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What it’s REALLY Like Being an Essential Working in the Pandemic

The pandemic has gotten to a point where “this pandemic has been hard on us all” is starting to feel redundant. 

People haven’t been shy to share how quarantine and the pandemic has affected them, and for a good reason. Sharing our experiences helps us feel a bit more connected to each other, even if we must stay six feet apart. There are the more lighthearted updates, such as shaved heads or the mid-quarantine sexuality/gender crisis that half the queer population seemingly went through (those two may or may not be related depending if you are a buzzcut gay or not). Then, there are the not-so-good updates. The news stories of full hospitals, small business closings, stimulus checks not received, leaders more concerned with making money than saving lives and everyday people under massive financial, physical and mental stress as a result of our government’s incompetence. 

One phrase has stuck with me during this entire pandemic, and it’s one that has been consistently in the media since this all started over a year ago: “Thank you essential workers!”

As an essential worker

I’ve worked at a grocery store throughout the entire pandemic, and as an essential worker, this phrase and many others similar to it gives me mixed feelings. There undoubtedly are many professions who have been hit much harder since the rise of Covid-19, such as healthcare workers. However, grocery stores and other restaurants that kept their doors open while nobody else could have been hit pretty badly. 

It might sound dramatic, but I’ve seen the best and the worst humanity has to offer over the course of this past year. 

With the pandemic bringing out the kindness in some and the selfishness of others, just witnessing first-hand how people during hard times treat us “essential workers” with either gratitude or the utmost disregard, has been eye-opening. Slapping a cute catchphrase over the grueling hard work and borderline traumatic experiences our frontline minimum wage workers have been through just feels empty despite how well-intentioned it may be.

What people are missing

Despite this half-hearted thank you being broadcasted on every station and channel imaginable, it still feels as if most people have forgotten. There were several days during the height of the pandemic where I often had to close early due to severe staff shortages. Coworkers kept getting sick, and I was extremely worried. However, customers would come running in to shop as if what felt like the apocalypse wasn’t happening right outside, being as pushy and rude as ever. 

On numerous occasions, I was screamed at for closing early since I was “inconveniencing” the customers. Without a care to look around and see I was literally the only person in the department at the time. Dealing with customers who don’t wear their masks properly, coughing everywhere and putting us at risk has become a daily occurrence. 

The lockdown closed most businesses and schools, but jobs like mine only got harder. 

Corporations will do anything but send employees home and keep us safe in order to increase profits. Meanwhile, customers will continue to scream, argue and fight with the managers as if the deadly pandemic doesn’t exist. Just this Christmas Eve, as the omicron variant started to spread at unprecedented rates, grocery stores were packed with unmasked people doing last-minute shopping. 

Customers fought and shouted at us as we tried our best to deal with the rush– on top of maintaining our own safety. The amount of grief I got from customers that holiday, taught me a lesson about minimum-wage workers that I’m going to carry for my entire life.

What you SHOULD be thinking about

No matter where you go, always treat the employees with respect and patience. Especially in times like these, their jobs are hard enough and nobody should be making their jobs even harder.

P.S. If you’re one of those people that takes off their mask to talk to employees behind the counter when they tell you to speak up I hope your pillow at night is forever hot and sweaty.

If your parents ask what turned you gay, just send them a link to one of my articles.
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