In places with stay-at-home orders, many grocery stores are offering the first hour of the morning to seniors and people with disabilities. This is supposed to give people who might move slowly a chance to get what they need before younger, faster people come in and snatch things away in front of them. It’s also the cleanest the store is going to be all day, so people with compromised immune systems can touch recently disinfected surfaces and reduce the likelihood of exposure to the virus.
I stayed away from Senior Hour for several reasons, the first being 8:00 is too early. Mind you, I have two cats, so I’m up with the sun, but I don’t like to get dressed before 9:00. That’s my reading and snuggle time with the cats. In the World That Was, I rarely left the house before lunch.
I also stayed away because I didn’t feel like I needed any special advantage. I’m under 60 and while I am having record pain days, I’m not unable to handle my normal routine. I had heavy lung scarring from the crush injury when the car slammed into my ribs, but recent X-rays have shown that it’s mostly healed. I’ve been riding my bike all winter, so my lungs are strong and conditioned to cold air. I don’t consider myself a high risk for getting pneumonia; however, if I do get it, surviving it might be dicey.
Trader Joe’s is 3 blocks from my chiropractor’s office. (For those of you who don’t have Trader Joe’s where you live, it’s a specialty grocer that happens to be allergy-friendly for me. I needed a few staples from there, especially the Japanese-style fried rice from the frozen section. One bag gives me 3 delicious, egg-free lunches. The chili-spiced mango slices are a great alternative to candy too. And don’t get me started on candy—Trader Joe’s has the best, hands down.
I’m still getting chiropractic care every 2 weeks; it’s the only care I’m getting these days. I ride my bike to my appointments because it’s a pleasant ride from my house, and because it gets my joints warmed up and loose for the adjustment. Riding home afterward keeps my spine in gentle traction so I don’t undo the benefit on the way home.
I usually stop at Trader Joe’s after my appointment and fill my panniers with treats. After running out of all my regular items I get there 3 weeks ago, I started trying to go to Trader Joe’s. After my chiro appointment, the line stretched all the way past the neighboring stores to the end of the strip mall. They were restricting the number of shoppers in the store at any given time. The line could only advance when someone made it through the checkout line and out of the store. My physical disability is that I can’t stand in line. My standing tolerance is about 10 minutes before I need a pain pill. If I continue standing, I’ll cramp up and be done for the day before 20 minutes are up. I could just tell the attendant that, but try selling it when you rode up on a bicycle.
We in this audience rarely look like we belong in a special line, and often feel like we have to justify ourselves. I wrote about this phenomenon back in 2017.
I made 2 more attempts at a Trader Joe’s stop before the truth became apparent; that I needed to use the senior shopping hour. I was not able to shop there under any other terms.
I dutifully got up and dressed on Tuesday morning, drove my car, and arrived at Trader Joe’s at 7:55. The line was already to the laundromat. Some people observed the red lines painted 6 feet apart along the sidewalk; most ignored them. Nobody in charge was pointing out the standing lines to people. The first bunch they let in at 8:03 shortened the line to where I was only about number 10. I was prepared with my tripod cane, which becomes a stool when folded out . I sat in line for about 10 more minutes. I was the only one prepared with a stool. Surely some of the other younger-looking people had disabilities that made standing in line difficult; did they just suffer?
When I got in the store, it was a free-for-all. There were no one-way lanes, and no enforcement of distancing. I forgot myself and walked up to the salad case to reach past a woman who was taking her time choosing. She looked at me like I was gangster in a dark alley and I moved away, apologizing profusely.
Some people tried to practice distancing by waiting to turn down an aisle until others had moved out of the way. Other people blundered past like it was any normal day. I never saw anyone cruising the store to remind people to spread out, or to help people with disabilities who needed assistance, as advertised for special shopping hour. To their credit, they did have all the cashier stations open and I didn’t wait in line to check out.
I got what I needed and overall, it was pretty painless. The only differences for me were, I had a freshly stocked and cleaned store, and I didn’t have to wait as long in line. I had to wonder, though, about the people like me who have trouble standing in line, and about people with compromised immunity who don’t have others to shop for them. If I hadn’t brought my own stool, even the senior hour experience would have knocked me out of functioning for the rest of the day.
Providing seating isn’t very practical during a pandemic, but it would have been nice to have a few folding chairs available for those who simply can’t stand in line, or here’s an idea—they could let us go in first. I don’t mind waiting my turn, I just have to be able to do that safely without ruining the rest of my day.
A few more employees working the floor would have been nice too, to remind people to spread out and to help people who needed it.
I expected the special shopping hour to be more different from regular shopping hours than it was. I’m guessing my experience was pretty typical for any grocery store; I’m not by any means singling out Trader Joe’s.
Have you wrestled with using the special shopping hour? What made you go, or not? What was your experience with it?