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Grocery shopping becomes a game of chance

I got up at 05:15 to use the bathroom. I thought about going back to bed, but as I washed my hands, I realized I had better take care of a particular task, or I may not get that chance.

That task: reserving times at Walmart in Salina and Hays to pick up groceries and household goods, notably toilet cleaners and paper plates.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated panic buying of anything and everything. The panic buying began shortly after the Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV, but throughout February, it was limited to cleaning wipes, cleaning sprays, paper towels and tissues.

With nine days left in March, nothing is immune to hoarders. Store shelves are picked clean, and trying to reserve items to be picked up is challenging not only because of the empty shelves, but because stores–Walmart and Dillons in my case–are severely restricting the times which items can be picked up.

Walmart is not allowing any reservations past the next day; i.e., I could not reserve a Tuesday pickup time last night, prompting me to do my shopping before 06:00. I got reservations at 12:00 in Hays and 17;00 in Salina.

Dillons is worse. I sneaked into a Tuesday evening slot at the store on Ohio Street in Salina last Friday, but when I tried to find another slot, there was nothing available for three days anywhere. A precious few slots for Wednesday and Thursday in Hays have opened this morning.

I’m going to be making three stops tomorrow, with a session with Crista at 13:00 wedged in. Walmart in Hays is before Crista, and Salina is after. The times in Salina are late enough so I can do whatever else I need to do in Hays, including a long wait in a drive-thru, before heading east on Interstate 70. At least I’ve mastered the art of ordering with an app at Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Sonic.

I’m driving this week, so I’d better get to Salina when I can. The diabetic ulcer on the big toe on my right foot has left me in a cast for the better part of the last seven weeks. It has healed very well, and with COVID-19 shutting down everything, there’s no downside to staying home all the time. Buzztime trivia, chess, Lifetime movies and naps pass the time.

While I have reserved items at three stores, whether or not I actually get those items is a crap shoot.

Last Friday, the Dillons in Hays could not get me any bacon. Nothing. My dad, who drove me to my appointment at Hays Medical Center for continued care on the toe, and I didn’t dare go inside to see if there was any on the shelf. The parking lot was filled, and I’m sure social distancing rules were being violated left and right inside the store.

There were no napkins in my Walmart order last Thursday. Fortunately I got them at Dillons.

Dillons is being stubborn by not allowing orders from their deli for pickup, meaning you have to go into the store if you want sliced ham, turkey, salami or other cold cuts and cheese. I like the Salina Dillons because it sells Boar’s Head, but I don’t know if I’m willing to fight the mob tomorrow night.

One thing I have not attempted to order: toilet paper. I have 19 mega rolls of Charmin Ultra Soft in my bathroom, so I’m probably good until at least August. And I will not consider the stupid “flushable” wipes, because toilets have become clogged numerous times using them, whether it be at home or at a hotel.

I also have not tried to order bottled water. As long as Russell’s municipal supply does not get contaminated, we’re in good shape with that as well.

If you want toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, wipes, hand sanitizer, hand soap or most other cleaning supplies, Walmart is kind enough to say they are out of stock. Dillons gets your hopes up thinking it might be in stock by allowing you to add it to your order, only for you to get a message the morning of your scheduled pickup telling you “we’re sorry, but these items are out of stock”.

Target is not allowing paper products and cleaning supplies to be reserved online for pickup orders. Again, you have to go into the store and fight the mob. I still have two full bottles of hand soap I bought at Target in January.

I seriously considered a Sam’s Club membership–there’s a store in Salina–but haven’t pulled the trigger yet. I might change my mind later.

In 1999, King of the Hill aired an episode on the Y2K fear, “Hillennium”, which predicted a possible toilet paper shortage one day.

Dale Gribble, the most paranoid character in the history of television animation, hoarded toilet paper, Mountain Dew, cookies and dozens of other items. Hank Hill bought Peggy a computer for Christmas, and fearing the machine would not be Y2K compliant, Bobby, Peggy and Luanne Platter (Rest in Peace, Brittany Murphy) began to hoard toilet paper like Dale.

Bobby is elated when he receives toilet paper as his Christmas present. Come New Year’s Eve, he is deathly afraid to come outside and join Hank, Boomhauer, Bill, Kahn and the rest of Rainey Street for fireworks. Finally, Bobby comes to his senses, and Hank uses the hoarded toilet paper to start a bonfire.

My dad was fortunate to find toilet paper in Russell’s grocery store last week. He also found three boxes of tissues at Dollar General. They aren’t the Puffs scented with Vicks I prefer, but I’ll take anything in an emergency.

I can order some food online. I have a delivery from Wolferman’s Bakery with English muffins (corn meal and sourdough) and bread (all sourdough) arriving today, and Wednesday, six cases of TaB cola and 12 bottles of Louisiana Fish Fry tartar sauce (for the fish I’m eating each Friday) is coming from Amazon.

I can’t find TaB anywhere anymore, and I like its taste due to it being sweetened with saccharin and not aspartame or sucralose. I used to smuggle TaB back from Kansas City, but it’s disappeared. I was going to check other markets on my LSU baseball trip, but that’s not happening, either.

Bread is scarce,and it’s doubtful I’ll get to Kansas City before June in order to buy the sourdough I like so much. What’s worse is Farm to Market, the company which makes the great sourdough, won’t sell it online. They’re missing out. The Wolferman’s sourdough will do well in a pinch.

I also ordered cleaning supplies from the Grove Collaborative, including the same hand soap I buy at Target. If it comes by the end of next week (April 3), I’ll be happy. I have plenty to get by until then.

Lots of trivia and no Wally. Win-win.

I began August playing trivia. Literally.

Apparently, once you log in to a trivia site on the Buzztime app, you stay logged in and can keep playing as long as you don’t exit the app.

I logged in to Minsky’s while I picked up my order from Outback Steakhouse across Barry Road Wednesday. I kept the app open driving south on Interstate 29, figuring I would lose the signal somewhere at the 64th Street exit, three miles (5 km) of Barry Road.

Nope, the app kept feeding me questions. Don’t worry, I wasn’t answering them as I drove. I wouldn’t be that desperate to play.

When I finally got to the hotel at Briarcliff, seven and a half miles (12.5 km) from Minksy’s, I thought for sure I would be done.

Nope.

I kept on playing and playing and playing, all the way until 0125 this morning.

Since I slept only nine and a half hours the previous two nights, I had to go to bed. Besides, I was drifting in and out by 0045.

Thursday, following an futile trip to Olathe, I came back to Prairie Village to get the cheese I desired. I was about two kilometers north of Johnny’s Tavern at 83rd and Mission, the only location in Prairie Village with Buzztime. Driving north into Roeland Park, I still had the signal much to my surprise. I kept it up into Missouri on I-35 before finally exiting to get in touch with my dad back in Russell.

Wash, rinse, repeat Friday.

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Thursday night was interesting at the hotel.

I attempted to wash two of LL Bean canvas bags which had been badly stained. One was by dishwashing liquid where the cap wasn’t screwed on tight and I didn’t notice it in the grocery store, and the other was of an unknown origin.

I used the front-loading machine in the hotel’s laundry room. When I came back a half-hour later, the door was locked and there were suds all over the machine. I had to unplug the machine, and of course, suds came spilling out.

Apparently, the machine was out of order, and some idiot pulled the sign off the machine. The front desk refunded my money.

Do some people enjoying inconveniencing others? Lucky it was only a washing machine. If it happened with something else, it could have had much more serious consequences.

I put one bag in each of the two top-loading machines. Everything turned out great.

All the while I was still playing trivia on my phone. I once again got Outback, logged in to Minsky’s, and the signal was still going strong at Briarcliff.

Thursday morning, I finally gave up at 0125. Friday morning, Buzztime stopped me cold at 0210 by not feeding any more questions. Of course, nobody at Minsky’s knew, because it closed at midnight. Speaking of Minsky’s, I probably should make an appearance tomorrow.

I was hoping to make it to 0300, because Buzztime has introduced a new game which runs from 0300 to 1100 for those locations which are open that late or that early as the case may be.

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One place I have not been on this trip, nor have I been the last 365 days, is Walmart.

That’s right. I have not set foot in a Walmart since I exited the one in Hays 31 July 2018.

The day after my last Walmart visit, I left for Kansas City for the trip where I met up with old middle school chum Jason Malasovich and family. Before I knew he was even in the area, I decided I would not longer patronize Walmart.

I don’t have a political reason for doing so. I could not care less if Walmart or any other retailer sells t-shirts encouraging impeachment of Trump, Obama or any other political figure for that matter. I’m glad I don’t work at Walmart, because from what I have seen and heard, it is backbreaking, the pay is low, and the benefits are skimpy.

When I shopped at Walmart, I never bought its store brands. I hold a strong antipathy for them. I trust store brands from grocery stores and Target, but Walmart for some reason rubs me the wrong way.

I haven’t missed Walmart one bit. I compensate by loading up in Kansas City, Wichita and Salina. Salina has a Target without groceries, but Wichita does. Kansas City’s grocery stores–Hy-Vee and Price Chopper–usually have good selection for what I’m looking for. Schnuck’s in Columbia and Dierberg’s in the St. Louis metro have much more variety, and a lot of things they sell are not available in Kansas City, just like White Castle is nowhere to be found in western Missouri.

I have to be careful with transporting perishable goods in the summer. In the winter I don’t need ice when it’s cold. When it’s frigid (below minus-5 Celsius), I can leave perishables in the car until I get back to Russell. I put ice over them just to be safe, but it works like a charm. No sense in bringing them into the room when you don’t have to.

That’s why I now try to stay in hotels with full-sized refrigerators, especially in the summer. I can freeze the food, and even though it might thaw, it will be much better than if I took it straight from the store to Russell.

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Now it’s 1440 Saturday. Back to Russell tomorrow, although with a stop in Salina. The humdrum life of western Kansas returns Monday with another session with Crista and trivia from somewhere in Hays. Back to Salina Tuesday. At least the August heat has abated for the time being. Any break we can get.