Grocery Shopping in the Time of Quarantine

Photo by Arianna Stahlbaum

Growing up I found myself running through tunnels on secret missions. I’d often wake with a rush after plowing through a battlefield, desperate for survival. I recall fear going into battle, and strategizing for only one outcome: victory.

I was on a mission one recent Friday afternoon. Our fridge needed restocking and a project needed finishing, so I volunteered to venture into the pandemic. 

I left my room in need of a break from hours of online schooling that was slowly draining me. I found my mom in the garden outside and told her I was going to the store to fetch some things. 

A few days prior I posted on my Instagram story that I was writing letters to people and that if anyone wanted one, send me their address. I had some letters finished, but I needed envelopes.

I also needed some ingredients to make dinner and went around the house to see if anyone else needed anything. The list became this: envelopes, olives, jalapeños, orange juice, soy milk, cotton rounds, and cheap fruit if there is any. 

My youngest sister asked to come along, as being cooped up was starting to settle in and she needed an outing to keep her sanity. She called from the garden, “When are we leaving?”

“Five to 10 minutes. Be ready.”

I told her to grab a mask, then I grabbed a snack-size Ziplock bag, a trash bag, two pairs of gloves, my car keys and wallet. When I got into the car I tucked the trash bag in between the passenger seat and the center console and placed everything else in the cup holders. 

Now off to Fred Meyer.

When I pulled onto Highway 20 I couldn’t help but notice how at peace the world was. While everyone was in isolation and drowning themselves in social media or work at home, Mother Nature was drawing a brush over the trees, the grass, and a nearly cloudless sky. 

Watching the scenery as we passed reminded me of each season — spring, summer, autumn, and winter. 

Spring’s pastel pinks sprang from buds. 

Summer’s fierce greens shone with glistening pride. 

Autumn flaunted her burgundy and golden curls, which draped over branches.

But winter stuck out. Its bare branches remind the world that you need some ugly to appreciate the beauty. 

Indeed this quarantine has shown how little we appreciate that beauty in a normal day-to-day scenario. We get in the mindset to check off items on our to-do list and find it difficult to make time to rest. Even now with online schooling, online jobs, and online socials, it is difficult to get away from the business of life.

When I got on Circle Boulevard, I looked at my speed. I usually drive faster during the day and late-night drives are slow and steady because no one is on the road. Everything is so peaceful. 

A midday Friday during quarantine was just that. Peaceful and empty. I was taking the ride slow.

While passing Corvallis High School a bright sapphire-colored blob caught my attention. Looking over, I was amused and felt warmth as I watched a girl in performance-ready makeup and full uniform go through a cheer routine for a camera she has set up on her fence. 

Was it for a TikTok? Or maybe a tryout for her dream team? Perhaps just for fun?

Whatever the reason, she was staying active and productive despite being trapped at home. 

Before the official stay-at-home order by Gov. Kate Brown, my mom cheerily exclaimed, “This is a blessing! You’re going to have more time to work on things you never have time for.” 

I hate to admit it, but she was right. I am filling my downtime with creativity rather than submitting to the couch potato lifestyle. 

We reach the store and I park. I place my license and debit card in the Ziplock bag and into one of the side pockets in my leggings. In the other pocket, I place my phone and car key.

I grab the face mask hanging from my rear-view mirror and adjust it over my face. Next, I pull a pair of gloves over my hands. After briefing my sister on how to remove gloves properly, I reach for my door handle. 

We get out of the car and I grab a hand-written note with the list of needs (so I don’t have to pull out my phone at any point and possibly contaminate it) and a grocery bag. As we walk towards the automatic doors I feel overwhelmed. I am walking into a war zone. 

The mission: get in, get things, get out. 

What struck me when I first walked in was quite a lot of people who chose not to wear masks. As I made my way back to the office supplies, I noted that about a third of the people in the store weren’t wearing masks. 

Two months ago it would have been unusual to see someone wearing a mask at the store. It was also weird that none of the employees were wearing masks or gloves.

The media tells us it is not necessary to wear masks unless you are contaminated or are in close proximity to someone who is infected. I argue that because symptoms do not arise for up to 14 days, or may not even be present, we should all wear masks in public. 

I worked at the Farmer’s Market a few weekends ago and while I took precautions, there was still a chance that I caught Covid-19. I may have had the virus but did not know because there were no symptoms, so if I did not wear a mask, I could have been spreading the virus. 

We split off to divide and conquer. We found everything but the soy milk. 

As I walked back and forth in front of the milk section I became frustrated. Whole milk, half-and-half, 2 percent, chocolate soy, but no soy. “Great,” I thought to myself, “I’m going to have to go to another store for this stupid milk.”

The problem with that is I would have to go to the next store without gloves and possibly contaminate not just my hands, but my car, too. In the end, I just went home and decided to get it another day. 

At self-checkout, I pulled my card out of the Ziplock and paid, then put it back into the bag and back into my legging pocket. Noted: the bag and that pocket are now possibly contaminated. 

Walking out of the store I briefed my sister on what was going to happen next.

“Okay, when we get home, the first thing you’re going to do is wash your hands. Then grab a change of clothes and when you change out of the clothes you are wearing, make sure they are kept inside out. Then throw them in your laundry pile and don’t touch it for at least three days.”

I took a different way home. I decided to pass my church and venture onto Ninth Street. It was expected, yet still shocking to see how little traffic was on the road and parking lots where I used to fight for the now empty spots. 

At the moment there was no sadness. This way of life is our new normal and will be for a while. There is an understandable fear behind Covid-19, but we should be encouraging and helping each other through it — six feet apart. 

Almost home now, I began reflecting more on what my mom said. This will be a chance to get done things we have wanted to do, like knitting, building, photographing, cooking, reading, and writing. 

This will end.

In the meantime, make the most of the situation.

Let your creativity break free!

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