Supermarket’s Philip Burow teacher, P-T bagger: calming influence among nervy customers
Tara has come out for a smoke. It’s nine at night. Break time. Her store, Vons, is about to close. She lights up, sitting in her car. All you can see is the red glow of her cigarette when she takes a tug.
“Coming to work every day is stressful,” she says. She has been a Vons cashier since 2011. “You have to make sure that you’re geared up for it all, be ready to deal with customers who aren’t very happy with the situation. Like, paper products have been an issue from Day One. That, and water. They get angry when you limit them.”
She was as shocked as anyone when the pandemic hit.
“I’d had foot surgery right about then. When I got back, beans, rice, everything was gone. Everything that was non-perishable. Frozen vegetables, canned vegetables, gone! Our entire aisle of pasta went. And pasta sauce, gone! I just wish some customers would realize, this is not our fault.
Tara: this is the front line
“Most know that we’re in the same boat. We get a whole lot of people who are very grateful for us being here. You can almost pick out the ones who are going to be a problem. The ones who don’t wear the masks. Younger men, mostly. I just want to say, ‘You are potentially risking my life, my friends’ lives, other customers’ lives.”
Which, she says, includes the whole RV park where she lives. “Because the neighbors there, they aren’t leaving. I am one of the only ones that goes out of the park. I do shopping for several people over there. One of my friends and her husband both had surgery recently, and they can’t leave. I have another friend who has had cancer therapy, chemo and stuff. He can’t come out.
“So I stop by on my way to work, and I pick groceries up for them here. I’m getting ready to send my stepdad a box of non-perishable groceries (because he can’t figure out Vons.com). He’s got COPD really bad. And he’s on oxygen 24-7. So he cannot risk getting the virus or it will kill him.”
Has she ever considered quitting?
“I have. There are times when it has weighed heavily on me, because I don’t want to get everybody in my RV Park sick. I don’t want to be the one to bring it home.
“Then I had my foot operation. It was when I came back to work that I saw the Vons sign saying you must have your face mask now. All of it was just too much for me. I had to tell my boss, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do it today. I just can’t.’ And I couldn’t. I mean, I was in tears. And I don’t just cry over nothing. Everything just weighed. I came back next day, but this COVID thing is very serious. And some people don’t take it seriously.”
The Washington Post reports that as of April 12th, “thousands” of supermarket employees across the US have already caught COVID-19 and “at least” 41 have died.
Tara needs to get back. She stubs out her cigarette.
I have to ask: “COVID attacks the lungs. How come you are still smoking?”
“Because,” she says, “I am stressed out. That’s my excuse for it today.”