A taste of how the rest of the world lives.
ASTORIA, NYC- My daughter Petra asked me to pick up some baker’s yeast as I was stepping out to pick up some food at the supermarket around the corner. She’s 10 years old and likes to bake. A good quarantine activity — cook, eat, cook, eat.
I didn’t think anything of the request but when I went to the baking section of the store the shelf was completely bare. No flour. No sugar. No yeast. I guess the rest of the city had the same idea as my kid.
So I went to another supermarket.
I asked the manager about it.
“It’s rationed. I don’t know when we’re going to get any more in.”
“Yeah, it’s rationed.”
He just said a word that I’d never thought I’d hear in America, the land of plenty where you have a thousand options to get whatever you want whenever you want it. It’s rationed. What? Rationed? Isn’t that something from the Soviet Union?
There are now long lines outside of all the supermarkets in NYC. As we socially distance, stores want to limit the amount of people they allow in at any one time. However, people still need to eat, so the lines often stretch down the street and around the block. Sometimes it takes a half hour just to get inside a supermarket. The people standing in these lines, myself included, look grim and downtrodden. Reminds me of the bread lines in post-WWII Germany.
When I finally got inside the other day I did my shopping and then went to check out. The line stretched all the way to the back of the supermarket just to turn 180 degrees and extend all the way down an aisle back to the front of the store. Only one cashier was working.
A guy standing in line behind me began yelling at the manager. He just stared back at him and shrugged, “Nobody wants to work.”
Amazon is bare. They are not restocking all “non-essential” products. So if you want to buy, say, some exercise equipment because all the gyms are closed, expect to pay $300 per dumbbell and not have it delivered for a month.
If you want to make an order of food on Amazon Fresh, good luck. Whereas in China people were able to depend on food delivery services during their lock down, in the USA our equivalents were not up to the task. Even if you can get a delivery time — which is nearly impossible — half the things that you want to buy are going to be out of stock and much of what you do receive is going to be on the verge of expiration or otherwise inedible. So we all need to go out in public and stand in long lines in supermarkets with dozens of people — not exactly the best social distancing strategy.
Speaking of exercise equipment, the entire country is out. Everybody bought up current stocks when the gyms closed and the factories that make everything in China have been shut down for months. There is no longer any supply — something that I’ve never seen before in the USA during my lifetime.
After an hour and a half of searching, I was able to find an obscure fitness store in Tennessee that had some dumbbells. I ordered a few. They made it as far as New Jersey. Officially, FedEx reported that the package was damaged and undeliverable. Unofficially, the guy from the store believes that someone at FedEx stole them as they’ve become such a rare commodity.
But it’s not just the scarcity that’s the issue, but this crisis — as crises tend to do — has revealed some glaring cracks in the system. A huge swath of the USA was suddenly laid off, but many states’ unemployment systems were able to handle the surge in applicants. Some states, such as NY and Connecticut, have labor departments running computer equipment and operating systems from the 70s and 80s. Connecticut actually had to call people out of retirement because nobody knows the coding language of their computer systems anymore.
Meanwhile, millions — literally millions — of people have been spending entire days calling their respective unemployment offices thousands of times to receive benefits … only to receive a busy signal.
We can no longer get anything we want when we want it in the USA and we’re pouting about it and throwing tantrums.
We’re now receiving a taste of how the rest of the world lives, and we don’t like it.
Not being able to get everything you want immediately, rations, standing in long lines, stores having depleted stocks and not enough workers, mass unemployment, and broken public administration systems are all things that much of the world has to deal with on a daily basis.
While I too get frustrated in this coronavirus upheaval, the contrast between how things are now and how things usually are makes me realize how good people have it in the USA. This isn’t normal here and it makes me appreciate the normal that we usually have.
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