Today was the most somber and sobering grocery store hauls I’ve ever had. Unlike the hat worn by the checkout clerk who rings my groceries up with suggests, America is not so great. We are knee-deep in what I’m aptly terming this current pandemic “the toilet paper apocalypse”. And I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact I’m going to be whipping my ass with organic sugar cane and bamboo tissue as soon as I use up the last roll of toilet paper I just cracked open.
It’s sobering because the shelves at my local Sprouts are pretty much barren. Everyone is walking around the organic grocery store staring at the emptiness as aimlessly as I am wondering how a can of plant-based Sriracha tuna holds up past its expiration date.
Staring at my cart, I have to remind myself that I am only shopping for two weeks. I am trying not to “stress eat” my way through social distancing and possibly complete isolation because bulk buying makes me want to bulk eat. Every time. Nothing pairs better with widespread panic and a global pandemic then carbs, right?
Usually, my cart’s loaded with fresh produce, but today my cart looks like it should be on an episode of an extreme weight-loss reality show, when they film the pre-transformation eating habits right before the contestant gets put on a strict low-calorie diet and workout regime. But don’t worry, I’m not hoarding on this haul like so many other people did, I’m just making terrible food choices even if they’re gluten-free and vegan, and only going to last for the next two weeks. So if anything, the coronavirus is teaching me that I am awful at adulting.
By the time I round the corner to the pasta aisle, the tension is al dente—not a single box to be found. But I do spy six bottles of some boujee “Kale Alfredo” left, and twelve people congregating around with the same puzzled look on their faces earnestly wondering if they are being punked and if Ashton Kutcher is about to pop out.
This bi-weekly grocery haul is especially sobering, because aside from Sprouts’ bone dry dystopian vibes and the song Everyday People playing on the overhead speakers, I’m learning my retirement has started sooner than planned. I’ve spent 13 years of my life as a photographer shooting weddings and other large scale corporate events, and in the course of a single weekend, I’m getting reeducated about the domino effect: one cancelation email notice after another as I watch $13,000 (of revenue) disappear.
The overarching feeling for any small business owner, freelancer, or independent contractor right now is not great. Our livelihoods are at risk, and most of us are wondering how we are going to keep paying our rent.
Currently, I’m sitting on just enough of a cash reserve to last for the next two months if I cut down all my unnecessary expenses and am hyper judicious. Goodbye Netflix. Goodbye cannabis chill. Most of my friends aren’t even this lucky, and some of them have family members and young children to support.
As I wait in line to pay for the same groceries that I might not be able to afford in another month, I scroll through my social media feeds. Feeds filled with friends who own salons, restaurants, coffee trucks, and gyms. Feeds full of yoga teachers, bartenders, servers, photographers, florists, and event planners, to name a few. Feeds full of the same fear: Is our business about to go broke forever?
Three days ago, my feed was full of funny memes, and today my feed feels like fool’s gold. A lot of talk about pivoting and other ways to stop hemorrhaging your money band-aids for an outbreak that has no definite end date.
I am trying not to be a Debby downer and trying not to go down the fun rabbit hole of end-of-the-world scenarios while the clerk rings up my total. One-hundred-and-forty dollars later, I’m folding up my receipt and doing my best to stay present, grounded, and in my #abundantAF vibes. But it’s hard to do when I’m already subtracting the amount paid from what I have left in my bank account. I know the American spirit is resilient, but I, along with so many other people filling up your news feeds, now are feeling a little hopeless. That’s because when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, we aren’t sure where we’ll all be ending up.
So I ask you to think of us in these uncertain times while you are stocking up. Make sure you stock up on kindness, generosity, and love. Right now, the best medicine we all need against this virus is community, even if it’s sitting behind a computer screen and keyboard. Chicken noodle soup for our souls is remembering at times like this that we aren’t isolated islands with every person for themselves.
Continue to shop and buy as local as you can. Gift cards for future use will help in the short term. Repost our content and share our message (only 3% of social media posts get seen, and many small businesses now have no Facebook and Instagram ad spend). Write your photographer or favorite freelancer a google review. You’ve meant to anyway, and now that you are stuck at home, enjoying a little extra free time, scrolling and posting away, show someone else extra love and offer us up some words of affirmation. The same goes for checking in with each other and offering words of encouragement and asking the question how can I help support you?
We are all scared, stocking up, and panicked, but I hope through this crisis, America remains the great country we tote on baseball caps and bumper stickers. I hope the sound of our love for one another is so loud it looks like small acts of kindness for each other and can be heard reverberating through our streets, shuttered business, and empty parking lots just like the Italians in the city of Assisi. Citizens united not currently fighting over the last roll of TP and singing in harmony across empty squares with each other so that those who were alone when the virus spread could hear the sound of family around them.