Prepare instead of panic

24 Mar

The weekend after the Camp Fire, my husband and I and our adult son, two dogs, and two cats, found ourselves jammed into our tiny studio apartment. The sky was still black day and night, and ash was raining everywhere. The temps stayed in the 30’s all day. We knew by that time that my son’s little cottage in Paradise was toast. And, we were starting to run out of groceries and clean clothes. 

While we enjoyed milling in the Safeway parking lot, masks on, flagging down old friends who had been driven into town by the fire, the store itself was overcrowded and the shelves were looking frazzled. Chico Walmart had  been stripped of everything we needed – air mattresses, sleeping bags, toilet paper, shelves bare throughout the store. 

So we got up that Sunday morning and we headed for Red Bluff hell bent  for leather, to shop at their Walmart. We wanted out of Chico, out of the smoke, out of the crowds, off the backed up streets. The skies lightened as we sped up 99, by the time we got to Red Bluff you could actually see blue sky. 

That was also my first experience with a Walmart Superstore. I’d heard about it, mostly from friends who didn’t like Walmart. My Red Bluff friends said it was bad for the local economy, but also joked how many former lumber mill employees had found jobs there. Me, I’ve long gotten over any revulsion for Walmart. It’s about the only place I can afford to shop anymore. I think they’ve got better as a business under the scrutiny of the 80’s and 90’s, and I think they offer good jobs for a significant portion of the local populace, including older people who still need to work. 

So I stood marveling in the gigantic entryway. It was a real life “Me-ga-lo Mart” from King of the Hill. I wondered if Chuck Mangione was camped out under the paper products display. It was like an entire mall, all in one enormous room. And, unlike a lot of the retail scene in Chico, everything was sparkling clean and in perfect order. 

The greeter smiled us in, and we walked as if in a dream. Our clothes were scruffy and covered with dog hair, we looked like The Bride after she escaped her desert tomb. Suddenly we noticed other scruffy ragamuffins – fire evacuees. We were all headed for the camping section, where my husband and I got one of the last of the air mattresses. Sleeping bags were also flying off the shelves. We also needed a heater and a few other household items, clothes – our son had escaped with his cats and his car and the clothes on his back. Since he’d been headed for work, at least he had his lunch and Kleen Kanteen.

When I saw the grocery section I had to hold myself back. We were sharing a tiny counter-top refrigerator/freezer, so I had to make sure not to buy too much stuff. The produce section was as nice as Raley’s in Chico, with tons of fresh stuff, even a big organic section. We found a bigger selection of various products, with a range of affordable prices, than we have found at any store in Chico. So while I didn’t intend it, I’ll admit, I hoarded a little. My son exclaimed, as we unpacked our booty, “Mom, you have enough sugar here for Armageddon!” Well,  a lady likes to have some things…

A year and a half later, after a summer of PG&E shut-offs (a rolling blackout by any other name still stinks), my husband and I are more “prepared”.  I decided it’s okay to “hoard”, especially if you make a consistent habit of it and build your stockpiles slowly. Oh my god – yesterday I saw a younger couple, with very serious masks and gloves, piling huge quantities of food on two of those warehouse style dollies. They looked at me with that crazy shine in their eyes.  Don’t do that, it makes it hard for everybody. Make a habit of being well stocked ahead of time. 

I don’t know if the rest of you have noticed – prices at grocery stores are going up – one store we shopped yesterday had essentially stuck another dollar on every product I bought. I know because I buy the same stuff. It’s really disgusting to see how they act during a crisis, but you saw what happened to the housing market in the year after the Camp Fire. People kinda suck. 

So here’s my “Stuff to Hoard” list. Make your own, based on your lifestyle. But yeah, get ready for the next panic, and don’t be caught with your pantry down. 

  • toilet paper – I know, people have always looked at me funny with my 18 pack, but who’s laughing now?
  • Kool Aide – makes crappy water taste better. If you’re on Cal Water you know what I’m talking about. 
  • sugar – geeshy sakes folks, don’t ever get caught in the “Kool Aide with no sugar” dilemma
  • I drink coffee, so I never have less than two pounds of beans on hand
  • powdered milk/canned milk – and I’m weird, so I keep a pack of yogurt starter too
  • propane for your camp stove – get a 4 pack, it’s cheaper
  • I hoard dry goods, stuff like rice, barley, flour, yeast, salt, etc. These don’t take up much room in airtight containers
  • gas for your generator






4 Responses to “Prepare instead of panic”

  1. Donna Chang March 26, 2020 at 8:24 am #

    This is good advice, thanks. People do suck at times like this–I watched a woman take all the almond milk the other day at Trader Joes. I glared at her although I didn’t want any almond milk and staff asked her if she would limit to two. In a loud voice she declared how she was shopping for her elderly mother and refused. Really, does the old gal bathe in it? Hey lady, we’re all shopping for our elderly mothers…I’m a goddamn elderly mother. I do get it that hoarding/panic buying is an instinct, but sheesh, taking every last one of something? And we do have some agency here, animals that we are. Anyhoo, as soon as social distancing started and was enforced by stores I find myself in heaven. I discovered it’s not standing in line that bothers me but people breathing down my neck.

    • Juanita Sumner March 27, 2020 at 5:14 am #

      Jane King from Market Watch says hoarding is definitely affecting prices. Every time we have some crisis the price of everything goes up. It’s funny though – we aren’t traveling, apparently, so the price of gas is at a long time low. They say “record low” – that’s a crock – remember GAS WARS!

      I hate to say – I like social distancing too, but know it won’t last. Over crowding, shoving pushing breathing down my neck – all that is bad for people. Have you ever read Tom Wolfe’s 3 page essay, “Oh Rotten Gotham – Sliding into the Behavioral Sink” ? It’s a fun read. And, I found the report he’s talking about – a proxemics study by Dr. Ed Hall – at Chico library. Very interesting. Right now, the “mediterranean” types are dying by the bucket loads, but the “northern european” types not so much. Interesting.

      • Donna Chang March 27, 2020 at 10:08 am #

        Well really, what’s not to like about social distancing? If we did it every flu season death rates would plummet, a statistic which seems to be the hysteria-inducing headline of the month. I majored in psychology and vaguely remember the behavioral sink controversy–apparently the applicability of overcrowding behavior in rats to humans was suspect. Well yes, since psychology hasn’t come up with anything useful/predictive/replicated about human behavior, ever.

        I wanted to add to my previous post that I don’t blame consumers alone or even primarily for empty shelves. Yes, some people are messing up, but stores are are at fault for the disruption in the supply chain, not shoppers. They didn’t have much time but they had enough to make adjustments for extreme demand, they do it all the time. It’s called seasonal adjustments. If you can’t get enough product to the shelf don’t declare there’s nothing wrong with the supply chain. Grocery stores did not want to spend the money for additional labor. Let’s hope they’ve learned some kind of f*cking lesson from this.

      • Juanita Sumner March 27, 2020 at 4:31 pm #

        Yes, I agree, I thought it was pretty weird that suddenly it’s like WWII around here.

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