Coronavirus Columns: Coronavirus is ruining my trips to Walmart

Just two weeks ago, I didn’t have to worry about catching a deadly virus while picking up a candle.

Illustration+by+Michelle+Rodriguez.

Illustration by Michelle Rodriguez.

Corey Rose, Guest Columnist

This is an installment of our Coronavirus Columns series, where students, staff and alumni can submit columns about how they’ve been affected by coronavirus. Submit yours to [email protected]

As I push my brave little Scion through the crowded parking lot of the Walmart Supercenter in Delray Beach, I start to have second thoughts.

It’s Friday, which means pay day, which means it’s time to replenish my groceries, toiletries, and conveniences for the rest of the month.

I’ve been going to this Walmart since I moved to South Florida. It was the first place I went when I started growing my hair out, and it’s the main store behind every great meal I’ve ever made. I even came out to my father in the cereal aisle on move-in day my freshman year.

Two weeks ago, this trip was a breeze. I went around noon with my fraternity brother, picked up everything I needed, and left.

In the spirit of social distancing, I went alone today. I got up early to get there by 9 a.m. and beat the Friday crowd of others who were lucky enough to see a check hit their bank account that morning. I’m not sure if they will have what I need.

It seemed as if everyone had the idea to beat the crowd, because at 9:15 a.m., the parking lot is packed with shoppers, security guards, and employees, all taking their own precautions.

Some have one glove, some have two gloves, a scarf, and a mask to top off the look. I have my own armor in the form of sterile blue gloves I swiped from my job and a reusable mask I ordered from Amazon. When I walk up to claim a shopping basket, the attendant halfheartedly pushes a freshly sanitized one in my direction, choosing health over hospitality.

I start toward the produce aisle, but that end-of-days paranoia catches up with me and I find myself steering my basket across the store toward cleaning products and accessories, just in case someone walks off with the last tube of toothpaste while I’m choosing between Caesar and chef salad packs.

Toothpaste is still in stock, as well as deodorant, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, water, conditioner, and shampoo. My grip on the basket tightens; the amount of hygiene products left in stock leaves me optimistic that I’ll strike a gold mine of toilet paper, bleach, ammonia, and window cleaner.

Still, I’m not going to walk laps around Walmart looking for items in order of how likely they might be gone. Some of my earliest memories are grocery trips to the store with my mother, and how she would religiously follow the same path through the store like an autonomous vacuum cleaner, sucking up every deal and not missing a single corner. 

With health and beauty items in tow, I return to the front of the store to restart my journey the proper way: produce, then pantry items, meat, health, home and beauty, cleaning products, and then frozen items.

Most of my trip through the store goes exactly as planned; milk and cheese are up by 25 cents or so, but a dozen eggs have gone from $1.09 to $2.34 in just two weeks. 

The ‘home’ part of health, home, and beauty includes a couple candles for my bedroom, at about three dollars each. My twice-monthly trips to the candle and scents aisle is a treat to me, from me — my reward for another two weeks of being Black and gay in Trump’s America is standing there for at least ten minutes and deciding between a three-wick ‘Country Vanilla’ and a 2.4 oz ‘Midsummer’s Night’ aromatherapy oil. These trips are one of the few times throughout my routine that I can stop and just think about one thing and one thing only.

It is there where I have my second flash of panic: How many people have touched these candles before me?

With 567 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Palm Beach County alone, the possibility that I could have just infected myself becomes fact for the briefest of seconds.

It’s the little things like random price spikes, and the small frights from simple tasks that you were doing without a thought two weeks ago, that make this scary. In those moments, you are reminded that this virus is affecting our daily lives in many ways beyond the efforts we take to slow it. It could be anywhere, and if you get it, it’s difficult to trace exactly where you got it from. 

By the time I make it to the aisle that houses cleaning products, paper towels, and toilet paper, my hope is gone. The small sheet of pink construction paper hanging from the top shelf that reads “Temporarily out of stock” doesn’t even get a raised eyebrow from me.

There isn’t a single product on the shelf.

I circle back toward the registers, grabbing all my frozen necessities on the way. On the floor leading up to the self-service check-out aisles, there are blue stickers on every seventh floor tile that read, “Thank you for practicing social distancing. Keep at least six feet apart.”

I take my place on a blue sticker and keep my basket closer to me than normal. It’s crystal clear who’s taking social distancing seriously and who isn’t — you can tell by how big or small the person allows their social bubble to be. The lady in front of me glared at me because my basket wasn’t at least six feet from her, and I couldn’t even blame her.

I pay for my items and take a hand-sanitizing wipe on my way out to my car, wiping down the handle of the basket once my groceries are loaded in my trunk. It’s shortly after 11 a.m. and there’s already another car ready to take my spot. 

I hope that when everything returns to normal, we will all be able to look at people like they are people and not obstacles to be dodged on the way to your next destination. 

It’s ruining my trips to Walmart.

Corey Rose is a junior multimedia studies major.