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In Homage to Those on the Front Lines: I Adore My Virtual Grocery-Store Shoppers

April 03, 2020 Barbara Ballinger

I’ve always considered my shopping preferences a personal, private matter. I really don’t like to share how much I love crunchy peanut butter (Skippy’s or Jiffy’s, please) or Lay’s rippled potato chips. And yes, I also eat healthy—mandarin or Sumo oranges, apples of almost any variety, pears, seedless red or green grapes, berries of all shapes, sizes and colors, peaches in summer, cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes. You get the gist. 

When the Coronavirus hit, I had to relinquish my privacy and turn the shopping over to others, particularly to fill my 100-year-old mom’s larder when we didn’t want her aide venturing forth into crowded, unhealthy New York City. Resistant at first, I learned to love having a crew of personal grocery shoppers to do the work. I found the service well worth the extra fee and tip, didn’t mind the delivery delays because so many others were also shopping this way and liked how I got to know some of them sort of personally—not-face-to-face exactly.

I thought the shoppers would be anonymous. Some random person wearing a mask and gloves and filling orders sort of matter of factly. Who knew? Technology permitted me an introduction. I can know their names and see what they look like after they finish my order since their head shots popped up. I got to converse with one through texts as he roamed the aisles filling my “cart” with selections I had listed, making substitutions when needed and refunding the estimated costs when there was nothing that worked as a good replacement.

 

My last shopper “G” stayed in close touch. He hung in there with me for about 45 minutes to make a number of substitutions He couldn’t find the plain or sesame bagels my mother loves each morning and at lunch, so after several tries and me saying, “No, she won’t like that or anything with onion, garlic or the everything bagel spice, so we went with fresh ones. He even showed me pictures in texts of what the fresh ones looked like—healthy looking for sure with some sprouts or grains. 

He couldn’t find the wet Swiffers we needed so he found another comparable brand. I figured, OK, we’ll try those. He switched out the detergent, no big deal and the Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Then it was on to packaged Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, which had to be replaced with another brand. She won’t like it as much and I knew it wouldn’t be as good as my homemade soup. But that’s unimportant. We pray there will be time to make the real deal from scratch again and with my special matzoh balls when this nightmare is over. 

Technology allowed me to keep my eye on him and maybe I saw too much. I worried about him reaching into the case and touching the bagels. I tried to sweetly ask without raising too much concern. “You have gloves, right?” I asked as he pointed to a whole-grain possibility. He replied, “Yes,” and showed me the paper he uses as extra precaution. Since he seemed like such a nice guy, I started to get more protective of my new pal. I asked if he also was wearing a mask. “Yes.” I explained I wasn’t being rude but wanted everyone to be safe. I texted thanks. He wrote back “NP,” which I assumed was no problem. We were speaking in shorthand, as we might do if we had known each other forever. 

In fact, he was so polite when I told him we were becoming fast pals. “My pleasure.”  I asked if he would me call again when he was done, and again he replied “Yes” and did. We had a good thing going. I shared that I was so impressed with his efforts. He told me he knows how to do “intelligence shopping.” I’m not sure what that is and didn’t want to delay him with my ignorance. That’s for another safer time and discussion. 

The other shoppers I have used have also been kind, smart in their replacements and quick to do the shopping. A delay of a few hours is no big deal to me in this war we are fighting. I love that we all have had great rapport. When he called again to say he made the delivery, I asked if I could give him a great review or tip. Again, he just said, “It’s my pleasure.” 

I think when this is all over, the best I can do is to thank him personally with a handshake or hug depending on what’s comfortable for him. Maybe, I’ll invite him over to meet the family and have a home-cooked meal. He can do the shopping. After all, he knows more about what one important member of my family is eating than anybody else does.