Strange to think that we’re all on the front lines this time, wherever we are.
For me, it’s Texas, just southwest of Houston. The nouveau corona virus hasn’t put us on government lockdown here yet, although rumors swirl suggesting we soon will be. On Wednesday, county officials ordered all bars and restaurants to close, although restaurants still may offer carry-out food if they care to. Next day, the governor issued a similar order state-wide, adding gyms to the list of businesses that must close. Oh yes, and all schools, until sometime in April.
Yesterday I decided to make the drive between this old house on the river to the house we recently bought five miles away. We are doing our best to fill it with furniture, spruce it up with landscaping plants and all that mess.
When I drove to the place where our little street intersects with the federal highway that bisects our town, I found a very long, snaking line of vehicles blocking my way, heading across the Brazos River west, where I also was headed. Luckily for me, the traffic was all jammed up in only the left lane. A kind person allowed me to cut through and get into the right lane, and I was able to head down the road to my destination via an alternate route. I went through the intersection at the foot of the bridge, glanced to my left and saw the string of cars heading out of sight, toward the county sheriff’s office.
A check on Google showed the reason: The sheriff had decided to give away gallon jugs of bleach to anybody who wanted some. Bleach (and rubbing alcohol, sterile wipes and hand sanitizer) cannot be found in grocery stores or at Walmart or Target, now that the public has been advised to use same.
Apparently it never occurred to the sheriff that a lot of people would come take him up on his offer. They waited in the traffic jam, some for three hours or more according to the social media posts they created, watching the river flow below the bridge on which they were stuck, spending hours running their engines in order to get a jug of bleach.
We’re at war with a germ. The commander-in-chief says so, and now refers to himself as a wartime president. But we have no army, no idea whether we’ve caught the germ, no germ testing kits. If we get sick, we’re told to call our doctor but stay home. Disinfect the house, don’t cough on anyone, wear a mask. But we have no germ weapons, no masks, no disinfectant short of that which the sheriff is providing in exchange for a three-hour wait and, apparently, no hospital doctors upon which to turn.
We’re all in this together, and we’re all on our own.
OK. You play the hand you’re dealt.
So you go to the store to look for the things you and your family needs. I did that the other day and wasn’t impressed with the results. Our huge grocery and retail chains and their mighty distribution systems were basically unable to supply even the likes of toilet paper and cleaning supplies.
So on Friday I experimented with the HEB grocery chain’s food pick-up system: You give them your credit card info, set an agreed-upon date and time, shop for your stuff online, and go show up outside the store at your appointed time. Someone comes out with your stuff in a shopping cart. Not bad.
But not perfect, because they still can’t sell you cleaning products they don’t have. Also, if your kids are lactose intolerant they’re out of luck because lactose-free milk is sold out.
However, it worked well enough that I thought I’d try to use Walmart’s similar system to fill in gaps such as the milk. No, no. Even with it’s many billions of dollars available to spend on the world’s best IT team, the Walmart website was nearly unusable. After having to start over six times with the sign-up process, I finally succeeded in getting to the part where you shop online. After making all my selections, a pop-up window informed me that, despite what they’d told me earlier, there was no lactose-free milk. And then all my payment information disappeared from the website. Again.
So, back to HEB. However, when it came time to choose a date and time on which to pick up my order, HEB had nothing available until April 3, almost two weeks away.
I decided to just go brave the unwashed masses in person and hope for the best. But first, I logged back on to the HEB site and tried picking another date and time. Miraculously, this time it said I could get a pick-up order within three days. OK, I said. I shopped long and hard. Found lactose-free milk, but it was organic and cost like $4 per half-gallon. Still, I accepted the gouge and moved on. Saved my cart, felt lucky with what I’d achieved in These Trying Times.
Then I heard my phone ding, with the following text message from HEB: “Due to high order volume, your order may be delayed and may contain more substitutions or out-of-stock items than usual. We appreciate your patience.”
Don’t get me wrong. Such inconveniences as not knowing whether you’re about to run out of toilet paper mean little compared to contracting a dread disease. Still, it’s not the channel I’d choose to watch, if I had a choice.