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Topics: Ethical Living | Opinion

My cashier job changed as the COVID-19 crisis deepened

As a customer service worker, I worried about co-workers and patrons alike

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This column is part of a series of reflections from Broadview staff about the coronavirus pandemic.

Some people spend their Sunday mornings at church. Up until last week, I spent mine scanning barcodes and bagging items.

I used to be a cashier at a drugstore. I started when I was 18 — it was my first job out of high school — and returned to it when I came back to Canada after a year abroad. Even after starting at Broadview, I wasn’t ready to let it go. The extra cash was nice, sure, but I had gotten attached to the people I saw every weekend.

You might think that since cashiers see tons of customers, we don’t really notice them. But I knew my regulars — the newspapers they read, the goods they picked up every week, the lottery games they preferred — and we played a part in each other’s Sunday routine. If someone didn’t show up to grab their usual items, a small part of me worried about them.

More COVID-19 coverage on Broadview:

What Wet’suwet’en land defenders can teach us during COVID-19

Churches gather at the drive-in amid COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 shows limits of Canada’s compassion

 

The routine went off the rails as the COVID-19 crisis escalated across the country. One week, everything felt normal. The next, I was talked into wearing gloves while I scanned items and took money, my hands sweaty and uncomfortable inside the latex. On my last shift, green tape on the floor tiles illustrated how far apart customers should stand.

People changed in how they addressed me, too. They wanted to know my name, thank me for coming to work, ask me if they could do anything to make me feel less at risk. Customers were chatty; the opportunity for social interaction was too strong to be denied.

“Be safe,” they told me as they gathered their bags. 

“Take care,” I responded earnestly. The once-rote phrase took on a new significance for me. I meant it, every single time. 

I put my two weeks’ notice in before we knew how the coronavirus would upend our lives. It was time to say goodbye to my safety net. But I’ll be thinking about my former co-workers, who are still smiling and chatting with the public, maintaining a degree of normalcy in a strange new world. And to my regulars, those friendly faces I spent my Sunday mornings with: know that I’ll be thinking of you all, too. 

Broadview is an award-winning progressive Christian magazine, featuring stories about spirituality, justice and ethical living. For more of our content, subscribe to the magazine today.

Aleysha Haniff is Broadview's assistant digital editor.

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  • says:

    One thing I gained from the Covid-19 virus is knowing what jobs in our society are really important. It's not sports or acting....these are high paying professions that do little as far as service to society goes. The truly important jobs are supermarket workers, research workers and medical workers, trash collectors and those we, in many cases, tend to look down on or not pay much attention to. They have no "star" power...no "celebrity" status. Yet, they and those like them are important in making our society function. I now look on the clerks at Wal-Mart, the medical staff at my local hospital and others who work with the public with new respect. We pay high salaries to the wrong people. I don't care how good a hockey player is or how well someone can act. I do care about whether or not there are researchers and scientists working on a cure, and medical staff to administer that cure and service people to help me shop and get groceries and those who pick up my trash. Often I think our society is totally screwed up. We pay people big dollars for playing games or we pay people millions for pretending to be someone else yet those who really count in our society make a pittance. It boggles the mind.

    Replies

    • says:

      I don't know what else to say or add. Well said.
      Too bad it took this pandemic to remind us