I first started working in my teenage years and had always worked closing shifts. On a typical workday, most of what I do is play with numbers. The different food codes, charges, change, coupons, and timekeeping. My experience as a cashier during my time with my current grocery store has been invaluable to me. I love working there more than I enjoyed working with my friends from high school. All of this being said, though, it’s been a pretty trying few months for everyone.
Even at a job that you love, a pandemic can bring a lot of unease to your space, your coworkers, and the customers you all serve. The novel coronavirus has thrown millions of lives across the world into disarray. The way that we interact with strangers has changed, unlike anything we would have ever imagined. In the United States, a lack of preventative measures were not present upon the arrival of the novel coronavirus. As other parts of the world took or are still taking heavy measures to flatten the curve, the United States is still in the middle of a large game of catch-up, and essential workers have a very visible role in all of this.
I never imagined that my role as a cashier would be in league with the importance of the staff in clinics and hospitals. For a time, the people who would overwhelm hospitals would just as soon come to buy out entire shelves of our stock. Unlike most other grocery stores, though, we always had something for our shoppers to pick. While we couldn’t ever rely on getting everything we needed, shipments were still coming in weekly. There have been plenty of times where customers come to my lane, upset about out-of-stock items. I’ve had to let shoppers know exactly how clueless I was; I never knew when the next time I’d see any particular item, nor did the managers ordering them. I would get asked about hand sanitizers and dry goods, as much as I would get asked about sales and store hours. Half the time, the most I could do was shrug my shoulders and ring up their orders.
Being a cashier, there was always a lot of changes that would go past me. New implications like panes of plexiglass and one-way entrances were edged into my typical workday, week by week. I’d hear from my superior, who would hear from their superior, who would hear from corporate. Some changes I would find out about the day they happened, while others would come to my ear as rumors first. At times we impose limits on certain goods, like meats and water, but it has definitely cooled down in the last 3 weeks, compared to the initial first wave of the outbreak.
In the time that the first wave died down and people started adjusting to new forms of normal, there were social distancing posters and floor markers everywhere. Having to wear masks and gloves, as well as strict cleaning policies. Of all of these new implementations, I was most surprised to watch a whole new department form over the course of two weeks. The store gathered a few select employees to create a curbside delivery department. It was strange to have a coworker appear as any typical masked customer, but sure enough, they’ve made a legitimate workflow of things. New employees have appeared en masse, relative to how many new people I’ve seen since working there.
Sad enough to say, a lot of the newer employees give me an edge of uncertainty. Brooding as I may, I can absolutely understand why anyone would be so discordant. There are still the struggles of on boarding in the beginning, and every department has its own unique set of challenges with shoppers and area-specific responsibilities. As a cashier, issues like conflicting sales prices and shopper confusion are only made worse when limits and restrictions keep adding to the process of things. But it’s not only on the employer/employee side of consumer business that suffers from miscommunication. Our shoppers are facing their own types of confusion.
Typical shopping hours were reduced and have been restored, and still, a large number of regular shoppers are not aware of that just yet. While part of me wants to let everyone know that we’re completely back in business, I am still very glad to not have too many customer-related issues in my closing time. Instead of receiving an influx of shoppers, our evening traffic dies out perhaps an hour and a half before closing. Our esteemed guests are also finding themselves confounded by things like the pre-packaged self-serve items and our policy on reusable bags. Even things like returns and coupons have seemed to alter slightly from how they were once accepted.
In a matter of months, the store’s policy on refunds have changed several times and now relies on the approval of a manager, prior to giving one. The item almost never goes back on the shelves. Coupons have only recently started to resurface, and barely any are store-exclusive but comes with the product. I’ve come to realize that our shoppers reflect the varied reactions and feelings of everyone else, as a species.
Some of our customers walk around without a face mask or any other type of PPE, from either lack of concern or from basing the severity of the pandemic on solely their own health. On the other hand, there are whole families, concerned with even having their items touch anything that isn’t their own hands. From validated germaphobes and confident conspirators to fed up medical assistants and recently unemployed individuals, people everywhere are seemingly showing the fear, doubt, hubris, optimism, hope, exasperation, and the other infinite arrays of feelings that this chapter of American life has invoked in me.
Working as an essential employee, namely a grocery store cashier, has been an absolute whirlwind of changes appearing and dissolving before they’re even recognized. A lot of the time I find myself taking things shift-to-shift basis. I do what I can in the day, smiling (and sometimes cursing) behind a mask. Even still, I find that I need a lot of help. Had I not been in close quarters with such incredible coworkers, I doubt that all the experience in the world could make me a good enough closer. These days, it’s even more important to know who you’re closest to, and if you happen to be working as an essential worker, chances are, you’re going to have to get to know who you’re working with.