They Mostly Get Social Distancing · 25 April 2020

Costco Logo

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I was not going to write anything else about COVID-19 or social distancing or the pandemic or cabin fever. Then, I went to Costco.

I had heard that Costco was the place to shop during the pandemic of 2020 (anticipating that I might see another in my lifetime), but I was not really wanting to go there. Especially since I had no idea whether they had toilet paper there or not. (I have no real idea whether there will be another pandemic in my lifetime, but I will make sure to have enough toilet paper.) Actually, we did not need toilet paper, but I was sorely tempted to get some when I was there. Simply because it was there.

When I first got to our (fairly) local Costco, I thought it looked pretty normal. The parking lot was not overflowing like usual, but there were plenty of people there. The one strange thing though was that there were no lines at the gas pumps. I guess people really are not going anywhere in our neck of the woods. Which is good news.

After I parked and got out of the car, I got just an inkling that something was different. There were signs that said, “ENTRANCE” pointing to the right of the entrance to the store. That was weird. The entrance was right there, but the sign said to go farther away from the entrance to actually enter.

Still, the store entrance looked mostly normal (besides that sign). It looked like all the carts were lined up ready for people just like always. But as I got closer, I realized that my perception was wrong. There was a line of people waiting to get in. I almost turned around, got in my car, and drove home, but realized that I had to at least check it out a bit closer.

What I realized was that the carts were not lined up like normal and that the line was not just a line of people waiting to get in. The people all had carts between them so the line was not as long as it looked. And the carts! Oh the carts were something special. The carts were arranged in a maze pattern. Well, not really a maze. They were set up like the ropes in the lines at a ride at your favorite amusement park. People (and carts) had to zig zag back and forth several times before they got to the entrance. But the rows of carts were two carts wide so that people were six feet apart one way and since everybody in line had a cart, they were six feet apart the other way too. Plus, they had signs telling everybody to keep six feet apart. So naturally, everybody was six feet apart.

At any rate, I saw all this as I followed the sign and got to the back of the line. There I was met by a person giving out freshly disinfected carts. I even watched as another person sprayed the carts with what I presumed was disinfectant. (Earlier, I had seen this person walking from the entrance to where the carts were and thought that she was getting ready to spray poison on the weeds. She was merely getting her supply ready to spray poison on the germs.) It was quite the operation just to get people into the store.

Inside the store, people were friendly enough. But not quite as talkative as normal.

“Oh, you’re getting bananas? I love bananas.”
“I would try that if I was more adventurous.”
“They have the best chicken here!”

Still, it was a public place with people who have germs. So I get it. The normal banter was not so normal anymore. Instead, you could almost hear the germophobic thoughts of some.

“Stay away! You have germs!”
“Don’t breathe your infected breath on me!”
“Stay six feet away!”

Flatten the Curve
by RCraig09
(Alteration: size changed)
Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Okay. I do not know that anybody really thought the last one. But there were signs everywhere that said to keep your distance from others. (Six feet away.) Even the employees’ badges said it. “Keep six feet away.” (No exclamation point.) They were still as friendly as usual. As long as you kept your distance. Six feet away.

Perhaps the most interesting thing was that the checkout line went winding through the store all the way to the back and up the far aisle. It seemed crazy. Still, the line went pretty quickly. (By the way. If you like computer simulations, there is a problem that people like to solve and simulate about whether it is better to have one long line or individual lines to the checkout.) Since the line went by the toilet paper, I was tempted to get some. I know. It sounds crazy. After all, I got some the last time I was there, which was before the stay at home order. We still had plenty left. But still, for some reason, I thought that I should get some. Just in case. All those people who hoarded the stuff early on could not have been crazy. Could they? (Ah pandemic. Take dem out of pandemic and it is panic. Not sure who dem are, but they must be the sane ones.)

The last thing that showed me Costco had something going was the checkout. They had plexiglass shielding between the checkers and the people. And it was interesting that they had gone back to the way grocery stores used to be. They unloaded my cart and put it on the conveyor. I remember when every grocery store was like that. Ah the good ole days. Way before the pandemic of 2020. I also amused myself thinking that watching them disinfect the shielding was somehow comforting. When my total was figured, I grabbed my own receipt out of the printer and away I went. I held my receipt up to the person at the exit (also behind a shield) and I was out of there.

The most interesting thing about my trip to Costco was that it took about the same time as it always did. It did seem a bit less crowded than usual inside, but that could have just been some strange trick of perception. (Or everybody keeping six feet apart.) Still, I think that the Costco folks have gotten it right. Maybe they are even onto something for the future. Who knows? (Actually, I am pretty sure we will go back to being our normal impatient selves and will go back to crowded shopping.)

When I look back on my two or three pandemic shopping experiences, I marvel at Costco. It is certainly necessary that they stay open. And not a few of their employees seemed a bit anxious about that. Still, they seem to be doing it right. Just make sure to stay six feet apart.

© 2020 Michael T. Miyoshi

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