By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/26/2021
Occurred: 5/27/2020
Topics/Keywords: #Coronavirus #Maui Page Views: 229
What should have been a simple purchase becomes a nightmare in the time of Coronavirus.

My grandson asked me to pick up 85 boards at the hardware store, to be used to frame the interior of his shipping container, on its way to becoming an apartment. Or a rental. Or something. In any case, all I had to do was to run to a hardware store and pick it up, right? That may have been true prior to the coronvirus, but no more.

Zach originally suggested I go to Lowe's, which has a "drive-thru" lumber yard. However, there is now a limit to how many cars can drive through at one time. Plus. I had to drive three times around the building before I could find the new one-way entrance.

Now, here's the thing. I'm no carpenter. I'm not a construction guy. So Zach's original order of 85 2-by-4 boards of 8 feet each, treated, may as well have been cuneiform to me. I mean, of course I know what a 2-by-4 is. But all the boards in this place looked the same to me. And I don't think it was unreasonable for me to ask for help.

There was a guy in a kiosk who seemed to be in charge. "Excuse me," I asked when he came near. I'm looking for…" and I descibed what Zach had asked for.

"I don't know what you think my job is," the guy interrupted, "but all I do is keep track of the cars coming in and going out. I don't know where they keep the kinds of lumber, so I can't help you."

I shrugged. "Well, if I can't find the lumber I need, I'll have to look elsewhere."

He shrugged. Clearly my concerns were not his.

So then I tried Home Depot.

It was a little easier navigating. Most of the inventory wasn't marked and there were few price signs. I did find out the cost of the treated lumber, but it was more than Zach could afford. So we switched to untreated lumber, which should be fine since he'll be using it inside a waterproof container.

I got a lumber cart and began moving 2-by-4s into it. I got as far as 20 when I realized that I'm just not athletic (or young) enough to move 85 of them into the cart—much less from the cart to the truck after paying for them.

And this was going to around a $300 purchase. It seemed reasonable to ask for help.

There were a couple of employees working past a barrier. I called over and asked how I would get help loading lumber.

"You must ask the cashier," he replied. So I trotted over to a cashier stand—and waited in line, six feet apart, as she rang up two customers ahead of me.

"Can I get some help putting lumber in my cart?" I asked her.

She pointed at the guys I had just talked to. "They will do it," she replied.

"No, I just asked them, and they said to ask you."

The cashier seemed flummoxed by this, and went to consult with her manager. Eventually she returned. "You must pay for the boards first," she explained, "and the men will load it into your truck."

Ah, okay! That sounded like progress.

So I paid for the boards, and was told to pull up to the Pro entrance to have them loaded.

I got into Zach's truck and pulled up to the barricaded entrance as told. A woman with a clipboard called and asked my name. "Paul," I replied.

"I'm sorry," she said, "but you're not on my list."

"But that woman," I said, pointing, "told me to come here so that those men," I pointed again, "can load the lumber I've already paid for onto this truck."

"Ohhhh!" the woman exclaimed. "Then you are on my list!" And she parted the barrier and I drove through.

The two guys were waiting with an entire pallet of 2-by-4s, 8 foot length. "I only bought 85 of them," I mentioned, but they didn't react. The forklist lowered the pallet and the guys began to load boards onto the truck.

They didn't give any indication they were actually counting, but I had to figure they knew what they were doing.

To distract myself I went onto Facebook to argue with strangers. After awhile I took it upon myself to count the boards they'd already loaded.

There were 127 of them, and they were still loading.

"Guys!" I yelled. "Guys, I appreciate your generosity, but I only bought 85 boards."

They looked at me uncomprehendingly, like cows at a passing Lexus. "Won't you get into trouble if you give me too many?"

That got their attention. "There's over 120 boards on the truck," I added.

So they unloaded the excess boards. I had to count down to the last one.

I finally had a truckload of boards. What should have taken maybe 30 minutes, had literally taken me four hours. And that didn't include the four hours' round trip.

Yes, I also stopped at the dispensary, and picked up some dinners and beverages and gasoline at Safeway. And I had lunch. But those chores, which also took a little longer than before the coronavirus, weren't as out-of-proportion as the lumber purchase had been.

Now, if I leave the story here, I leave the impression that I had an unfortunate experience with a number of poor employees. But let's look deeper.

Lowes and Home Depot are both successful organizations that could never have gotten that way on the backs of incompetent employees. And, in years past, I've never known the employees of either company to be anything other than stellar.

But at this point, it's likely both companies have lost employees to the virus—if not to death, at least to prolonged illness. That means they must have hired a number of new people, as well as promoting or moving workers to new locations. Plus, even for a cashier who continues to cashier, so many things have changed in such a short time—cleaning procedures, having to monitor customers who come too close to other customers, trying to talk through plastic barriers and masks…

The surprise isn't that it took me four hours to transact 30 minutes' worth of business.

It's that I was able to get the wood at all.

Due to the likelihood that it would at least rain a little during the night, I carefully covered Zach's lumber with a tarp.

…and was faced with the most spectacular sunset we've seen here yet.