top of page

Grocery shopping in the time of 'Rona

Perhaps it was my 10-year-old brain convincing me that I had a cloak of invisibility, and that if I walked around inside the A&P while eating that honeybun I hadn't paid for, nobody would see me.

Genius, right?

Or, possibly, one of my 5th grade pals (Yeah you, Andrew) had told me that if you ate the honeybun without leaving the store, it wasn't - under the law - technically stealing. (Accompanying this story is an artist's rendition of what I remember Andrew looking like when he shared his genius.)

Whatever the reason, it didn't work, and the A&P produce manager grabbed my arm and asked - right next to the rutabagas - if I'd paid for the honeybun in my hand.

Oops, I said, I forgot. I told him I'd go get the dime from my aunt, who was shopping elsewhere in the store, and come right back and pay for it.

I did, and I apologized to the cashier and to him.

That was the last time I apologized to a grocery store cashier - until Covid-19 struck.

Now, I feel like doing it all the time. Only now, I am not apologizing for some failed honeybun heist: I'm apologizing for being in the store at all.

Grocery store employees face enough dangers in the time of coronavirus from other customers, many of whom seem to think that not wearing a mask is some bold political statement, without me running up in there every other day to get some Cheez-its.

"Miss Quanisha" - I said through my mask, reading her name tag - "I'm sorry to have to come in here and expose y'all to me" and placed eight cans of sardines and a box of soda crackers on the belt.

Noting her quizzical look from behind the plastic shield the store had belatedly placed between the cashiers and the customers, I explained what I meant. She smiled and said "Thank you."

Even before reading a recent Washington Post story about the devastation Covid-19 has wreaked on grocery store employees, I'd been limiting my food runs and every other kind.

The Post story said at least 5,500 people have tested positive for Covid-19 and 100 have died since late March. They were deemed "essential" workers, but they sure weren't treated as essential: many were not provided masks, gloves or those plastic shields until thousands had become infected.

Since being re-classified from low-skilled labor to "priority workers," they now have the option of staying at home and protecting their family and themselves - without pay or a job, of course - or going in and risking their lives while apoplectic patrons berate them in the midst of a pandemic for pointing out that that coupon for 2-for-1 Yoplait yogurt expired a month ago.

"The $800 billion grocery industry... employs more than 3 million people in what are typically low-paying positions with little job security," The Post story reported.

After finishing that story, I became even more determined to make do with whatever vittles I already had at the crib.

No more runs to the CVS just to get a can of cashews or a bag of sugar-free Jelly Beans.

Down to my last dab of Duke's mayonnaise?

Too bad. Just have to eat that baloney sammitch dry or - egads! - use Miracle Whip.

I didn't even try to return the three cans of chicken - yes, CHICKEN: UGH! - Vienna sausages I'd inadvertently scooped up on a recent Food Lion foray when they somehow got mixed in with the armload of the real kind. Besides, I may actually one day get hungry enough to eat them.

Without getting all "Kumbaya-ish," this 'rona may make us realize that we're all connected and now, more than ever, really are our brothers' and sisters' keeper. Perhaps we'll demand that every American have access to healthcare and a guaranteed minimum wage.

I was simultaneously heartened and horrified when I saw people on Staten Island shame a defiantly unmasked shopper from a grocery store: I'd like to think they were trying to protect the beleaguered, underpaid, under-appreciated workers instead of bullying a hapless shopper who'd forgotten her mask.

Yes, we're a village and all that, but when this whole 'rona thing passes and we can go to the grocery store without fear for ourselves and others, I want to have a talk with the sadist who invented chicken Vienna sausages.

Because who are we kidding? I'm never going to get hungry enough to eat those things.

Kaleather Haynes, a master tailor who used to do much of the alterations for Men's Wearhouse and who now works for herself, still has masks available for $5 in a variety of colors and patterns. is addressing that issue. You can reach her at 984-514-0627.




Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


  • Twitter Round
  • Instagram - Black Circle
  • b-facebook
bottom of page