Buzz by the Bay: The Viral Marketplace

Posted In: News, ,   From Issue 895   By: Jason Dean

23rd April, 2020     0

One of the positive lessons that the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us is that heroes come in all varieties. We readily embrace the idea that medical workers, emergency responders, and even our teachers are equally deserving of the hero label traditionally bestowed upon military service members, star athletes, and caped crusaders. 

Today, by virtue of being both indispensable and vulnerable to the community, grocery store workers find themselves in a similar position. They are on the front lines of the first war fought on American soil since the Civil War. If you are obeying Michigan’s stay-at-home order, about the only place you’re going is the grocery store. For these essential workers, continuing to do their job while accepting this daily risk qualifies as an act of heroism.

On April 9, Lisa Goulette celebrated her 13th year of employment at the Kroger on Center Avenue. If you’re a fan of the Bay City music scene, you’ve no doubt crossed paths with Lisa. In the pre-virus days, you didn’t even need to leave your house to know which bands were playing in town. Just check out the Facebook livestream feeds on Lisa’s page on any given Friday or Saturday night and you could barhop from The Stables to The Wil-Lew to Scotty’s Sandbar to Bemo’s for a buffet of local tunes. 

Lisa was looking forward to attending the 34th Annual Review Music Awards, originally scheduled for May 17 at The Stables, as she was nominated for Best Videographer. It was her first-ever nomination. “I was like ‘Woo hoo!’ and now it’s like ‘Boo hoo!’” she says in describing the rollercoaster of emotions. 

These days, Lisa says she’s thankful to be working more hours than she previously was, but the irony of the increased risk is not lost on her. She estimates that about half of the customers entering the store are wearing masks. On April 15, Kroger management instituted a mandatory mask policy for employees. By that time, Lisa had already been wearing a mask for a couple weeks, given to her by a customer.

Behind the scenes, she says of the mask policy, “A lot of employees are rebelling and don’t want to do it. They don’t believe [the virus] is a real issue, or they say it fogs up their glasses. It bothers me, too, having that thing on my face.” Still, she complies because she’d prefer to tip the scales in favor of survival. 

She is dismayed at the number of times she sees someone come into the store to pick up medication from the pharmacy, looking unwell and not wearing a mask. “I think some of them don’t even know what’s going on [with the statewide lockdown],” she says.

Her work duties have become much more OCD-intensive. All cashiers must now wipe down and sanitize the conveyor belt, card keypad, and any other common touch points after every transaction. “I’m really getting a workout,” she says. “My arms and shoulders are so tired after work.”  

Features like the self-serve pastries section and the water refill station are on hold for now, as is the recycling department. And if you bring your own bags, be prepared to bag your own groceries. Store hours have been shortened, and the store is reserved for senior customers on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 7 to 8 am.

For the time being, all grocery aisles are labeled as one-way to minimize traffic and congestion. Checkout lines have markers on the floor to remind shoppers to maintain a six-foot distance. Because of continued panic buying, one-item limits remain in place for bathroom tissue and sanitizing products. 

I ask if there are any tips or tricks to scoring any of these perpetually scarce items before they get snatched up. “There’s no secret,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll post on Facebook when toilet paper comes in, and people appreciate that.”

Adding complexity to the major changes in her work routine, Lisa is a single mom to an 11-year-old boy who—like every student in the educational system—has been drafted into the Great American Home Schooling Experiment. She’s grateful that her son’s father is able to watch him when she’s at work, but she’s skeptical that the makeshift checks and balances that her school has put into place are keeping pace with the progress her son would be making in regular class.

Working at a store that is so connected to the community, it was just a matter of time before Lisa would hear a personal account. “The other day a customer told me one of the teachers at her son’s school was the first person in Bay City to pass away from the virus.” Stories like that hit close to home.

Not long ago, the grocery industry seemed like a bleak pursuit for someone looking for any job security. Everything was becoming automated, and the human element was slowly but surely being squeezed out in favor of dollars and cents. During this sea change of rapid adaptation, at least, grocery workers are vital and appreciated as they do the same job they’ve always done, but now with a lot more scrutiny and consequence. 

Until the night she can get back out to livestream a live show, Lisa will be donning her mask and superhero outfit, helping to preserve the American way of shopping for the good citizens of Bay City. 





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