This morning I went to Trader Joe’s for the first time in nine months. The closest one to us is only a couple blocks away, and pre-pandemic I was there at least once a week. When it was no longer safe to be shopping in stores, we transitioned to Fresh Direct deliveries, and now that we’ve gotten used to it we decided that TJ’s didn’t have anything so essential it was worth the extra exposure, not to mention the inconvenience of lugging things home. So it fell out of the rotation.
But, with Christmas around the corner I thought we deserved something a little festive, so I decided to get out ahead of the daily shoppers and attempt to pick up some of our old favorites. The experience was oddly emotional. Immediately upon entering the store I was struck by the difference in my own mindset compared to the last time I was there. There were other more tangible changes as well — far fewer shoppers, placeholders six feet apart in the checkout line, some of our favorite products being retired or out of stock — but I was more preoccupied with how what used to be a rather fun, leisurely activity was now fraught with danger and scarcity. Whereas before I would casually browse for interesting new products to try, now I was worrying about how much each passing minute would increase my exposure to a deadly disease, and trying to figure out how many cans of oranges versus boxes of frozen Indian food I could fit in my cart so that I wouldn’t need to come back any time soon, and did I have room for more beef jerky?
Even the Christmas music seemed muted, I thought — then realized, it probably actually was, because with fewer customers in the store the volume level would have to be lowered proportionally. To add to the confusion, all the refrigerated items were hidden behind drawn curtains — I later found out it’s because the power to the refrigerators had gone out some time during the night, and they were trying to get them back to the right temperatures faster, but for a while it just looked like they really didn’t want me to buy eggs.
They were all small things, really, but I couldn’t help being sad as I thought about how much innocence we’ve all lost this year. The pre-COVID-19 America seems like eons ago already, and let’s not kid ourselves, it will never return. We’ve all changed, and entered the 21st century, such as it is. It’s a different world now. One where your spouse tells you “Good luck, be safe,” before you head out the door to buy groceries.