This past week, I was home for spring break. While I expected the week would consist of movies, shopping, and outdoor activities, the week instead consisted of panicking over the fact college was moving online and that my friends would potentially be trapped abroad. In the midst of all this anxiety, our family started to think of what supplies we would need when self-quarantining. That question led us to make a trip to Costco, and the experience left me somewhat concerned about the future.
Costco has always been one of my favorite shopping destinations. The atmosphere has always been welcoming, the products have always been high quality, and the food samples have always tasted great. The employees even used to draw cartoons on the shopping receipts when I accompanied my parents as a child. I never thought Costco’s friendly and tranquil atmosphere could change within the span of a few days, but this past Tuesday I could barely recognize Costco as the store it had always been.
Thankfully, I did not make the trip alone. My brother Niko accompanied me since both of our parents work full time–and we needed to stock up for the coronavirus isolation. Our shopping list was nothing outside of the ordinary: chicken, milk, eggs, juice, water, and bread. Yet, buying each product was a challenge.
Costco is out of all toilet paper, disinfectants, and soap. Trader Joe’s is out of frozen food. And Asian Supermarkets have no rice. I feel like we’re in the Hunger Games. To protect our employees, Blogilates HQ is working from home next week. But don’t worry – you’ll still get your new workout video every Sunday! Should I make a 14-day Quarantine at-home workout plan for you guys? ?#kiddingnotkidding #blogilates
Upon entering Costco, we were greeted by a sign stating, “No bleach, no toilet paper, no hand soap.” I never realized how common products greatly impacted my sense of safety and stability until I read this sign. These were products I never believed could vanish from the shelves. The idea that I could always get whatever I needed gave me a sense of underlying security that I never knew was there–until it was gone.
Niko and I walked through the barren aisles, searching for and substituting whatever we could. The entire meat section looked like a hall of mirrors. Everything but a pack of organic beef was gone. People herded around the deli as they waited for rotisserie chicken and mothers zoomed through the cleaning supplies aisles. Surprisingly, the cold and flu medicines were fully in stock while toilet paper was completely gone. It was as if the store had been raided during some sort of apocalypse.
The most astonishing part was the checkout line. While we were shopping, I thought people were continuously traveling down the center aisle of the store. In reality, they were all waiting in line. The line for self-checkout and regular checkout extended from the front of the store toward the back like train tracks without a visible end. Some people were taking pictures and others were calling their loved ones in awe of the store conditions. Niko and I exchanged shocked expressions and bursted out laughing. Empty shelves and endless lines were the fallout of a consumer culture threatened by the inability to shop– and we were participating in it!
Don’t get me wrong; there is no one who loves a successful shopping trip or online score more than me. Yet, the public panic of losing accessibility to goods made me question the central role consumerism plays in our daily lives.