I had to line up to get into the grocery store this morning. They were only letting people in two at a time, like Noah’s ark. They let a woman and me in at the same time. She was of childbearing age. I wondered what might be expected of us when we got inside and got a little nervous.

It turned out there was an employee just inside giving instructions and two was the maximum number of people the area would take. I was mildly relieved.

“First, we’d like you to use the hand sanitizer before going in. We have one dispenser by the door where you just entered and another by the door leading into the store.” He points to them one at a time the way a flight attendant points to the exits in an airplane.

“Secondly, please use one of these cleaned carts.”  He fans his hand across in front of him to indicate the carts the same way Vanna White shows us what’s in today’s showcase. I’m thinking he might have a future outside the grocery business.

“And finally, when you’re inside, please look for the arrows on the floor of the narrow aisles. Only go in that direction in those aisles. And remember to keep 6 feet apart.”

I sterilize my hands, grab a sterile cart and go timidly inside.

I only need decaffeinated coffee, regular coffee and two boxes of cereal. I head straight to the coffee aisle. But it’s a one way street with the arrows pointing at me. I take a quick left then a right down Condiments with the intention of taking a right turn onto Coffee and Cereal.

I’m thinking to myself what the instructions would have sounded like if I’d stopped and asked.

“Well, you take a right at the hot dogs and go two aisles down until you see the olive oil. Turn left and keep your eyes peeled for the gluten-free bread. Hang a right there. It’s a bit longer that way, but there’s no traffic. Then take a right at bleach and another right at baby wipes. It’s on the left where the yeast used to be – you can’t miss it.”

But there’s gridlock on Condiments. No! Some woman is studying the pickles like she’s preparing for her LSATs. There’s no passing, not without breaking that six-foot barrier, so we wait. Three of us. Cooling our heels. Looking at items beside us we neither want nor need. Finally, she makes her choice and traffic starts to move again. By the time I get to the mayo, traffic stops again. To feel productive while waiting, I toss a jar of mayo into the cart. Yes, toss. It was plastic. I then take my right turn, and again have to wait. Some guy three carts ahead is studying the bags of coffee like they’re the dead sea scrolls. He’s wearing a wool hat, homemade mask, heavy coat and winter gloves … hazmat lite. He’s probably stopping here before heading to the OR to remove a gall bladder. Traffic backs up, but everyone remains calm. Eventually, he finds what he wants and we all start to move.

I finally get beside the coffee and put the decaf in the cart. I realize I’ve overshot the regular coffee by about four feet. By then, the person behind me has stopped at the six-foot mark and is waiting for me. I can’t go back for it, I’ll be too close. And I really don’t want to circle the block again. Who knows might be studying those pickles this time? So I look at her and tell her I went past the regular coffee. She says no problem and goes to back up, but there’s someone six feet behind her. So he has to back up to she can back up so I can back up. Lovely. But they accommodate the rookie shopper. I grab the regular coffee and move. In my haste, I come close to walking past the cereal, which is right across from the coffee. I see it just in time. I get my wife’s Cheerios, but I know sure as shootin’ I’ve again passed what I want. I can’t bring myself to ask these folks to back up again, so I decide that I really like Shreddies and grab the jumbo box because it’s within reach. Great. I’ll be eating these suckers when the leaves turn colour. But I can’t hold these people up again. I’m sure they all have lives to live. So that’s it, I’m finished. All I have to do now is get to the checkout.

This is also a process. I push my cart towards the checkouts. I see the six-foot demarcations on the tile in front of each checkout. I’m about to stand on one of them when I look to my left and see yet another lineup. I knew this was too easy. So I backtrack to find an aisle that will take me north to the mountains. This is where I believe the lineup starts. On the way, I pass the beer fridge, so I grab a few beers and a bottle of white wine to make this portion of the voyage worth it, much like the earlier mayo escapade. Make it look like you’re there intentionally and nobody will know what a rookie you are.

I go down about six aisles because it seems all the aisles that lead to the lineup are one way. About the time I think I’m being punked, I find one and turn right, only to see an employee in that aisle filling the freezer. He’s filling the aisle, too. There’s no way I’ve got six feet to get around him. I might have to go over him to get to the lineup. I’m in a quandary. Where do I go? I’m not even sure I can get there from here. If I want to ask for directions, I’ll have to raise my voice because everyone is so far away. And nobody is being loud. Being the rebel I am, I zig left around the employee go the wrong way down the adjoining aisle and zag right into the lineup. I check my rearview mirror. No lights, no sirens. I got away with it. I’m sticking it to the man!

Checking out was straight forward. I put my stuff on the sterile belt and pay. I escape out the front door to the sounds of the preflight check being given to the next two shoppers about to enter the sterilized gates of hell.

This experience left me with a couple of profound thoughts. First, I’m grateful for the staff working under these conditions. That can’t be any fun. I’m also grateful that, to a person, shoppers kept their distance. I figure this is a poor spot for pickpockets, even with people wearing masks. Like so many others, they’re temporarily out of work.

I’m also struck by the thought that I should get used to this, for a while at least. It’s the new normal in Pandemica.

April 7, 2020