by Kevin Burton
One day in Columbus I decided to buy a newspaper. But I needed help to get there.
The night before, the Ohio State football team shocked most observers by beating Miami 31-24 in the Fiesta Bowl, and winning the national championship.
Around noon the next day I arrived at Kroger to get a souvenir newspaper. What I didn’t know, but was about to learn, was that some Solomonic soul at Kroger had decreed that each customer could purchase one, only one, newspaper.
A man in front of me was begging for all he was worth to be allowed to exceed that limit. To that point in my then young life, only James Brown had gotten more out of the word “pleeee-eeeease” than that Buckeye fan.
There was real angst in his voice and in his countenance. The night before, grown men cried for joy when Ohio State finally won the big one. The emotion of it all was still with us.
But eventually the shopper walked forlornly away with his singular treasure and it was my turn to make a purchase.
I was thinking, “I’m not going to make a fool of myself begging for extra papers. I’m just going to go from here to some convenience store and get more copies.”
Keep in mind, this was back when I still knew everything.
So after Kroger I went to one, then two, then three more places on North High Street. You guessed it, no more papers to be had anywhere.
I was quite fortunate to have even one paper and it was only because somebody at the store was looking out for late sleepers.
A happy story that. And from that day forward no retail worker ever told me I couldn’t buy as much as I could afford, of whatever I wanted.
It is 17 years after the Ohio State win and the fun and games are over. Something called the Coronavirus has killed thousands in China, but is not respecting borders. It is spreading so aggressively it is forcing everyone on earth, even my part of the earth, to reckon with it.
As of today, the virus has killed one person in northeast Kansas. Overnight, life as we knew it, gone.
So today we were in an Aldi store north of where we live. We walk past shelves which usually display toilet paper but now are empty. A cashier tells us we can only buy four cans of French-style green beans instead of the 12 we had brought to the counter.
Then at Dillons a half hour later, workers discussed whether we could buy three cans of Lysol spray AND three containers of disinfecting wipes, or whether it was three cleaning products total.
It was decided we could purchase all six cleaning products. Just one day earlier it would have seemed impossible to have such a conversation.
The shoppers we encountered today were in disbelief, but in good spirits. I witnessed no pushing or harsh words, grabbing of goods, nothing untoward.
It is good to let events unfold before making too many pronouncements. I mean, what do I know at this point?
Having said that, I wonder, the way the United States has been groomed for complete polarization, how long will it be before the pursuit of scarce goods becomes something less amiable?
Postscript to the Ohio State championship: The Columbus Dispatch figured out what a goldmine it had and within a week or so printed extra souvenir newspapers. That is why I have more than one copy downstairs in my sports hall of fame.
All’s well that ends well, so they say. With Coronavirus the end is not in sight, ending well, by no means a certainty.