Social Distancing 101: Unsung Heroes
To the people that make my coffee
Getting up this early is kind of a force of habit. I know I don't have to build in time for my morning commute to work anymore, but it does give me a little bit of comfort keeping some sense of routine and normalcy in my life.
The mailman is pulling up to my mailbox, just as I'm bringing my trashcans out for the collectors to pick up later. He's wearing a mask over his mouth so he can't yell out his regular "good morning" greeting, but he does give me a wave before sticking my mail in the box and driving off. I guess I've been so caught up with all of this free time I've been given that I didn't realize a lot of people are still having to keep up with their work schedules in new and unfamiliar ways.
There isn't any more food left in the refrigerator, so it looks like I am leaving the house to make a trip to the grocery store today. I guess I could take a look and see if there's any more hand sanitizer available too.
There's some construction on my route to the store. I think they're trying to fix that large crack in the road from the storm last week. I didn't realize city workers were essential. But there are a lot of safety measures that have to be continued that don't necessarily have anything to do with this pandemic.
At the store, there's a barrier of cones directing people to enter through one door and exit through the other. Someone is arguing with one of the workers about how inconvenient it is to have to walk around the barrier just to be able to enter through the store. The worker is trying her hardest to explain that all of these new changes are meant to make shopping safer for everybody, but this customer doesn't seem to understand. There are so many things going on right now that nobody understands. The best thing we can do is to try to keep everybody safe and sane.
So many of the shelves inside are empty. People are stocking up on everything from cleaning supplies to bread and butter. I don't think they're trying to be selfish; they're just afraid to leave their homes. A teenage boy pushing around two carts of boxes on his own, trying to re-fill the shelves as quickly as he can. People are rushing him. His mask falls slightly and he backs away from the crowd to maintain the recommended six-feet of distance. This probably isn't what he signed up for when he applied to this after-school, part-time job.
Shops and restaurants have started opening up recently, so while I'm already out, I figured I'd grab a coffee on my way home. I also place an order to go at my favorite local restaurant across the street while I'm waiting in the drive-thru. The line curves all the way around the building and it's inching forward pretty slowly. Some cars are leaving the line angrily. I can understand—drive-thrus are supposed to be quicker, aren't they? But I guess without inside service, everyone is forced to saturate the drive-thru line. It must be difficult for the workers inside to focus their attention on keeping the customers happy while working around these intense safety measures.
After I finally order and make it to the window to pay for my drink, the barista inside asks me about my day and makes comments on how much she likes my blouse. Our interaction feels like a normal one—like one we would've had if we weren't in the middle of a global health crisis. But behind her I see less workers than normal, with a couple of them dedicated specifically to cleaning the counters and their equipment. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into keeping businesses like these open during a pandemic.
My order isn't ready yet and the servers asked me to wait outside or in my car. There are a lot of to-go boxes waiting on their counter, so the request throws me off a little. But as I'm leaving to go back outside, I overhear one of the managers ask someone to get more gloves from the upstairs office. They can't continue preparing food for the public without making sure it's safe for consumption.
I exit the building and there's a line of people waiting to enter. The restaurant has a policy of no more than 2 customers in the lobby at one time. Everyone is grumbling that it's not very time efficient and I want so badly to tell them that despite it's lack of efficiency, social distancing is the best way to limit the spread of this deadly virus.
When I'm called back inside to pick up my order, I notice that a couple of items are a little more expensive than they were before the city went into quarantine. A server explains to me that since the price for ingredients has increased, the restaurant has been forced to increase their prices as well. He tells me that it's the only way to ensure that the local restaurant can stay afloat during these trying times. Small businesses are some of those that are being hit the hardest by financial troubles.
When I finally make it back to my house, there's a package waiting for me on the front porch. It's my latest Amazon order. It's three days late, and normally I would complain about the tardiness, but after the day I've had outside the safety of my own four walls, I'm beginning to understand how difficult it is for those keeping our communities running. I never realized how many workers it takes to package my order, distribute it to multiple sites, and ensure it gets to my front door. It's not meaningless work and it deserves to be recognized.
My sister comes home from her 12-hour shift at the hospital downtown. She strips down the moment she enters the garage as to limit my contact with her work environment. She doesn't spend a lot of time with COVID-19 patients, but there are several in the hospital she works at and she doesn't want to take any chances. She greets me with a quick "hello" before sprinting to the bathroom to take a shower and wash the day off of her. Afterwards she sanitizes her clothes and anything else she's had with her during the day before entering any common spaces we share.
I worry about her a lot—about who or what she's coming into contact with throughout the day. And I thought she was the only one I would have to worry about through all of this. But it turns out there are a lot of other essential workers out there that need our kind thoughts.
We have our dinner delivered tonight, neither one of us willing to leave the house again today. The driver apologizes profusely when he gets to our house. The pizza is 20 minutes late, but I tip him in full anyway. He probably has several deliveries to make tonight and with the constraints he and his other co-workers have to work with, 20 minutes is a very minor hindrance on my part. He thanks me before continuing on his way. I thank him back for all of his service—it's a lot harder than I thought it would be to be working in this time period.
* * *
To all the grocery store workers, coffee shop baristas, and restaurant servers, thank you for all of your under-appreciated service. You keep life sane for a lot of us who look to our daily outings as a way to continue moving forward with our lives. The public can be demanding, but I applaud you for taking it all in stride. Thank you.
And to all doctors and nurses, lab technicians, and emergency medical technicians, there is no amount of gratitude I can give you to surmount the thanks you deserve. You keep living safe—for the patients you work for, their families, and beyond. You are true unsung heroes.