Observations From Essential Personnel During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus Pandemic

I never thought I’d be on the front line of anything as interesting as the unraveling of American society, let alone the dismantling of the global economy. But as a cashier, in a high-end grocery store placed in an affluent neighborhood, my destiny was and is to witness human blight first hand as an invisible force bears down on everyone during the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020.

It’s here that I’m gifted an intimate view of panic and anxiety in a group of people that haven’t been backed into a corner in a very long time. I’m not judging the source of the wealth that affords them the privileges to which they’ve become accustom to having in life. But it’s interesting to see what happens when wealth can’t save you from an invisible monster. It can only let you know you have the virus when you’re already on a respirator, fighting for life. But I am no different. No one is safe. And our sense of reality crumbles with the slightest gust of wind when we lose the faux sense of control given to us in the lies of our fathers.

Coronavirus Pandemic

In the first week of the Coronavirus pandemic, I watched people subtly fall apart in front of my eyes. Their pain revealed itself in many ways. I didn’t see anyone cry or fist fight over toilet paper at my store, but I constantly scanned faces that were contorted in anxiety. Movements were quickened and borderline aggressive. The pace of emotions turned manic and shoulders tightened under the pressure of the unknown.

I remember one lady who wore a smiley face on her hat as she tried to send good vibes into the world but still seemed wrought with unease as she laughed at her own jokes. She reminded me of a kooky Aunt at a family gathering. I appreciated her attempt to lighten the mood by reaching out to her fellow human being even though I think she was one hoping someone would tell her everything was going to be OK.

I’m an extrovert, for the most part, until I’m not, but my conversation with her was not the time to be shy or dismissive. I smiled with the quirky woman as we conversed about whether her cats can transfer the virus. The conversation was easy and fun.  We put thoughts about the situation out into the world in the time we could afford, but there wasn’t much we could say. Our words rang into an echo chamber then fell into a vacuum. But, for my part, I think I helped her forget that tragedies are coming soon.

The momentary pleasure I received from my conversation with the cat lady abruptly came to an end as my eyes moved back to the long lines of white knuckle, toilet paper hording, stay-at-home Moms and aloof stock market brokers with clenched teeth. Each one of them waded through my line as if it were a swamp with alligators and snakes everywhere. Some smiled and tried to laugh. Others carried hollow stares and their minds were clearly elsewhere. I don’t remember my conversations with them, but I got a general sense they all thought same thing: it’s over.

A swath of upper-middle class Americans came through my line with the stark realization ingrained on their faces that they might have to let go of their housekeeper, Consuela, even though she has become part of the family. Now, Linda will need to get her own groceries and deal with her own problems. Everyone was heading into quarantine where families will be forced to have conversations with each other. The vaulted ceilings and open-concept kitchens will not provide enough space to escape the harsh realities of dealing with their so-called-life. They might not have known this truth as they packed their carts with unnecessary grocery items – denying other folks that needed it more – but soon it will be apparent and inescapable. Hell, none of us knew what was to come. I certainly did not know what I was getting into when I began working as a cashier some months ago.

Coronavirus Pandemic

I started the job in January after an “artistic sabbatical” where I worked on a novel I wanted to write and finish. And for what it’s worth a manuscript is done. I’d watched one too many Youtube videos about quitting your job and I opted out of a stable career at a company I liked, with people I enjoyed, because of the unshakable feeling that I was letting myself down and deeply unhappy. I had the luxury to jump so I did.

I didn’t think anything of being a cashier or working in a grocery store. It was a throw-away-type-job. I promised myself I would work hard but only for a short while, and eventually, I would go back into a higher paying gig. It was inevitable and obvious to me. I thought that I was past service industry work. I didn’t think that because I considered myself better than those people or their jobs, but in my simple, conditioned Millennial brain, I believed that I had graduated from that phase of life into something else entirely, as if I achieved higher enlightenment or some other bullshit. Oh, how I was completely wrong.

When word began trickling in that the virus had spread to United States and cases were growing, everything changed. The public and personal perception of what I do to pay the bills went from unnoticed to an essential part of survival overnight. My actual contribution to society greatly increased. I became a therapist, a resource and a “hero” instantly. And despite all the stress and uncertainty of my daily interactions I’ve found more self-worth in what I do now than any other job. I guess that’s what we are all looking for in some capacity or another. We are all in search of the things that make us “essential”. You, me, Linda, Consuela – even the cat lady – are in the same boat. I’d like to say the differences between Linda and I are vast, but really, I’m just as entitled as her and I take my life for granted daily.

It took the crumbling of institutions to shed light on the raw humanity and depravity that hides in the shadows of comfort.  I’m a slave to the luxuries of a society that has won over and over again. Everything we have come to know and love is in limbo. Nothing is certain. It’s where we go from here that matters, because this is far from over. And I don’t think I can make it alone. I don’t think any of us can. We’re gonna need to be there for each other during the coming months and years. The optimist in me hopes we become a better society out of this but the realist in me thinks, “Damn it, Linda! Where is Consuela when you need her?”

40 thoughts on “Observations From Essential Personnel During The Coronavirus Pandemic

  1. wow. i started in a grocery store about a month ago days before we got hit in indiana. my hiring manager and i laugh about this a lot right now. it was my first day on the floor when the zombies came in panic. ever since then ive gone through a lot of emotions myself, a lot. so have all associates ive met. i was happy and grateful to stock spaghetti two days ago. a good portion you know?

    because our pasta aisle is empty.

    we live in a suburbia country area, kinda out of the heavy city vibe. and we got hit so so so hard. thank you for doing this.

    1. I work in a grocery store and have never seen so much hoarding in my life. I know people are distressed by this but, I am quite sure they really don’t need cases of product. Most of these people UN aware that most stores have suspended returns during through the duration of this crisis.

      1. Often wondered what the clerks were thinking when they see the changes in people

    2. Interesting but you could leave off the bad words and not be so judge-mental. Everybody who shops at a certain store does not have a housekeeper and some of them just may be struggling. Some just may be very high risk. Some of the shoppers may have children who are in your type of work and some may have family in the medical field. Take care as we all should.

      1. What bad words…I work at acme markets in NJ.. 31 years…so far the worst hit state..even though us SOUTH jersey people are NOTHING like north Jersey..we are part of the highest numbers yet..
        WHAT BAD WORDS are you referring to.

      2. Bad words? That’s what you focus on first? There was maybe one or two mild bad words in this whole writing.
        There was no judgment either.
        This is beautiful written by someone who should obviously be in a career this skill would be more useful!
        I hope he continues on to more manuscripts and a best selling novel

      3. I Found This Piece Very Interesting and very Profound!!
        I Am A Retired Nurse and Above the Age Of 80 years.
        The First thing I Thought was How Can I Be Of Help. I still carry My License But Do Not Work For Pay.
        I called Aound to VOLUNTEER. But Was Denied one idea after Another Because Of My Age.. That Made Me Sad Because I Am Perfectly Fine & in Good Health.
        But An interesting Thing Occurred!!
        My Dear Friend of 52 Years was Having Greayt Difficulty Inderstanding and Coping With Whar Had Changed Our Normal Lives.. I Found My Purpose and It Wad To Help Keep Her Alive and Healthy!!
        Several Phone Calls A Day To Encouage Her To Establish A Routine. Also To Drink water and To Eat. To Find That Hobby She Started 3 Years Back and That She Never Fonished Because She Used to Be So Vibrant and Busy!! We Talk Alot About All The Good Memories We Have Made Thru Those 52 Years!! We Look at Photos and Have Dome Laughs About The Fashions We Wore Way Long Ago. We decided We Shall Have Our Hair Styled Once Again Like We Wore in The 1960’s. And ,We Are Planning A Huge Celebration IF We AreLucky Enough To Survive This Deadly Invisible Enemy!!
        My Friend Just Turned 89 This Week.
        Now The Hoal is To Make it To 90 Years Of Age
        Let’s Hope We Can Be Here To Hold A Very Special Birthday Celebrations!!
        And Our Younger Family Members Will Be Shocked At Our Glrios Plans!!!!

    3. Thank you all but the other heroes are the moms dealing with handicapped children who are so confused. Ittruly adds to the stress and anxiety. We all need to help one another this has been the most serious by far and sad and hopefully we can get through it. Extremely sad for those who didn’t. God bless us all.

      1. I have worked in grocery and never thought I’d have a effect on people like my job has had, people have so many different opinions and feeling s of anxiety about the pandemic,I had a old lady ask me to put gloves on before I rang up her stuff, I explained it wasn’t protocol, I didn’t wear gloves because you would have to change them after each customer, I could yell she was anxious, so I said you know what, for you yes I will wait right here and I will get some out if my locker, if doing that simple thing can ease her anxiety, then why not,from them our conversation was lightharded, and she left happy,it made me and her feel good,being a good cashier means really listening we are all in this together just like they say

  2. Vety acute observations. I enjoyed it very much. I can believe that you are a writer. Please continue documenting your experiences. Also, please keep writing…

  3. Really insightful read. Funny how essentials are becoming up front. Enjoyed your article.

    1. Thank you for sharing your observations and comments, please continue to share them! I must say that the first time I went to grocery store and saw empty shelves where bread was suppose to be and toilet paper I was pretty shaken up. I had heard that people were stocking up/hoarding but seeing it made everything so very real. The thing is that the next time I went they had bread and paper towels with a limit of two per customer. I must say that I was and am very grateful for you and others who are helping to supply us with what we need to sustain us. I have always believed that people are much more important than things and that is certainly true now. Again thank you for making a difference and for sharing your thoughts and talent.

      1. You are a gifted writer. And, hey, so are a lot of your fellow workers on the front-line of this pandemic, judging from their comments.I wish you could use your ‘realname’, but I understand why. I know a whole lot of talented people,, particularly musicians, who works nine-to-five, then play on weekends. You have a GREAT future. Fantastic ‘word-smith’! Does it come naturally from a young age, or have you had advance training in composition? Text my e-mail when your book comes out!!!!

  4. If we make it out of this, you’ve got a bright future as a writer! Thank you for going to work every day! Stay well!

    1. Very interesting. My husband and I have said the same thing. I am looking forward to your next message. Keep writing.*

    2. I work at a chain pharmacy on the front end and your writing is spot on. Please continue. You are very observant. I truly enjoyed this

        As someone said u r ‘spot on’
        ” ” ” Very TALENTED
        I worked a diff essential – a pet store until cuts mid to late Apr
        We have a wonderful “melting-pot” of workers, customers, clients… I miss it so much!???
        so we did have the wide range of the spectrum of experiences/interactions
        I worry & pray for the workers still there & hope & pray that I get my (almost) 15 yr job back. Hope to be rdg more from you but w/ no computer & limited internet/wifi
        I am keeping my fingers crossed

  5. Thank you for risking your life every day to keep this country functioning! Looking forward to your follow-up “musings”.

  6. This is great work..both your job and your writing. We are living a profound event that will be talked about for generations.

    Thank you for being on the front lines and for documenting it.

  7. Thanks for your insight and opinion I really enjoyed f reading this looking forward to more judy

  8. Thanks for putting all this ” mess ” into words. Stay safe and keep us updated on your job. Hopefully things will be back to normal soon, whatever normal is. I don’t hoard but usually stock up on some items when they are on sale, things that I use often. The shelves look bare on quite a few things. Maybe things will get better soon. Stay safe…..

  9. You’re a very articulate writer and I’m glad to have found someone that is documenting this from the inside. I’ve been an avid grocery shopper for a long time taking care of family members. I have done their shopping as well as my own, going to the grocery maybe three times a week if not three times a day! Then they tell me to change my ways to help with the spread. So I try to go just once a week. I’ve missed seeing familiar faces. I’ve actually been at the opening hour when I was informed one day a truck would be in unloading during the night with most likely the most coveted item…toilet paper! So I went to get my allotted pack of four for a family member. It was crazy. A car whipped around me to beat me into a already crowded parking lot. And a shopper came barreling behind me with her cart yelling for me and others to get out of her way. You would think to beat us to the toilet paper, but no…she had more already in her cart than allowed and she mowed us down to go throw her items back on the shelves knocking other items onto the floor while yelling. That’s when I realized we probably had a real crises on our hands. It’s a real eye opener to go in the store now to see what groceries are the most coveted. Pasta I understand. Ramen noodles? Really???

    Keep up your documentation! Hopefully it will be something we will look back on one day and say “Remember when?”

    1. This crisis brings out the best (and worst) in each of us. I do grocery at least once a week. Its just getting whats on my list and go. Never really took time to look at people around me. Never really seeing how people are as am so engrossed in my own thing.
      Thank you for writing about us. Next time I go out and go about my thing, I would try to pause and look around and get a glimpse of how people are. To say a prayer. To hope that we will all get through this stronger, a better person and having a better understanding of what and who is more important in each of our lives.
      God bless you. Keep on writing. Its God’s gift to you! Will watch out for your book/novel.

  10. I too, work in a store. I am an “essential worker”.
    I see the ugly side of humanity.
    I see people who are angry at : standing in line, angry at the lack of assistance (we are extremely short staffed), and the lack of product on the shelves.
    Most of the customers I deal with are rude , sarcastic, and downright mean! They think the rules don’t apply to them.
    At my store, their was even a person arrested because he thought he was entitled. He did not want to wait in line. He threatened the employee who was lcounting customers (we can have only so many customers in the store at any given time) with a gun!
    I would like ever so much to tell these people “go to he’ll, (or even something more vulgar) but I need my job.

    1. If one feels “entitled” he/she behaves as if that’s obvious to all. Arrogance is not a part of “coming together”, but is mostly divisive . Thank goodness many people respect themselves and others not to behave in such a churlish way.


    2. I am sorry that fear brings out the worst in some people, and thankful that the same fear brings out the best in others!

    3. My wife is a cashier, I’m a stocker. The best of people disappear when stressed. She has been threatened by thoughtless entitled customers daily. She is merely reminding them of the limitations of certain items. With me it is the constant continuous questioning of do you have this item, can you go check in the back. I tell them that we are working on getting the freight sorted it is impossible to get to it, if it is even there. Can’t you just go look, is not a nice question.
      The writer was spot on with her depiction of the mindset of coustomers, numb & cold. Sad

    4. If I was in your line, I would tell that customer to go to hell for you! Nobody should treat cashiers like crap! The everything is about me movement should come to an end! We’re all in this together.

  11. You are a very intelligent and brilliant writer. I would love to see this as a book written by you. Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Be safe at your job. Thank you for continuing your work both at the grocery store and writing your life experience with the COVID-19 virus. God Bless you.

  12. I worked retail for 7 years, decades ago, but I retain the solidarity with you and your brave colleagues who are these so the rest of us can have full bellies and a little bit of peace. Thankfully I have never seen anybody taking it out on a worker, and I make sure to be extra friendly and verbally thankful, but I’ve still seen fear and resignation in the eyes of a few who’ve rung me up and I wish I could take away their memories of the entitled jackasses who’ve yelled at them.
    Thank you for documenting this aspect of these horrid times. I look forward to more installments.
    Please spell out what we, the public, can do to help your day be less stressful.

  13. Keep up the keen observations, you have a historical view & the ability to write in a meaningful way. I see an interesting book in your future. I worked in a grocery store when my children were small, it was the only night job close b. y – so husband could watch kids and we could bridge an economic gap due to his job loss (Wang Computers drastically downsized in 1987). I was a college graduate & found it amusing how people who did not know me looked down their noses like I was ignorant & being a cashier was the best I could do. I got a new appreciation for minimum wage works, I lost 10 lbs. in 3 months bagging groceries the work was that physical. You are an important voice!

  14. Thank you for putting into words what we all “ESSENTIAl WORKERS” are going through. I work at a home Improvement store. I have never seen people act so badly and so entitled as I do now. We’ve all had days that we can’t make it without tears in our eyes. Keep up the great work you are doing cashiering, observing , and writing!!!

  15. That writing was eloquent. Everything was so well said that I believe your book must be amazing!

  16. 5/12 I’m 81, in good health and shop when I must, carefully, with a mask. Today at a grocery I waited a few steps away while a woman pawed through every packaged steak again and again. There was a sign that said please take 2 only. It took her so long that I finally reminded her that one of the new suggestions is not to handle EVERY item. Made me feel better ! She didn’t reply just took several steaks and left the area. Made me grumpy for a while !!!

  17. It was so interesting to read your post. As other people have said, you are clearly an excellent writer. You observation “from the other side” are perceptive and interesting. As a shopper I watch other shoppers with solemn expressions with no one looking at each other and no one speaking to others. Hey folks, we can still speak to each other! We are not dead yet, and most of us are going to survive this just fine. I agree there are shocking moments in all of this, as one woman pointed out when observing empty store shelves for the first time. My reaction was also shock end my immediate reaction was the it looked like Poland during WWII.

    None of us knows where this is going and that is very unsettling. So, I will look forward to your future posts and please get your novel published. We are all looking forward to it!

  18. Well now, what can I convey to you now that has not been yet. Let me say thank you to all essential workers from around the world. This is my world.. My mortar and brick world. I have only left my home once since first hearing of the epidemic. I am a shut-in more or less. This started months before the virus descended and slowly escalated to never wanting to leave but making myself because I have responsibilitys . It would be unhealthy. I had to do the right thing. Now, I am afraid. I have an enemy to blame. My psychosis has free rein if I choose to become a hermit! Lol. It is kinda funny. I think what.I’m trying to say is this disaster will be promoting a lot of weird psychosocial emotions as time goes by. You have already noted quite a few. It does help to expose it and discuss it. Talking reading and writing about this makes it real. I, we have to face it.. It’s not going away any time soon! Please keep writing and KEEPING IT REAL! Thank you so much.

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