COVID19 Diaries – The 2 New Sacraments

I was maybe 15 people in front of the great Chris Carlsson, but he shopped fast enough to exit with me. We caught up a bit as I walked to my bike (see the still-long line in background), which I locked at the earlier end of the line. Of course, we took a distanced selfie, and I got encouraged to write about this pandemic for the amazing FoundSF history wiki.

Wednesday, March 25

After a few visits to local markets, I had to visit the Rainbow Coop. I texted a friend who works there to ask a few questions. Rainbow has changed policies to respond to the pandemic, and to protect the worker/owners and customers. Entry is controlled, many of the bulk items are not available, and Rainbow sent out an email saying wait times can be up to 30 minutes. My friend said that midday is usually a good time to go, but the line wait can vary. They have also reserved the first few hours for folks over 60 and immune-compromised, and their hours have been cut back.

After a few days of trying to get there, I showed up around 2pm today. The line was around the corner on Folsom, just at the edge of 14th St. People were standing about six feet apart and the line moved somewhat regularly. Across the street at Food Co., the line looked about 20-people long. Rainbow was at least twice that long!

Fifteen minutes into my wait, a Rainbow worker/owner, masked and gloved, handed out this era’s new sacrament: hand sanitizer. The store had bought a large bulk supply of hand sanitizer made with natural ingredients (even the alcohol), and bottled it themselves to sell 2 per customer. It went onto my hands creamy, smelling better than the mainstream products. 

My wait lasted over an hour. The people in line were quiet and respectful of the distance, but other people had to walk by us all down the sidewalk. The corner of 13th and Folsom proved to me to be the stressful place to stand while folks walked by to cross the street. There seemed to be too much traffic on Folsom and 13th. Are all these people driving somewhere essential? The bike ride down had light car traffic, but now it seemed busier.

At Rainbow’s 13th Street entrance, the second sacrament was available before going in: latex gloves. I brought my own just in case. Cars were queued up in a line to park in Rainbow’s garage… before getting in the long line to get into the store. An elderly woman tried to break in line to enter the store and they held her back. As I was next to go inside, a man came out and gave her one item. She gave him cash. I overheard them speaking Russian, and she finally left. At the stash of shopping carts, a worker sprayed and wiped them down. More sanitizer was available with the gloves. 

After almost 1.5 hours, I got inside! Most shoppers were nice, but the Instacart proxy shoppers got a bit too close at times. For some reason the canned goods aisle was always crowded with too-close shoppers. Customer Service kept announcing new policies: specifically there was only one line for the registers. Personal containers had been banned, but it appeared that personal bags were OK. Many of the bulk items were closed up, but there were pre-packaged bulk olives, nut butters, etc. to grab. The store appeared mostly well-stocked, but some items were out. Zinc supplements, which were completely sold out the last time I shopped at Rainbow, were back.

At check out, one worker/owner facilitated the single line to the registers. There was no wait when I rolled up. At the register, I had to stand behind a yellow line to put my items on the moving belt. When done, I had to walk past the cashier/owner to another yellow line to bag and pay for my items. That was possibly the safest distance I’d had while inside the store.

When leaving, a Rainbow worker/owner working the entrance said “Thanks for shopping the apocalypse,” and I responded “Yes. You won’t see me again for another month.” However, lines are forming all across the Bay Area. Here on Divisadero, Bi-Rite has a line. Trader Joes up on Geary does too. I just recently saw a line of eight people at The Mill café. Gladly, San Franciscans seem to be patient and peaceful at these lines. Prepared for the worst, we seem to be showing our best.