Ready or not, once again history has caught us up in its riptide and carried us out to sea. I suppose I prefer witnessing history being made to the alternative of not witnessing it for whatever reason (being dead springs to mind), but I wish it didn’t strike so abruptly. Each day brings more shocking news and fresh worries. It makes me nostalgic for the overhyped, doomsaying days of Y2K. Because, regardless of what some people have been claiming (and as much as I’d like to believe it), I don’t think this coronavirus is being blown out of proportion. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve been worrying enough. And Glen, who exudes common sense and almost never shares my anxieties, agrees with me. So last week, after a few days of discussing the feasibility and making lists and plans, in the late afternoon of Friday, March 13th, we came home from a shopping trip and went into self-isolation.
Costco was the last stop on our pandemic-prep checklist that day, and the other errands had gone quickly and efficiently. We’d scored the groceries, the liquor and the pharmaceuticals that morning in the nearest small town with an H-E-B grocery, a Walgreens and a Twin Liquors. Yes, the H-E-B was very busy, but nothing like the Austin stores, whose barren shelves were being shown every evening on the news. So with those purchases made, we proceeded into the city.
I was giddy with relief at how easy the day was turning out to be, and even made some foolish remark about how Costco should be “a piece of cake.” After all, I babbled on, Costco’s a big store with plenty of everything! It wasn’t as if we needed much. We already had ample toilet paper and freezers stocked with food. It would be an adventure! Glen warned me that I was being too optimistic. I just laughed. And then we pulled into the Costco parking lot.
There were no spaces left. After circling the lot in futility, Glen drove to the outskirts and parked the truck against a curb. Then we went to join the river of humanity headed for the store’s entrance. Our “adventure” picked up speed when we passed a woman pushing a shopping basket full of food, paper goods and little children. She called to us over her shoulder, “They’re out of carts. You’ll have to get one in the parking lot!” Glen and I looked at each other. Uh-oh.
So Glen followed her to her car, helped unload her groceries while she did the kids, and then returned with her cart. We went into the store.
Much later, we emerged with most of the things we’d come for. No thanks to me, though. We’d been shopping for maybe fifteen minutes when we noticed that the glum-looking people at the end of the frozen vegetable aisle were leaning on their baskets, not shopping. Every so often, they all moved a few inches forward. Oh, dear God. It was the checkout line—a long, long line that snaked around the interior of the store. We’d already excused ourselves to pass through it several times on our way down the aisles, not paying much attention, not realizing what it was.
For a dumbfounded moment I stood open-mouthed, trying to comprehend the magnitude of it. What had happened to our short list of simple errands? The day had been going so well. We didn’t need this nonsense! Then I spiraled into a minor tantrum, insisting that we leave, and wasting valuable shopping time in the process. Glen was unmoved by my dramatics, and eventually I calmed down and we resumed shopping. (Later that day, over cheeseburgers and frozen margaritas—our last restaurant meal for the foreseeable future—he claimed he would have put me in the cart’s child seat if I’d misbehaved any longer. Knowing Glen, he would have.)
But by the time we took our own place in the Costco checkout line, my sense of humor was back and so was the spirit of adventure, which many of the pandemic preppers waiting with us seemed to share. Chatting and laughing with them made the time in line fly by. Surprisingly, it turned out to be fun.
I’m grateful we had that experience, ending the day on a good note of joking and camaraderie, enjoying the company of other human beings. Now it’s nearly a week later. We have all the time in the world, and no place to go. The news grows more alarming. Each day we hear of more closings and cancellations as retailers, schools, libraries, sporting events and municipal offices shut down. Television shows us empty restaurants and city streets that look like movie sets fallen into disuse. Always, there are deaths to report. Many people besides us are self-isolating, taking seriously the warnings that we must “flatten the curve.” Will it have the desired effect? Can we relieve what could otherwise turn into an insupportable burden on the U.S. health care system? Or will we end up like Italy? And then there’s the economy to worry about. The stock market’s cratering scares me more than the virus does.
A year or two from now, what kind of world will we wake up to? Those of us who are still here to wake? I hope with all my heart that Glen and I can wake up to the sight of each other, to our cows grazing in the pasture, to the knowledge that everyone dear to us came through the nightmare unscathed. I hope for the people who made our trip to Costco a little better, too. Starting with the woman who warned us about the lack of shopping carts. Once Glen had loaded her purchases into her car, she asked to know his name. This question, from a stranger in a meeting of mere moments, took him by surprise, but he told her. And she said, “Thank you, Glen.”
May all of you stay safe and well.