground beef is on sale for $ 1.99 a pound, was now begging customers to follow social distancing guidelines.
The aisles were marked for one way traffic with big red arrows, something I didn’t notice until another customer showed me the ground and told me I was going the wrong way. I felt like the worst mocker, but when I flipped my cart to follow the rules, I immediately ran into another oblivious New World Order buyer.
“What you do makes a difference. We now have enough data to say it comfortably, ”Murphy told New Jersey residents on Monday, but added that any deviation from our social distancing patterns could lead to disastrous results. “Now is not the time to put on soccer balls or take our feet off the accelerator. It is not over, and not by far.
Look: I have no idea how much of our social distancing success is under threat as we are still clogging the aisles of supermarkets. They have been classified as “essential” businesses for a reason. We need food to survive.
But it was more than clear that few people inside this store really needed anything – myself included. I wanted some fresh meat to cook for dinner, but I had some in our basement freezer. I wanted fruit and veg for the kids, but they’ll have to make do with whatever I take out of a jar or heat in the microwave.
I understand a lot of other people might not have this option. I also know that trying to find a niche for grocery deliveries is like trying to get tickets to a Bruce Springsteen show. It takes a lot of patience and even more luck.
This is why people still have to make the arduous trip to their neighborhood supermarket. Corn duty are the key words here. If my trip to ShopRite was any indication, there are too many people who don’t understand what the word essential means.
The product aisle is guaranteed to produce one thing: stress.
Stay away if you can. I know I will.
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