This week when I went to our local Trader Joes to get a few things for dinner, the very pleasant crew member asked me if I needed a bag. I had a little Japanese fabric bag rolled up in my pocket, so no, I didn’t. “Great,” they said, handing me my basket so I could go outside and bag my groceries on the “isolation” tables set up there. As I left, the crew member said that next week they would start bagging my groceries for me. With my own bag, if I had one.
Cool, I replied.
My city and county has been opening up public activities recently, like a slightly confused butterfly pulling itself out of its chrysalis. I’ve also had my vaccination, and though I still wear a mask inside when other people are present, the situation feels different. Not normal, not by a long shot, but heading in the right direction.
I’m flying to the Midwest soon to help my daughter move out of her college housing, and I’ll admit that the prospect of sitting in airports or crammed next to potentially infectious strangers isn’t causing me to lose sleep like it would have even a month ago. Sure, I’m worried about traffic and getting everything packed into storage and making sure our reservations are set. Regular, run-of-the-mill sort of concerns. What I’m not particularly worried about is contracting a virulent disease and facing the rest of my life with limited lung or cognitive capacity, or worse, ending up paying for my daughter’s education with my life insurance proceeds because the hospital ran out of ventilators.
I’m not foolhardy. No vaccine is perfect and viruses mutate. I’m traveling just enough to deal with family business and then it’s back to walks on the local beach with plenty of space around me, and working online. DayJob is talking about a “Flex” plan of office space without providing any real details and timeline for contractors, so I’m probably safe for the rest of 2021 at least. If COVID is going to get me, it’s going to have work for it.
When I think back to my first visit to Trader Joes at the beginning of the lockdown (excuse me, “shelter in place”), the difference is substantial. On that day, I got up early and stood in line an hour before the store opened. There was no shade because the mall never imagined people would ever queue up alongside the parking lot. I was wearing a homemade bandana over a paper mask. My hands were sweating under my latex gloves. My heart rate and blood pressure were elevated, and I was hunched over with the weight of my ignorance. How was the disease really transmitted? How long until we could get treatments? Would there ever be a vaccine? Everything was just damn scary.
So I waited in line, trying not to fall into recursive negative thoughts, and hoped that there would be a shipment of bread (maybe) and enough toilet paper (unlikely).
I gave up after that shopping trip, and instead spent hours online trying to snag one of rare delivery appointments from Whole Foods, or Safeway, or Nob Hill Foods. Anything to avoid the lines and the people and the rising panic in my brain.
Now I can walk down to the store and pick up a package of eggs, or butter, or fresh lettuce, and wait a minute or two to use the self checkout. Or maybe there’s no one there and I go to the checker and smile out of habit, even though they can’t see that part of me.
It’s not how things were, nor is it normal. Things are different now. They are, all things considered, not bad. And getting better.
Let’s hope we learn something from all this. I’m trying to appreciate small details. Like bringing my own bag.