The night before, my son reconnoitered the local Target and Safeway. Panic shoppers had stripped the shelves, a fact he recorded on Instagram.
But we had a dinner party planned for a couple of friends — a notion that already seems quaint. So, I decided to do some grocery shopping, but at a local health food chain. This store, unlike others in Boulder, offers friendly service, calm aisles, cheap prices and customers who exude full-on mellow vibes along with patchouli. The staff mostly looks as if they drifted away from a Pre-Raphaelite painting, only they’re less well dressed.
Cars packed the parking lot. I walked in, and all the carts had been taken. Each of the registers were going full tilt, with long lines snaking down the aisles.
I looked at my list, a short one. I glanced at the now infamous pasta shelves. Picked bare, except for orecchetti, and bow-tie pasta. Why don’t people like the odd-shaped noodles, anyway? Canned soups, gone. Ramen, gone. Most of the rest of the items still stood on the shelves, though, or were being restocked by the staff.
People kept their cool. They minded their manners. But, no one strolled or loitered. The shoppers focused. Eyes snapped left and right to assess the half-empty or bare shelves. Quiet urgency ruled. A father and son wore surgical masks.
And it was quiet. Still, like a stench, fear floated in the air. It clung to me the way cigarette smoke used do, stinking up the clothes. I had to make a deliberate effort to not let the atmosphere suck me in. A severely claustrophobic sensation. And I don’t really suffer from claustrophobia.
Once in line, I waited. It was about nine yards long, snaking past the Elderberry syrup display, which claimed it was good for your immune system.
The two women behind me began to chat. In Boulder, this is as unusual as empty shelves in supermarkets. Hardly anyone ever talks with strangers in a checkout line. But the middle aged woman with earnest brown eyes who seemed as if she had joined us from a village in Sicily, was saying that we didn’t have the right to judge other people’s reaction to the virus.
“We don’t know,” she said. We don’t know if they’re immune system is compromised or if they have their grandma living with them.
The other woman nodded. She was in her twenties, probably, good posture, an oval face, large eyes, a Byzantine madonna come to life, oddly enough.
Together we worried about waiters and the other workers who would be certain to lose their jobs.
And actors, I said, and all the theatre companies that had to close.
At this, Madonna perked up even more. “I produce dance events,” she said. I asked if they’d cancelled, and she said yes.
“But were working on doing it online — making it kinda different? A new thing, maybe interactive? We’re still going to do it. One way or another.”
We commiserated a bit longer.
“Maybe it’s good,” Madonna said. “Maybe it’s good that everyone just stays home and reads a book and takes a bath.”
“Right,” said the Sicilian.
“Maybe it’s what we need to remind us that we’re in it together. To help each other out. And maybe we’ll take time to think about things — remember what’s really important.”
“Maybe,” I said.