Just Another Essential Worker


Ever since COVID-19 happened, my whole world has turned upside down.

Like everyone else, I’ve had to stay home often, but I also work as a grocery store cashier, so it’s not a formal quarantine for me. Ever since all my classes got moved online, I’ve been spending more of my time at work. Everything has changed now. There are lines outside the store and only a certain amount of people can be in the store at once. Plexiglass barriers were put in between where the cashier and customer stand at each register.

Every time a customer comes in, we give them gloves. I also have to wear gloves and a mask. Everyone walks around with either a mask or a scarf around their face. If customers come up to the register, there’s tape and a huge stop sign sticker marking the proper distance that each customer needs to stand from the next. The store has to close an hour early now since the curfew was moved up to 8 p.m. Every employee now has an identification card in case they get pulled over for being out too late. Now, we have to constantly clean each register and pin pad, and the handles on the baskets and carts. 

While cleaning the handles on the carts and baskets, it made me wonder why we’d never done that before. Imagine the number of bacteria on each handle and how many people have touched it. In a way, it’s sort of sad that a whole pandemic had to happen for us to practice basic hygiene. 

Every day, I see customers freaking out about COVID-19 and buying hundreds of dollars worth of food. It makes very little sense to me because grocery stores will not be closing. Why do people keep buying in bulk? I feel like people freaking out leads to more people freaking out. Also, watching people buy an insane amount of toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer is crazy to me. As I’m sure a lot of grocery stores have done, they’ve had to put a limit on those items. This just shows how selfish some people can be, that instead of purchasing a reasonable amount so other people can purchase the item, they buy an absurd amount. I’ve seen it first hand, and even now with the limit, customers continue to argue with me because they want to buy more. They tell me that there’s no sign enforcing the rule or that they thought it meant two per person instead of two per family. I’ve heard it all before and nothing really surprises me at this point.

Something that surprised me the other day was when a customer called me a hero for working and said that I was up there with the doctors. That made me feel because I’m just a cashier, not a doctor. I ended up telling my friend that and he told me that the customer was right because everyone else is inside their home while I’m going to work like any other day.

The more I thought about it, the more I realize how right my friend is. I rarely toot my own horn, but I really thought about it. I risk my health every day at work and then I have to go home and possibly bring the virus home to spread to my family. It gets a little scarier every time I think about it. I’ve had customers tell me “Thank you for being here,” and even “Thank you for your service.”

It’s sort of surreal. One day I have an average job, one that no one would desire or feel important, and now, I’m an essential worker. Some people have even tipped me and it always starts off with the customer thanking me for being there, but giving me the tip because they feel bad that I am. They never put the tip money in my hand, they always just throw it on the register – which irks me, but I’ll take what I can get. 

Then, on the other hand, there are still rude customers that get angry with me because of the limit on certain items, as if I get off by telling them they can’t purchase more. Then there are the other ones that get mad at me for telling them they need to step behind the black line. The only reason that rule was made was for the customers’ safety through social distancing. So I guess that’s how I figured out I was important. I was essential. I risk my health every day going to work, and people still are rude to me. Working with customers makes me realize that I can rarely win because everyone responds to things differently.

Regardless, I’m very grateful for still being able to work in times like this. I’m proud of my co-workers as we battle the enemy. I also realized that what we all do matters every day. We are all essential.