Steve Anton of Summerwood remembers what shopping was like 10 months ago at the Breakfast Point Publix in Panama City Beach. The supermarket, responding to the onset of the Corona virus, had done something real nice for senior citizens such as Steve, who's 73, by letting them shop early a few days of the week before opening to the general public.
He normally shopped early anyway, but said, "It was nice. Not crowded at all." But unlike the markets in St. Louis, where he lives part of the year, Publix modified the aisles and made them one-way. When I asked him about it, he admitted, "Yes, as I am a daydreamer I more than once went the wrong way in an aisle. I apologized and usually the people smiled and went on their way."
I have my own memories that differ a bit from Steve's. Like most of you, I hadn't been out much in the previous few months. The stay-at-home restrictions were particularly hard for us old people, who face emergencies such as denture repairs, to venture out in public. I spent a lot of time flossing and searching for sports on TV, usually settling for instructional videos on curling.
So the prospect of vying for toilet paper at Publix had me excited. As I entered the parking lot and noticed how the cars were parked — occasionally within the stripes — it was clear that many customers had renewed their drivers licenses one time too many.
At the door I was greeted by a manager who looked me over to estimate my age and asked the qualifying question for shopping early: What is Preparation H used for? I had the correct answer to that burning question, so I entered the store to the piped-in sounds of Barry Manilow, played extra loud for the hard of hearing crowd.
Steve mentioned the one-way aisles. The problem for me occurred at the end of an aisle where you were expected to signal with your left or right hand, depending on which way you were turning. Unaware of that regulation, I failed to signal and was stopped by a manager and given a warning along with a BOGO coupon for Ensure.
Not surprisingly, the worst congestion I encountered occurred on the paper goods aisle. The toilet paper shelf was empty, but that was OK. I found a way to turn the two-ply toilet paper at home into single ply. It’s not easy, but it’s doubled our supply.
At the checkout, I emptied the cart of two yogurts, a bag of prunes, a pound of salmon and the latest issue of Time Is Running Out magazine.
Everything fit in a single plastic bag, but the young checkout bagger, one of the few people in the store who never heard of Barry Manilow, asked if I needed help to the car.
“Depends,” I said.
“Aisle 6,” she responded. I knew I forgot something.
Well, that’s how it was. I think. This morning I returned to Publix, which no longer requires customers or employees to wear a mask, as long as they’ve been vaccinated. But how does the store know who’s been vaccinated? The Band-Aids from my two Moderna shots are still on my arm, so I’m covered—but what about the rest of you? Publix uses the Honor System, which has less credibility than the Dewey Decimal System.
But that might change. If stores start requiring proof of vaccination, I have a feeling that the toilet paper shortage will prove to be nothing compared to the run on Band-Aids.
Steve has been back at Publix as well. "I still go early as I am retired," he said. "It’s so nice not to wear the mask. The crowds aren’t bad; I’m in and out in no time." Like most of us, he said, "I hated the mask. But I wore it to protect others."
Peter Fischetti is a retired journalist from Southern California, which he hopes you won’t hold against him. He lives in Panama City Beach.