We went inside a local grocery store last night because they carried a few items that I was out of, plus SMITHWICK’S ALE, and I am somewhat sorry that we did. We decided to do it because they are one of the few stores around here that are requiring face coverings. Although I am excited to have Duke’s mayonnaise again (it’s the little things these days, right?) I had a disturbing conversation with the cashier.
I am of the opinion that food workers who process food and who deal with the public (grocery cashiers, managers, stockers, wait staff) are front line workers. I am well aware that health care workers are at the front of the front line, in the gravest danger. But everybody has got to eat, and as a former cashier/retail manager I know how difficult it can be to deal with the public. I also know firsthand about being the working poor, with no sick leave. Now with people actually getting killed by domestic terrorists for simply trying to do their jobs to abide by their employer’s rules, these workers are definitely on the front line.
So, I was a bit chatty, and I had a few bucks in my pocket and I tipped the cashier, telling him that I appreciated him being on the front line. I had wanted to do that for the curbside delivery people but it was contactless and paid ahead of time online. We are not rich by any means, but we didn’t really need our stimulus payment because I am still working and Sandy is getting his Social Security payments – it went to paying off Diego’s vet bill and paying off debt, so I have been tipping generously and donating to charity.
The response I received surprised me. He told me that he was not on the front line, that he was there because he had to be, that he had heard that from several people and for personal reasons it was somewhat offensive to him to be told that. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I tried to explain my reasoning and told him to split the tip with his co-worker if he wanted. I could just see the anger and the words “fuckin’ Karen” behind his eyes, even though his tone was flat and polite. I wasn’t going to argue with him – he has a right to his feelings and who knows what his personal reasons were. Maybe he had a bad day.
We won’t be going back into a grocery store for a long time, unless absolutely necessary, because the cases are still increasing in North Carolina. It was strange to feel so excited about being able to walk through the aisles and picking items from the shelves, as if we were in an American grocery store for the first time – they have this! And this! I also went to Walgreen last Sunday after my walk with Susanne because we needed distilled water and toilet paper, and I felt the same way. There weren’t many shoppers and they were pretty good except for one couple without face coverings, who I easily avoided. There was hand sanitizer for customers to use next to the door. (There was no toilet paper, but Deep Roots Market got me some later.)
But now I feel so anxious that we made this grocery trip. It wasn’t necessary – I wanted Duke’s mayonnaise and I wanted to shop a local merchant who was good about safety precautions. But there was no sanitizer and many of the customers who were there to buy beer, cigarettes, and lottery tickets only had bandannas tied around their faces. We washed up as soon as we got home and tossed our masks into the washing machine. I was awake until 2 a.m. thinking about all this.
We have got to make sure that everybody has access to personal protection before we open up everything. Maybe we can’t force people to do it, but we can make sure that they have the choice to wear it. The cashier told me that some customers were pissed off about the face covering requirement. I told him that they were also going to get new customers because of it because people on Facebook were spreading the word to those who were looking for food stores with these requirements.
I feel so fortunate that I do not work in retail any more.