Our New Normal


Yesterday, I went to the grocery store.

I hadn’t been outside our apartment building since Saturday, which feels like a lifetime ago. I hadn’t gone anywhere besides the grocery store since last Thursday, which seems like two lifetimes ago.

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

I pulled on gloves, I took the stairs instead of the elevator, and then, when I rounded the corner and was not presented with the tables and chairs usually set up in front of the two closest bars, it felt like a slap.  The streets weren’t completely empty — there was a taxi idling at the corner and as I walked to the store, a food-delivery service worker peddled past on his bike — but  his face was swathed in a black scarf like a ninja and it was empty enough that a friend’s description of the streets as Zombie Land felt apt.

How do you run a grocery store during a pandemic?  Strategies have been put into place since Friday, and I have to admit such evidence of forethought and social order was, well, comforting.  There were printed signs on the doors explaining the new policies:  carts and conveyor belts cleaned after each customer; customers required to wear plastic gloves and stay 1 meter apart. There were police officers at the front door, watching as I walked in.

There was plenty of produce (but no zucchinis).  Very little ice cream.  Absolutely no toilet paper.  There were only four other people in the store, none of us even making eye contract, as if even that was dangerous.

When I went to check out, the floors were taped in front of the registers to indicate where to wait in line and still keep the required distance. Would North Americans, with their wide open spaces and desire for elbow room, need such a concrete reminder to stand far apart?

A mask-clad clerk scanned my items and it felt odd not to know whether or not he was smiling. I realized I hadn’t really taken a deep, fully-relaxed breath since I walked into the store.  Another thing I’d forgotten to do was weigh my avocado, which is a terrible faux-pas here and always means a lecture.  Not this time.  The clerk handed just handed it to the security guard, who went and weighed it for me.

When I walked out, it was hailing.   I took a deep breath and headed home.