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Postcards From The Pandemic: Behind The Checkout Counter

When David L. Munnell started working at a West Side supermarket in 2018, he saw it as a day job to support his main avocation of acting and directing theater.

Now, with the coronavirus crisis shuttering all but "essential" businesses, he finds himself on the frontlines of a public crisis.

"It's pretty funny that before [the coronavirus], this was a pretty bottom-rung-of-the-ladder job," he said. "But now that we are in a crisis, the job is essential."

Munnell — who's accustomed to performing for others — now observes the daily drama of panicked shoppers crowding his aisle, even as he tries to keep calm about his own continuous exposure to possible infection.

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A Typical Day at the Checkout

In the COVID-19 world we're in, I'll walk in and see a line of people at the register already. I clock myself in, and then it's pretty much head down, scanning people out as fast as I can.

When all this first all started, we weren't really sure what was going on. Then all of a sudden people were just buying all the toilet paper. Then it turned into bottled water. Then eggs.

Now we don't have any yeast left in the store anymore, because everybody is baking bread all of a sudden. It's just that panic mentality that everybody's in.

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Day to day, new items come into high demand — from eggs to baking supplies. [David L. Munnell]

And to be quite honest, this past week, the filter has come off for sure. When people come through my line with just copious amounts of things that are gonna go bad, I just have been saying out loud to them, like, 'This is all going to go bad because you're hoarding this and there's no reason for it.'"

Usually they just get very quiet and we complete the order in silence and then they leave.

There's no changing anybody's mind — absolutely not.

'I'm Probably Going to Catch This'

When you come in on a normal day and it's not super busy, I might have a little bit more of a pleasant demeanor.

But when we're going through this and I'm going through 500 customers a day, my brow might be knitted a little bit tighter than normal. You know, I'm trapped in a little cubicle helping person after person after person who's panicking about some virus I can't control.

I've kind of resigned myself to the idea that I'm probably going to catch this virus.

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Memories from another time: David L. Munnell (far left) acts in a production at convergence-continuum theater in 2017. [convergence-continuum]

There's not much else I can do besides what I am doing — you know, social distancing, washing my hands, cleaning up after myself at the store as much as possible.

I will respect the six feet limit, of course, and I will try to keep my six feet away from other people. But like, if they cross that boundary, I'm not going to yell at someone or tell them to get away from me.

No Time to Process

On the one hand, I'm like, 'I'm healthy. If I get it, it's just going to be two weeks out. I'm going to have a fever. I'll have a sore throat. I might have trouble breathing, but I'll be okay. I've bounced back probably from worse.'

But on the other hand, I get frustrated because, like, I'm gonna be out for two weeks. That means money I'm going to lose out on. And we don't actually know how bad it can get for a healthy person.

So I don't know if I've had time to process emotionally what's going on because it's just one thing after another.

When all of this is over, I'm taking a month vacation to California. I've already planned it. Like, I am going out west for a whole month, and I'm just going to relax.

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