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Miami at home: Kroger in the midst of the apocalypse

TOLEDO, Ohio — The automatic opening doors at Kroger’s entrance offered an inviting feeling of warmth compared to the cold outside. My brother, Kalen, and I dodged shopping carts making their way out the building. 

I glanced at my phone, reading the list our mom sent in the family group chat. 

Bread

Eggs 

Milk 

Pretzels

Cosmic Brownies

Flavored Water

Waffles Syrup 

Coffee K cups

Kalen approached me with a small shopping cart. I followed his lead as we entered the store.

There were too many people here. Definitely too many for a Monday afternoon. Every person who passed us had a cart that was entirely too full. Some had multiple family members pushing a cart throughout the store. 

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Shelves that once held food were bare. The toilet paper, I found out from a conversation between two employees, had been “out for days,” but they were hoping for a new shipment soon. 

***

Eggs 

Attention Customers: due to high demand, we are limiting the amount of this product to three per customer. Thank you! 

I looked at the small selection of eggs that were left. The bottom of the section was covered in yolk from cracked eggs. 

“Gross,” Kalen said. “Who just drops eggs?” 

“Idiots,” I joked. 

Kalen grabbed a carton of eggs and quickly pulled his hand away. 

“Ew! Jesus!” he yelled. “It’s wet.” 

The bottom of the carton was stained yellow. Inside, an egg was cracked open, covering the other eggs next to it. 

“Gross,” I said. “Wipe your hands off and pick another.” 

***

Pretzels 

The chip aisle was a mess. 

All the Lays were pretty much sold out, except for the unpopular flavors. Cool Ranch Doritos, though, remained untouched, causing them to stand out against the surrounding emptiness. 

“Ha! Even during the apocalypse, people know Cool Ranch is trash,” Kalen joked. 

I laughed and picked up the last family-sized bag of Ruffles. A couple in matching outfits came down the aisle quickly. 

They both wore maroon Adidas tracksuits and white Adidas Superstars. What a cheesy combination, I thought. 

Tucked behind their ears were the strings of a medical mask that laid tightly on their faces. 

Hanging outside her purse was the top of a canister of Lysol wipes. We made eye contact. Although I couldn’t see her lips, her eyes creased in a way that indicated a smile. 

*** 

Flavored Water 

One 24-pack of Kroger water remained in the middle of aisle 22. Two mothers eyed it across the aisle unsure who should make the first move. 

“What kind does Mom want?” Kalen asked, grabbing my attention. 

“Grape and berry?” I said. 

Kalen made a face at me and smiled. “I hope you’re right.” 

I turned my attention back to the two moms. One was bold enough to make the move and grab the pack. She threw it underneath her cart and wheeled away. 

The other mother looked angry as she grabbed a 12-pack of overpriced Aquafina. 

Why didn’t you go for it, lady? I was rooting for you! I thought. 

“Uh oh,” Kalen said. 

He placed the packs of water in the cart that was becoming extremely full. 

“Looks like I’ll have to start carrying this in my hands, huh?” I asked. 

***

Syrup

“Do you know where I can find…” a woman asked an overwhelmed employee. 

I could tell by the expression on his face that he’d been dealing with this all day. I’ve experienced this at my retail job, usually close to Black Friday. When people are shopping for a certain purpose, they can become self-interested and not quick to apologize. 

I’ve gotten used to this type of customer, but this boy has yet to earn his apocalypse stripes. 

I turned to an empty syrup section. Well, mostly empty. All that was left was the overpriced, organic, gluten-free, no GMO shit. 

“Should we just get this?” Kalen asked. 

I looked at the price tag. $12.99. 

I scoffed. “Hell no.” 

The woman who was speaking to the employee passed us, talking to someone on the phone. 

“I’ve been looking for toilet paper for days. What is the issue?” she said. 

“Remind me why people buy toilet paper during a pandemic?” I asked. 

“Because it’s a poopy situation! Haha. Get it?” Kalen joked. 

I smiled at him, “Let’s check out.” 

*** 

Self Check Out

Beep. Beep. 

Kalen scanned and bagged the items one-by-one. We never go through the regular check-out line.  

A woman left the kiosk beside us and was followed by an employee. In his hand, he held disinfectant wipes and wiped the kiosk from head to toe. His hands were visibly dry. The wipes must have taken out the moisture. 

Beep. Beep. 

The store’s telecom finished playing Stevie Wonder’s song “High Ground” and began a round of ads. 

“Kroger is now hiring and looking to fill immediate positions! Fill out your application online today!” 

“We have shortened our hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.” 

“Thank you for shopping at Kroger!” 

I felt a tap on my shoulder. 

“Are you gonna pay or not?” Kalen asked. 

I rolled my eyes and put my debit card into the machine. Bbbrrriinnggg! bbrrrinnnggg! Authorized payment! 

I snatched my key out of the machine and put it back into my phone wallet. 

“Let’s get outta here,” I said to Kalen. 

He pushed the cart, and I followed. Back out into the cold. 

@briah_lumpkins

lumpkibm@miamioh.edu

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