Whether it is your local IGA, your local Ralph’s, or your local mega-Walmart, while Americans prepare to self-quarantine, prepare to binge Netflix from a Charmin throne, the people who unload the trucks and stock those increasingly empty shelves are putting themselves in harm’s way, are going above and beyond in an already tough job that just got a whole lot tougher … and dangerous.
Heavy cartons. Cold refrigeration units. Endless numbers of boxes that need to be opened, unpacked, broken down, and tossed away. Endless shelves that must be restocked. Punishing hours of drudge work for low pay, and all while at risk of getting sick…
We would be lost without these marvelous people, many of whom are seniors, i.e., those most at risk of the Wuhan coronavirus, who were looking for a few extra hours to supplement their social security, or to just get out of the house.
Many of whom are students. It’s kind of sport now to point and laugh at Millennials and Generation Z-types who are out there defying orders to practice safe distancing, but let’s not forget the young people working the cash registers, unloading the trucks, or as I saw the other morning, helping a disabled homeless man in a wheelchair check out his breakfast of day old bread.
These people are every bit as crucial to our supply chain as farmers and truck drivers, they are a vital part of that elite (yes, I said “elite”) group who keep our world turning.
Over the past few days I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some grocery store managers and workers, and they tell me there’s a good spirit to go along with the extra work. “People are pulling together, there’s a sense of camaraderie, and a sense of serving the community,” one manager told me. “It’s exciting and unpredictable. But we’re pulling together to serve the community.”
“We know a lot of the people who shop here. These are our neighbors,” he added.
Our local Walmart was a 24-hour store, but as of last week it is now open only from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. But an associate told me the work still goes on 24 hours. “We still have three shifts and use the hours [we’re closed to the public] to keep the store clean. So no one’s losing hours. Associates are getting more hours, which they like.”
The best news I heard is that people who have lost their jobs due to restaurant closings are finding jobs at Walmart. “We’re hiring people from the closed restaurants. They’re getting hours. We’re still looking for temps and regular employees, and everyone is happy to get the hours.”
All of this matches what I have seen personally. On my most recent panic buying spree, I was all over one of our larger grocery stores.
They had just opened. It was just after 6 a.m. and there were more employees filling shelves than customers. Morale looked good as they hustled to and fro, telling me “good morning” and greeting one another.
You know, I’ve made this point before, but the reality of what we’re going makes it in ways no one can truly articulate.
Let me use myself as an example…
If I stopped doing what I do for a living tomorrow, some of you would miss me … for a while, and then you would move on.
If everyone who does what I do for a living — punditry, columnists, commentary — disappeared tomorrow, some masochists people might miss cable news and the like, but you would eventually move on.
Going even further…
If everyone in the entertainment industry, everyone in sports and media, everyone who writes, catches a ball; every artist, painter, performer, director, producer, dancer, singer, songwriter, and poet disappeared tomorrow (and some have in this economic shutdown), we would miss them, we would miss the spice and seasoning of life, but we would move on… Life would go on.
Now try to imagine life without someone unloading those trucks and stocking those store shelves…
Because without them it’s anarchy.
Many of the people who keep our world turning are the working class… The woman shivering in the refrigeration unit as she fills the milk rack, the truck driver who spends days and days away from his family, the plumbers and electricians and janitors and road workers and farmers and exterminators and office cleaners and ditch diggers.
And the grocery store workers.
No grocery store workers, no supply chain.
No supply chain, no civilization.
Godspeed to everyone out there keeping our world turning.