Notes from the Homeland: Day 1

While we may never know when COVID–19 first appeared, we can definitely date the moment here in the homeland when people realized that maybe they should take it seriously. It was the day the state closed K–12 schools for the month. It was also the day that the local university decided to cancel classes for two days and then re-open as an online-only institution. That was the day the toilet paper really began to fly (off the shelves).

It was a day like any other day for me. I drove the girl to way-too-early–in-the-morning track practice, came home, had a cup of coffee, prepared for class, and went to campus. In class, we discussed our contingency plan, and even managed to squeeze in a bit of discussion about the assigned reading.

As class ended, one of my students who is an RA (a residential assistant in a university dorm) announced that he had just gotten word that the university was in fact going online. Okay, we decided, good thing we had a plan. Everyone filed out. I went upstairs and attended a webinar on alternative ways to approach grading papers. It was just me, a grad student, and the faculty member who organized it, and we had to huddle around a laptop — because the room’s equipment was, of course, not working — but we enjoyed ourselves and the physical intimacy made it feel less like a webinar and more like a conversation.

Afterwards I headed home, where I heard that the governor had announced that the state was closing all public schools until the middle of next month. Oh, I thought. Now things are going to get goofy.

I decided that the best thing I could do was grab our standing household grocery list, add a few items for a long-ish weekend, and head to the closest grocery store and get a shop in before all the parents picking up kids from school, and knowing they wouldn’t be going back for a month, decided they needed to stock up for the apocalypse.

Too late.

When I walked into the store, I didn’t really worry that the cart I grabbed was the last one: this particular store isn’t necessarily the most organized, and they are often running low on carts. And it wasn’t that crowded as I worked my way through the produce. But by the time I cleared through the meat section and was heading to the back corner of the story to pick up milk and eggs, it became clear something was weird: there was a line of carts.

As I crossed the middle aisle that runs the length of the store, I saw that the line of carts ran from the back to the front. As I continued on my way to the back corner of the store, I was following the line of carts. As I turned the corner to go forward again to the bread aisle, I was following the line of carts. The line of carts was wrapping itself around the store.

And the line wasn’t moving, only growing longer.

I looked at the handful of items in my cart, and I turned to the store employee who had his phone out to photograph the line. I apologized as I told him that I was abandoning my cart.

“No problem,” he said. “I’ll push it back into the cold walk-in.”

“Thank you.”

“You know we open at five in the morning?”

“I’ll see you then.”

And I left and came home and stayed home until the sun went down.