Caution is good; panic is not the Canadian way

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Okay, I know the corona virus is throwing the whole world into a tailspin, but something very strange – something very un-Canadian – seems to be happening. I know it’s serious, because every time a fast-spreading virus occurs, it eventually acquires a scientific name. This time it’s COVID-19, which makes me wonder how the previous 18 went.

The strange thing is this: I went to No Frills on Thursday after work. I always do my food shopping on the way home, since there are no line-ups, and the checkout people are all chatting with each other about their hot dates for the weekend.

But this time … the place was packed! There must have been a hundred people in there. And the carts were backed up in polite queues, bending out to the side to let people spin around the ends of the aisles in their mad pursuit for supplies.

Unusual, yes. But, since I had a potload of time to look around, I realized that everybody was buying EVERYTHING. And not just one of everything, but FOUR of everything. The guy in front of me had four Kleenex boxes, four jugs of fruit drinks, four boxes of cereal and, for some reason, four litre-jugs of buttermilk. Who in hell does that?! I mean buttermilk already tastes like milk that’s gone bad … how long do you expect four litres of that horrid liquid to last?

I had a green bag with four big Coke bottles in it, because it was on sale, but everyone else had heaping carts of supplies. The checkout people were moving like lightning, and their expressions were not reflective of the usual, “Hi! How’s Judy and the kids?” But more like they were defusing bombs, while being zapped by a cattle prod and screamed at by a drill sergeant.

 

It dawned on me that everyone was stocking up for the ‘long haul’ … the possibility that they may need to isolate themselves from the rest of the world for maybe a month or so. Or until someone says, “Hey, this buttermilk tastes a bit off … can we go to the store and get a fresh one?”

To me, since I had a long time to ponder before purchasing my four items, it was like a scene from a movie, in which the zombies attack, and you find you do not have nearly enough Kleenex and paper towels to clean up the mess.

If you think I’m kidding: I went to Metro on Friday night, because I was out of milk. Ditto the No Frills experience. Instead of an empty store with a few bored checkout people wishing I had chosen their lanes so they could get their heartrate up and their fingers moving, I had to park at the far end of the parking lot, over by The Source.

The milk, as in most grocery stores, is located in the far corner of the store, in hopes that you might spot a whole pile of other things you can’t live without, during the 10-minute journey to the egg and milk section.

Thank God they had milk, since I just shudder at the thought of eating Sugar Crisps with buttermilk. As I turned, I was surprised to see that the entire paper goods section had been wiped out!
I’m serious. Every scrap of toilet paper, paper towel, Kleenex, diapers were … gone! Just an empty 40-foot shelf of nothing.

This is very scary. More scary than a virus. People are hoarding supplies like Armageddon is right around the corner, and you can smell the equine breath of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
This is not the Canadian way. This is the American way: Me first, sucks to be the rest of you, because I have ALL the toilet paper.

Save me first is not the Canadian attitude, even in times of panic.

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I’m afraid to check out Canadian Tire to see if they have any guns and ammo left, because I don’t want to know the answer.

I had an uncle who thought only of himself, and thought little of anyone else. As a kid, I remember we were in a restaurant, and he ordered a big meal and, when he finished, he said, “I’m stuffed.” When the waitress came around, she asked if we wanted dessert. He asked, “Is it included in the meal?” and she said, “Yes.”

This sticks with me to this very day. When he got the dessert, he finished his cigarette (back when you could smoke in restaurants) and butted it in the dessert.

I was not raised this way, so I asked him why. “I paid for it, so nobody else is gonna get it.”

I was horrified, which is probably why I still remember it. My mother told me stories when times were tough in the County. If her family had enough to live on, her mother would make a casserole and leave it on the doorstep of someone she knew was struggling. She wouldn’t knock on the door and offer it, because that would hurt the pride of the recipient. So it remained anonymous, so everyone could carry on, until the bad times were over.

That is Canadian. We live in a social network, which makes us very different from our southern neighbours, but which always tells us: We’re all in this together.

For those of you who are stripping the shelves of grocery stores, I hope you are willing to share when things get rough. If they get rough. So far, the County has less to fear than the cities, where multitudes of people mingle every day. And the risk is much higher. But we are all in this together.

Still, I overhead a customer at No Frills asking a staffer if he had hand sanitizer. He said, “No, I don’t think you’ll find it anywhere in town … I’ve been checking.”

Caution is a good thing. Caution is something that is very important right now. Hugging and handshaking are not acceptable right now. But when it’s all over, there should be a lot of it going around.
As for me, I’ll be okay. Giant Tiger had a sale on a 12-pack of Cashmere toilet paper two weeks ago, so I bought one. When it runs out, there’s always two alternative newspapers I could use. But I would never use the Times.

Breaking News: I just heard from a staffer at Giant Tiger that the police were called to Trenton Walmart on Friday, because people were stealing from other peoples’ carts, and fights were breaking out. Later in the day, police were escorting shoppers to their vehicles, as people were running up, snatching articles from the carts, and running off.

Not my Canada indeed! Shame on us!

For the record, a health officer in the States has pointed out that, of all the people in the U.S. tested for coronavirus, only 1 per cent has been found to be positive. Caution is still good, but panic is not.

Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

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