The Temperature Station

Pandemic Temp

Almost immediately after the pandemic began our store started taking the temperature of employees and vendors as they came in for their shifts. The resistance to change was obvious as I watched the annoyance build on their faces when I asked them to do certain tasks. They were small and easy, but different and seemingly asinine for both my co-workers and me. But I needed the hours and they were willing to assign them to me in this form, so, I gladly helped the staff do what corporate told me to do. We are all company men when it comes to survival.

We are seven weeks into quarantine and the store is continues to be organized in a way that makes for one exit and entrance for customers. The other door is only for employees. Walls of grocery items, like cases of water and juice, create a maze around the employee entrance. A swath of signs telling customers, “Not an Exit” and “STOP” line the formidable structure at every conceivable angle, yet, the customers do not understand and try to leave through it all the time.

Pandemic Temp Guns

I see three possible explanations for this behavior: one reason might be that I work at a busy store and new guests don’t understand the layout. I can’t fault people for not knowing the new world grocery store experience. Another possibility for this behavior is that folks don’t pay attention to signs or warnings or abnormalities and they are slow to react to the change. Evolving to our circumstances is difficult and we all can be stubborn. I get it. I am the same way too. Blissful and blind ignorance happens whether we like it or not.

A man walked up to the employee entrance with his cart ready. I wasn’t too concerned because we have “gig” delivery drivers come to the door all the time. But I asked if he was one, anyway, and he nodded, indistinctly. The interaction was peculiar, but I just assumed he was new and didn’t know what to do. I showed him the process of checking in and moved on quickly because I had two other employees waiting to have their temperatures checked.

After I cleared his temperature with the thermometer, he strolled into the store casually as if he was shopping instead of heading into the store with purpose like the delivery drivers. I had a moment to ask him if he was an employee. He responded with a thick mid-eastern accent saying, “Huh? Oh no, no…I’m a customer.” I explained to him that going forward, he will have to go through the front entrance. He apologized profusely and I walked back to my post.

He thought we started taking the temperature of every customer. Some places do that now and I’m sure many more will follow. The man accepted what I considered a formally unthinkable reality as the new norm. I still wonder if he was just playing dumb because he didn’t want to wait in the line up front. Did he game the system? My instinct tells me no, and he fell victim to the same confusion we are muddling through during the pandemic. The innocence of the interaction was shocking but I much prefer it to the more frequent encounters I have with certain people in the public.

Pandemic Temp Check

When I began to occupy the temperature station, daily, many customers attempting to leave would realize their mistake, apologize, and use the correct door. But the longer the pandemic and subsequent quarantine persist the more I see people with a combative looks on their face when I deny their entry or exit. It’s the same expression I saw in the woman I wrote about in The Meltdown. Our patience has worn thin. Every one of us.

This group of “rebels” carry an obvious intention in their eyes, like they know it’s not an exit, but they want to test the boundaries anyway. These folks usually turn around and follow the rules, but they do so with a fair amount of anger in their eyes. There have been several instances where they caused minor scenes that lead to the employee giving up and letting them out the employee only door.

Pandemic Temperature Gun

I’ve learned that we are the proverbial pin cushions they use to fight against the rules and perception of lost freedoms. It’s misdirected and childish and very human. In a perfect world, they would trip and fall flat on their entitled faces the moment they step out. Because I can’t legally stop them from leaving. There are no ramifications for not following the rules except they might not be allowed back in the store if they cause a scene, but their rebellion against me and other grocery workers is inconsequential. It’s masturbatory and all for nothing. If I touch the customer they can sue, and I would get fired. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

I understand these are trying times and the adolescent-like-rage we have brewing inside of us has nowhere to go — everything is confusing and muddled. But who are we raging against when we walk through the grocery store clerk or belittle them? What is the end game? They didn’t choose for their role in society to shift dramatically, but they’ve adapted nonetheless. Some better than others. We are all having to change our behavior to keep humanity afloat. And many of us have done so successfully. It’s a sight for sore eyes.

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