Pandemic shopping: How much toilet paper do we need?

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Molly Newborn, Barbara Moser’s daughter, is our Bay Area correspondent

Apple, Tesla along with most of the big tech companies in the Bay Area sent their workforce to work from home last week. We had an 8:30 a.m. office-wide conference call.

The plan was to work in shifts to make the office sparse and enforce our social distancing. One week in the office, one week at home until further notice. As we were waiting for our assigned shifts, we got notice that the Bay Area is calling for “shelter in place” at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday morning — telling people to work from home if they can and to only go out for essential purposes.

My team is prepared and equipped to work from home, though I suspect I may be disturbing my cat’s 20hr/day sleep schedule. 

How much toilet paper do we need? I’ve been hunkering down for the past couple of days, eyes glued to the news with images of people lining up at Costco filling their carts with toilet paper. I have plenty of toilet paper, food and supplies to last a few weeks. Watching the run on toilet paper is starting to make me nervous. I am not worried about running out of food. I, however, have an arguably irrational sudden fear now of running out of toilet paper. 

I hopped in my car and drove to the pharmacy. “What do I need what do I need what do I need…” I think to myself as I wander up and down the isles. Nothing comes to mind except toilet paper. The toilet paper shelves are empty, but all the way in the corner I found two lonely boxes of tissue. I paid $6 for the two boxes and made out like a bandit. 

 Next stop, Safeway — our grocery store. The first thing I see is a very long line winding around the store for the cashier.

“Forget it”, I think to myself. Though … I wonder if they have any toilet paper. I wandered around the store in a daze analyzing the shelves. Some are empty, some are full. It is curious to see what people buy in times of stress, panic and perceived shortage.

There were empty shelves where the produce is supposed to be, the frozen foods, meats, pasta, and breads. There was an abundance of cakes (green treats for Saint Patrick’s Day!) and so were the fancy cheeses, wine, and ice cream.

I thought it a bit strange that the items that go bad fast were the ones flying off the shelves, and the items that last — wine, cheese, and ice cream — were plentiful. I walked past the deserted shelves where the toilet paper was supposed to be and went next door to Starbucks.

 “Are you open?” I asked. The door was open but all the chairs and tables were put away in the corner. I guess they don’t want anyone hanging around. I ordered a small mocha with almond milk. 

My boyfriend, Tim, owns a bakery in San Jose. His business is booming because people can’t seem to get enough bread. I asked him to pick up some toilet paper on his way home. 

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