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Friday Night Locust Report

Carol was running out of cottage cheese, which she eats every day for breakfast. We shopped last weekend and forgot to get it, so I cruised up 64th Street to Greenway, where there are two supermarkets: Fry’s (the local Kroger chain) and Safeway. We were also out of milk, and since we still have half a box of corn flakes I figured I’d get a half gallon, which would see the corn flakes through to their final destination. We generally shop at Fry’s to get their gas points, with Safeway as a (rarely used) backup. (For certain things we go to Costco, if not as often.)

Well. Fry’s was a madhouse. I had to bring a cart with me from the parking lot. The store was busy when we were there a week or so ago. Now it was insane. I went to the back of the store to the dairy case, dodging frantic suburbanites with carts piled high with sodas, bagged rice, canned goods, crackers and chips, booze, and Kleenex. Nobody had any toilet paper in their carts, because there was no toilet paper in the store. There were a few packages of paper towels. No bleach. And (oddly) no vinegar.

There was no real milk. There was 1% and skim, which I don’t consider real milk. And there was almond and soy milk in abundance, but that is really not milk. There was no Daisy cottage cheese. So I picked up a bottle of the sugar-free creamer that we like, plus a pint of the expensive organic cream, with which we dilute the sweetness of the creamer.

The produce department was pretty bare. No fruit. Some potatoes and onions, plus plenty of certain vegetables that I’m not sure people ever actually eat, like squash.

I did not look for hand sanitizer. We have plenty of hand soap, and hand soap, being an emulsifier, is a better antiviral than alcohol.

There was plenty of meat, but our supply is still reasonable, and the last thing I want to be seen as is a hoarder. I needn’t have worried; I was surrounded by hoarders. The line for the do-it-yourself checkouts was long, but the lines for the real cashiers were considerably longer, I think because the carts were all piled eyeball-high with what their purchasers doubtless considered survival goods.

I still wanted milk. So after checking out at Fry’s, I went across 64th to the Safeway. Safeway is usually pretty quiet; so quiet that I’ve sometimes wondered why the store is still there. This time, it was–you guessed it–a madhouse. Same deal: Shoppers with carts up to here, the paper products aisle bare, most of the produce gone, and although there were some eggs, most of the cartons had been badly handled and had one or more broken eggs in them. However, they still had the fancy organic whole milk for $5.79 a half gallon. The cheap milk was gone. Surprisingly, they had at least the small cartons of Daisy full-fat cottage cheese. I grabbed one. I was tempted to grab two, but there were only four or five left, and I’ll be damned if I’ll be a hoarder. There are plenty of actors in this production of The Tragedy of the Commons. I refuse to be one of them.

So I came home with cottage cheese, milk, cream, and creamer. Four items. Now, Carol and I don’t eat much, and the fridge is reasonably full. I’ll probably visit Fry’s again this coming Thursday, and get some ham steaks if the locusts haven’t cleaned them out. We’re OK with toilet paper for awhile, because we get it in quantity at Costco, and picked up a big package about two weeks ago before this whole business blew up.

Which leads directly to the question: How long will this go on? The answer is pretty simple: It will go on as long as our wretched media continue to incite panic. Panic sells clicks. Panic turns ordinary Americans into hoarders. In other words, panic pays.

We don’t know the mortality rate of coronavirus. We can’t know it, because we don’t know how many people have it. Dividing deaths by confirmed cases may yield a worst-case percentage, but until we test almost everyone (which won’t happen) nobody will know the true mortality rate. Three quarters of the deaths in the US are from a single nursing home in Washington State. Fatalities are mostly people over 70, and among those largely over 80. Now, at 67 I’m edging into that demographic, but I’m a lifetime nonsmoker with no pulmonary issues and a strong exercise regimen. Carol and I are washing our hands a lot, and avoiding crowded places. There’s not a great deal more we can do.

What we will not do is panic. Nor will we hoard. Nor (I think) will we ever watch or read mainstream media news again. I’m smart enough to know when I’m being played for a…locust. Not gonna happen.


  1. Alex says:

    It’s the same here in London. I went to do my normal weekly shop and it was a madhouse. There was plenty of milk, though I didn’t need any yet so didn’t buy it. I couldn’t get a large sized pack of my normal breakfast porridge so had to get a small one, at considerable extra cost. Like you I had recently bought a supply of toilet rolls, so won’t need any more for about 3 months – but the shelves of those were completely bare here as well.

    Here’s the thing I’m thinking though: the hoarders can only hoard so much, so once they have stocked up then shopping should go back down to normal levels – so I think this madness will only continue another week or two. I could be wrong though, we shall see.

  2. Orvan Taurus says:

    Didn’t look over the refrigerated section(s) but a glance showed that TP was gone, paper towels almost gone, Kleenex (and other tissue, yes) all-but-gone. Napkins, so far, seem almost unaffected. (Stocker said ALL the paper is on the shelf now. There is NO paper backstock. Lots of reversed tags just to put up whatever they had in the great space available.) Rice and ramen have taken hits, and the powdered milk simply ain’t there. The canned tomatoes – NOT on sale – look like they’re on sale at 3/$1. Bar soap seems unaffected, but liquid soap has taken a hit. Oddly, the stuff on sale sits on the shelf, the stuff 3 times the cost is what’s flying off the shelf. Perhaps it’s antibacterial. I didn’t stop to look in detail.

    1. We were briefly in a Sprouts (an organic grocery chain like Whole Foods) this morning, and beyond TP, I didn’t see a lot of empty shelf space. Carol was buying vitamins. I got some roasted peanuts in the shell. Nobody had an eyeball-high cart and the atmosphere was cordial and calm. I did get the impression that people were spacing themselves out to some extent, which is all to the good.

      We may go back to Fry’s and/or Safeway tomorrow or Tuesday, and if I notice anything worthy of comment, I’ll post a new entry here.

  3. Dermot says:

    I rarely use my car (500 miles per year) so do a big shop for heavy/bulky non perishable items a couple times per year. As a consequence, we have about 5 months TP, kitchen towels, booze and general cleaning supplies in stock.

    There are plenty of supermarkets within a couple of miles walk, so the rest of our routine shopping goes in my big backpack. Yesterday, I was jostled in Wairltrose – astonishing that societal breakdown has come to this. I expect that sort of behaviour in Tesco or Aldi, but beloved of the middle classes Waitrose? And they were being stripped of TP, not that I needed any.

    Our local distillery, TOAD, is using the discarded alcohol from the process to make hand sanitiser, and very nice it smells too!

  4. Eric TF Bat says:

    Helpful tip: if you can’t get toilet paper, Rupert Murdoch publishes the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, and both aren’t good for anything else but they’re quite absorbent.

    We’re luckier in Australia, of course — he’s responsible for many more newspapers here.

    Oddly, in my little part of the great southern land (I’m about an hour south of the capital of Tasmania) the TP supply hasn’t been all that stressed. We’re just getting into the whole self-isolation, social-distancing thing, and schools will probably close in the next week or two. The big medieval event for Easter has already been cancelled for the first time in its 37 years, so we won’t even be travelling to the mainland. We’ll do what Tasmanians always do when winter approacheth: hunker down, stay warm, and avoid crowds. Sadly, the worldwide recession that’s coming because of this won’t leave us untouched, but that’s a worry for another day.

  5. Nick Hodges says:

    I always count on your level headed approach. Thanks for a voice of reason amongst the madness.

    1. A good portion of that came from my father, who always advised me to “think things through and not get distracted by stupid shit.” This is a life tenet that has served me well. (It’s also one reason you never see me talking politics here–it’s stupid shit all the way down.)

  6. Mike Weasner says:

    I was a star party last night for the 5th Anniversary of Oracle State Park (in Arizona) becoming an IDA International Dark Sky Park. The attendance was amazing. So many people were thrilled to come to our Park, enjoy the live music and night sky, and get away from all the media reports. Yes, attendance was likely a little larger that it would have been had other events, like the Festival of Books in Tucson, not been cancelled. No one was hugging friends or shaking hands and there was soap, water, and sanitizers available. But everyone I spoke to was just so happy to be outside and not have to think about other events.

  7. Mike Bentley says:

    The last report I’ve read is that while it takes just a few days to recover from symptoms, more time may be needed to clear the virus from the lungs, and I believe (but could be totally wrong) that you are contagious during that entire time. Two weeks in isolation/quarantine may not cut it.

    It also isn’t clear whether you gain immunity after being infected. I’ve seen (somewhat) authoritative comments to that effect, but there are news items suggesting reinfection is possible.

    I’m going to have to find an authoritative medical site to read (TODAY) what is currently known. Decidedly not a news site.

    More entertaining is that I’ve seen reports that COVID-19 doesn’t like warm temperatures, as in 30-35 degrees Centigrade. Aaaand yet the virus seems to occupy lungs just fine. Not being medically trained is a shortcoming, I don’t quite understand how that works.

    1. Truth is, we still don’t know all that much. Carol and I, being retired, stay home most of the time anyway, as I had better do if I ever expect to become known as an SFF novelist. We’re deliberately sleeping more, and we’re deliberately staying away from crowd scenes. I’m trying to decide how much of a risk my writers’ group represents. Currently very little, I’m sure, but over time that may change.

      Carol is a Mayo Clinic schools alumna, and we get medical research reports from them regularly. I suspect the next one will be about COVID19. The temperature thing may be guesswork. Maybe viruses are acted against in some way by Vitamin D, which we tend to have more of in warmer months when we can go outside. I read a piece on that earlier today, and the general conclusion is…we don’t know. Dryness/humidity may also be a factor, and if dryness promotes the virus somehow, well, AZ may be in trouble.

      Sooner or later we’ll find out. In the meantime, we’re practicing just a little more social distancing than we do every day and have since we retired and moved here.

  8. Jonathan O'Neal says:

    Jay: People are smart, they can handle it.

    Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.

    (Men In Black, 1997)

    Our local retailers had runs/sellouts on the usual panic items (perishables, TP, hand sanitizer), and we had the usual complement of jerks who look like they’re shopping for a small battalion. What I don’t understand is why the otherwise well-stocked cookie aisle was utterly devoid of any Oreo products – did some fringe site publish a “Doctors HATE this one amazing trick” article claiming that Oreos confer immunity?

    1. My guess is simpler: When people stress-eat, their consumable of choice is Oreos. Mine used to be Cheetos, but trends come and go. (I keep waiting for the company to produce Keto Cheetos; I’d be their first customer.)

  9. TRX says:

    > squash

    Formerly in my “what food eats” category, until I was at a barbecue a few years ago and they were grilling slices of squash. Grilled squash looks absolutely disgusting, btw. I got persuaded to try a bite… and forwent the various meats to fill up on grilled squash.

    It tastes *nothing* like pan-fried squash. No preparation required, just slice it off onto the grill, take it off before it gets burnt.

    I’m sure it’s not to everyone’s taste, but if you ever have the chance to try some, you can always politely hork it up if you don’t like it…

    1. Tom Roderick says:

      I often grill both the Yellow squash and Zucchini squash during summer cook outs. I usually do brush with a little oil (olive or any) before putting on grill. Everybody who has tried it seemed to like it.

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