Late last week, I went over to my neighbor’s house to pick up some cookies she’d baked as a treat for my husband and me. She offered me a glass of Schloß Biebrich sparkling rosé (hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, it’s a lot of fun for not a lot of money and way better priced than most of the other options), we got to chatting, and I of course asked her if there was anything that I could do for her given The Current Situation: pick up groceries, run by the pharmacy, whatever – as she’s older than I am, she and her husband had been advised not to leave their house. She’s a lovely woman; when I married Dan, she gave us a matched set of honey bears with handwritten labels on them, and her cookies (oh man, her cookies!) are so dang delicious that you would probably buy the house next door if you could just in hopes of getting a batch of them, fresh baked, delivered to your door sometime. Plus, her husband is a genuinely cool cat; he talked us into going to Perú with him last summer to hike the Inca Trail, which was a freakin’ blast.
Yes, there was something I could do: pick up a prescription at Costco. To be honest, this filled me with dread. I do not love going to Costco, but I do it every few weeks because I do love organic milk, large quantities of apples, fresh baguettes, Parma ham, and a lot of other things that you, dear reader, will surely not be surprised to find in my (or any other) bourgeois middle class American household. I immediately said yes… and then hedged by saying that I would gladly do it next Tuesday. I had recently gone to a Costco – two weeks ago on Friday,March 6 – and it was obvious that shit was already getting weird. Like, really weird.I stopped in on my way home from work, choosing to go to a Costco business center (it’s kind of like a regular Costco, but definitely oriented to restaurant and convenience store owners) for the first time hoping that it would be somewhat less jammed, and it was, but the cashiers were nervously laughing about the onslaught that had just finally subsided by the time I got there on the way home from work, so around 5 p.m. Toilet paper (huh) and water (why? c’mon, our tap water is awesome in San Diego) were long gone, some aisles were shut down, and it definitely had an eerie, calm-before-the-storm vibe. I bought apples, milk, and peanut butter, and got the heck out of there.
I popped in the Costco near my office in the mid-afternoon on Thursday, March 12, hoping to stock up on a few shelf stable basics, and things had definitely tipped all the way over into full-on End Times madness… albeit a very suburban San Diego madness, which meant that there was a one-minute wait to get a cart and that the lines were very long, but everyone was calm, friendly, and mostly in a we’re-all-in-this-together state of mind, except for some younger people who were obviously freaked out by the whole scene, wondering what the heck was happening. “Son, obviously you’ve never been in a pandemic before,” I said, not sure if I was joking or not. A lot of the prepper-approved basic were long gone (beans, rice, spaghetti) but there random bits and bobs around that looked fine to me, so I snapped them up (one each, no hoarding): Italian canned tomatoes, organic Italian pasta in shapes I didn’t recognize (casarecce, the hell?), peanut butter (whoops, bought the wrong kind the last time), chili, reduced sodium Spam, mixed nuts. The lines moved quickly, I had a fine chat with a nurse from the Scripps medical center across the street, and I felt better that I now had enough stuff to keep us fed for a few weeks in a worst case scenario type deal.
But this was a day after that. Costco, she asked. Would it be OK? Of course, I said. I would be delighted to. And then I went back to my house and slowly realized that that would likely be the last time I’ll see her that close, in person, until The Current Situation has passed. This, dear reader sucks.
At least I had a few days to steel my nerves in preparation for going back to the dreaded Costco. I started working from home full time just a few days before, which gave me plenty of time between technical support calls (my day job!) to figure out some kind of a strategy. I convinced myself that surely waiting until a Tuesday afternoon would be the best because the initial panic would surely have passed; I imagine that the weekend hordes would have calmed down by then. Plus, after seeing a favorite wine shop post on Twitter that they were now offering a curbside pickup service, maybe I could also sneak in a visit there… and maybe back to the Japanese grocery store as well? Although there wasn’t anything I really needed at either of those two stores, I did want to buy the smaller rice storage container I failed to get the last time, plus some ready meals are always delicious (pork cutlet with egg and rice bowls FTW).I left the house at two o’clock. It took almost no time to get to the San Diego Wine & Beer Co; I decided that because it was still relatively early on that it was less likely than it would be in the days ahead that there would be any risk of exposure to 2019-nCoV, but that could also just have been justifying bad behavior on my part. Regardless, I was happy to see that the shop had left its doors wide open to let the fresh, clean San Diego air into the shop, and also happy to see that there were no other customers in the shop. Score. I pulled on a pair of disposable gloves and went in to get my shop on.
Reader, if you’re in San Diego, there really isn’t a better place to get your drank on. They expanded the shop last year to have a shit ton of beer as well, but it’s the wine selection that you’re probably here for. It isn’t the biggest store, but they are friendly, the prices are more than fair, and they have a well-chosen selection that ranges from cheap ‘n cheerful to seriously expensive (but not marked up beyond reason). You could go for a single bottle of Auguste Clape Cornas or a case of this Juan Gil mataro, it’s all roughly the same price, after all! I grabbed two cases of wine (and a couple bottles of Pliny the Elder because fuck it, why not), paid (Apple Pay, theoretically contactless but I still had to sign some paper, yecch), and scooted over to Mitsuwa, the Japanese supermarket, which was nearly unrecognizable compared to the week before. All of the sales had been discontinued, most of the rice had disappeared (they were down to either very expensive Japanese imported rice or extremely boring American rice), but they did have my beloved ready meals as well as spaghetti and rice for the neighbors. Plus, a few more pouches of shelf stable chicken curry, because delicious.
And then, dear reader, I steeled my nerve and drove to Costco. It looked… crowded… ish, but not bad. There was no wait for gasoline, so I filled the tank for the first time less than $30 since I’ve owned my VW. I then parked, dashed up to the exit, and asked if I could just go in and pick up her prescription. Answer: no. You have to go wait in the main line to enter the store, but “it’s not bad right now.” And then I saw how they’d reorganized everything and immediately felt better. A long, carefully tended entrance corral outside the store, with social distancing in place. A dedicated employee to wipe down the shopping carts; another employee to let customers in as space inside the store dictated. Cool. And inside the store, everything, more or less, that you could want. (No Parma ham, but whatever. I’ll live.) I did an impromptu shop (Kirkland bourbon? Kirkland cognac? Sure, why not), grabbed four bottles of wine for the neighbors, threw in a bottle of that cheap Kirkland sangria I’d always been curious about, and found plenty of prepared food that would fit in my fridge and keep us fed in style for six more weeks. A quick trip through the register, paid contactless, no touching anything at all, and then… whoops, no one around to help pick up the prescription. But no, wait! A few calls were made, and they found the pharmacist somewhere in the back of the store, probably refilling bottled water shelves. Whew. He gave me her prescription, entirely based on trust (no ID, no signing), and I was out of there and back up the hill to our house(s).
My neighbor now has her prescription as well as Asian spaghetti, rice, chicken apple sausage, four bottle of Kirkland wine, and some random other stuff. It’s good. And I believe there will be cookies again in the future. This makes me happy.
This wine, incidentally, also makes me happy. I have no idea how anyone can sell a bottle of organic Spanish mataro for $6.99, but there you go. It’s not overly alcoholic, it doesn’t necessarily have the full-on meat feast you’d expect from top shelf mataro, but it does have a lovely, leafy, minty cigar box kind of feel to it, and it goes down a treat with a bowl of katsu don in the middle of a global pandemic. If you possibly can, decant it an hour beforehand – it realllllly started getting good right as we were finishing the bottle while watching The Seventh Seal – and buy more than one bottle because this one’s a keeper. Plus, if you’re really not keen to touch anything or come in close contact to people at this point, you can call the San Diego Wine & Beer Co. or order online and they will just put it in the trunk of your car. Now that’s a win.