People At The Grocery Store

Today I had a reinforcing dose of reality as it pertains to systemic risk – something that we all face, while most do not recognize it. I’m sure you’ve all experienced this before too, but here’s what I saw and here’s what I took away from what I saw…

Mrs. J and I are currently on a ‘working’ vacation for a few weeks out here on Cape Cod while I enjoy going off-road and surf fishing up at Race Point hoping for the elusive school of striped bass to churn up the waters in front of me. But I digress.

We’ve been here for several days already but we wanted to run out to the grocery store to pick up a few more things – although we didn’t necessarily need to (we’re pretty well stocked).

The nearest grocery store from where we’re staying is the Stop & Shop in Orleans, and it happens to be the only one around this part of the Cape – although there are a number of corner stores, etc.

I drove down there, pulled in the parking lot, and I said to Mrs. J, “Holy $#it there’s a-lot of cars in the parking lot!”

We agreed that I would go inside and procure the items on our short list while Mrs. J stayed in the truck with Sampson (our mini-Dachshund). As I entered the store, I was awestruck by the apparent (and barely controlled) chaos inside as throngs of vacationers were clogging the aisles with their carts and jostling to get the supplies they were after.

I can honestly say that I’ve never seen such a crowd in a grocery store before. I realized that today is Sunday, and probably a mistake to have gone out to the store given that it is a weekend. But still… the store was PACKED like sardines.

Upon seeing the crush of people, my very first conscious thought was how this exemplified the massive systemic risk that we all face with our dependence upon grocery stores to feed us and supply us with the ‘consumables’ that we go through. All I could imagine was that IF there was ever a reason for people to panic and IF the grocery stores in population-dense regions were to run low or run out of supplies, then these people will likely wig out…

I sometimes enjoy watching other people and observing their behavior. As I observed the people inside, many of them seemed to be in complete disregard of others around them as they aggressively maneuvered their carts and blocked others while they were taking what they needed from the shelves.

Others were walking as if dazed and confused, without purpose, and were seemingly unable to walk a straight line as I attempted to pass their ‘Zombie like’ zig-zagging bodies in the aisles.

I also noticed that the grocery store was loaded with workers who were restocking the shelves as fast as people were taking the stuff – the turnover was huge…

While I realize that this is a very heavy vacation spot (I’ve been coming here on occasion since childhood), it still strikes me when I experience such a mass of people – all of whom would be royally screwed if the grocery store(s) wasn’t (weren’t) resupplied. Our normalcy bias puts the blinders in front of our eyes and we just don’t see the risk. We assume.

Sure, the risk of systemic failure is fairly low at any given time, but one never knows when the SHTF. During the times when you actually ‘see’ the numbers of people who absolutely rely on these systems for survival, it makes you think. At least it makes some of us think…


  1. Read about Toledo OH. They are having a water crisis right now due to algae bloom on Lake Erie. We are 200 miles away in OH and people are coming this far to find water. They are filling trucks and SUVs. The mayor is asking for grocery stores to send all water that way. They are rationing water to one case per family and calling those prepared hoarders. We had this in our town this winter when a water main blew. People went nuts.

    1. I’ve been reading online about this situation in Toledo. It is another good example of how bad it will be during SHTF. I’ll bet that hardly anyone there has a ‘real’ drinking water filter and most are in shock about having to go out and buy water. A good example of ‘normalcy bias’ – that things will always be the way they are (let the good times roll)…

      1. Ken, I read one lady had no plastic/glass/any gallon jug–her water was placed in a cookie jar.
        Not funny, but leave it to Americans to have a fricking cookie jar and no milk jug!!!

      2. And to think this is all going on when ONLY drinking water is bad. They can still flush toilets,wash cloths ect. The inability of people to see the larger picture is scary. I used to manage a chemical plant making photo chemicals and we had a sign on the wall in my office that said. “BE CAREFUL WHAT IF COULD”. It made me think everyday about planing for the unexpected.

      3. Dont you just love that,
        You think ahead and put back some extra supplies to get you through a rough patch and you are labeled a hoarder!

        Common sense is sorely lacking, this is why you also need to keep a means of protecting your supplies,
        My first thought is dynamite! If i cant have my supplies, NOBODY can!

    2. People are being called “hoarders” for buying supplies for their families. Supplies that would be eagerly snatched by those whining about “hoarders” if wrasslin hadn’t been on TV (had to wait fer the end of the match!).

  2. I had a similar, albeit different, experience recently at a local gas station. Not sure why the crowd was so big, but each of the 8 pumps had a line of 3-4 cars behind them. Throngs of people gassing up on an otherwise normal day.

    It was odd though, some people at the end of those lines honking and getting impatient, others jerking out of line to steal a pump from someone else. A lot of hostility and impatience, I couldn’t help but think what kind of multiple you’d place on the chaos, danger, and stress of it, if there were some kind of emergency or SHTF event.

    1. Joe, regarding your comment,

      “A lot of hostility and impatience, I couldn’t help but think what kind of multiple you’d place on the chaos, danger, and stress of it, if there were some kind of emergency or SHTF event.”

      I observe this behavior seemingly everywhere these days (especially when I’m in high population density regions). People are so ‘on-the-edge’ during our apparent ‘good times’, it’s hard to imagine the chaos when things get really tough… or worse. It’s crazy.

      1. I observe the same thing and I live in East Texas where the economy is doing comparatively well. What I think may be a factor for so many being on edge is that people sense that things are headed south but are still trying to live as they always have. Denial.

        1. That is an interesting observation (denial). Some people who recognize the clear-and-present dangers staring them in the face – may be trying to deny it’s presence, while a side-effect is stress upon stress…

      2. This is why we prep.To be honest and I am sure this is not a politically correct statement ( not that I care)but I say in an emergency situation let all these rude ignorant and unprepared people kill each other chasing after resources that they should be stock piling anyway. Except for a very few circumstances I don’t think anybody should need something that bad that this behavior needs to be. It was like you said Ken. When you went to the store you didn’t really NEED to as you were pretty well stocked up.You could have walked away and been fine. How many of those people in the store could say the same.

  3. Great observation, Ken. I too think of that when I see people loading up with stuff in their carts they could grow (easy vegetables and fruits), preserve (jams, jellies, pickles and veggies), junk food to make them unhealthy, etc. Thankfully I don’t need to go into those stores very often, either. I wish I could be completely free of grocery stores, but maybe in the future.

  4. Strangely as I was getting ingredients for a banana split because we can’t pay what Sonic and DQ charge now($2 for two tablespoons of ice cream in a thimble with a stripe of chocolate syrup down the one scoop called a Chocolate Sunday?????!!!!!) and I don’t use bleach but with all the mess happening thought best to buy one gallon while at the store—whew!!…the shelf was really vacant. I mean it had huge holes where the bleach sat!

    Pandemic anyone??

  5. What is happening in Ohio and Michigan could easily happen to any state or county.
    I just want to yell at the neighbors about my 700 gallons of water in the garage—laughing now??

    They will NEVER wake up and I bet every house on this street isn’t even giving a second thought to storing water, coffee filters, and Calcium Hypochlorite!

    1. “I bet every house on this street isn’t even giving a second thought to storing water,”

      That’s very true! People assume that water will always flow from the faucet, and the water will always be safe to drink. Normalcy bias. When their notion is turned upside-down, they panic…

      1. In Toledo, nothing will change. People still won’t stock up. Just bitch about how long it takes the Guardsmen to get there with the water trucks (and tell each other “Whew! I’m glad THAT’S over and we can get back to normal!”).

  6. I(we) are pretty good “stock upers”, so to speak. not at all on lines of Ken, here, but still, better than most we know. I have to say, if we buy a dozen of something, because it is on CHEAP, we get a lot of odd looks / questions. Yes, I know I don’t have to explain, but I have taken at times, when “queried”…oh friends and I shop for each other/am shopping for shut ins..

    People do not seem to want to prepare at all, and VERY much seem to resent the ones who do.

    1. I was having a conversation with relatives regarding this water situation and how people should at least have a 3 month supply. I was looked at funny and told “who has room for that?” The person making this comment has 2 garages, a good sized shop, an unused basement, two spare bedrooms, and lives on 9 acres.

  7. How many of you folks have a Berkey water filter at home…???

    This may be a “heads up” to go buy one…

    1. Got one. Got another one for #1 son and his wife for Christmas last year. They love it.

      1. I’ve read that about 87% of this toxin can be removed using simple clay filters. Activated charcoal seems to be really effective.

    2. Don’t have a Berkey ( can’t buy them in California ) but I have set ups to make homemade ones from 5 gallon buckets and several other filters. Also always about 2 gallons of bleach and 5 pounds of pool shock. Also store about 100 gallons and plan on a rain catchment by this winter. As you see I kinda think the water bit is important.

      1. If you think its important then get the hell out of California!
        Its only going to get worse.

        1. While the drought may get worse it depends on where you live in California. When most people think of California they think of L.A. and that’s a small part of the state. I live in a small town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California so running out of water is really not a worry.In a true SHTF situation there is lots of game,wood for fuel,fish and remote locations to bug out to if need be. The growing season in my area ( about 4000 ft level ) is aprox 6 months. I always love people that say just move. That may be easy for some but others of us have jobs,homes,ect. I have put a lot of effort into my home,garden,preps and IMHO there are many worse places to be.

  8. Every time I see an unusually crowded store or gas station, I always look carefully at what people are doing and buying. It could be the beginning of the end, and you didn’t get the news. As a matter of fact I am always looking for peculiar buying and demeanor of everyone when I am in a store. It is part of my situational awareness and behavioral observations. You never know when someone around you has information that you are not privy to. When the people “in the know”, are aware that something is about to go down, they aren’t going to broadcast it, before they call the people that are closest to them to give them the chance to prepare for whatever is going to happen before all heck breaks loose, and those people will call their closest people and so on. If you see someone shopping with unusual urgency, and buying things in bulk that one wouldn’t normally do unless it was an emergency situation, then it doesn’t hurt to politely make a disguised inquiry. Maybe say something like “are you preparing for the end of the world?” Jokingly. If they know something, usually hitting them with an unexpected question in a stressful situation would get something from them. They might reply something like, “if only you knew”, with in a shaky voice looking all pale like they just saw an alien. And that would be enough for me to quickly get anything small or perishable things that you might not have, like the last box of twinkies you might ever see again. Then get home, turn on the tv and radio to the news channels and ready yourself. I can’t think of any emergency where advanced notice wouldn’t be an advantage.

    1. When I see an unusually crowded place of any type I avoid the place. Unless of course it’s some sort of giveaway. Maybe. Crowds are not a *safe* place.

      1. I am not saying that if you see an unusually crowded store that you should go in, I am saying that you might want to slow down or stop outside of the hot zone so you could see if people were panicked and or buying unusual items and such, but if you happen to be in an acceptably occupied store, buying something and see someone or groups of people in a rushed and panicked way buying specific items used in a survival situation, you should ask what’s up. As an example, if an economic collapse was imminent, there would be some government pencil-necks that would have inside information. Hours or possibly days in advance. Is the government going to publicly announce this before hand? NOT! But those people might call their relatives, brothers, sisters and so on, to give them the heads up. They in turn might call people, and it could be possible, if you were in the right place at the right time, and saw someone shopping like it was the last time they were going to see a store, and none of the stuff they were buying was hair dye, or fingernail polish or the such. then that would be a good time to ask a question, or series of questions if you weren’t convinced of their first answer, not an interrogation, but disguised questions in a short, kind, considerate conversation. Maybe offer to help find something for them, say that they look in a hurry and maybe you could help them find something because you shop there often. And that is where they would probably tell you something in all the stress and your slight annoyance. Don’t harass people, but being kind and concerned, people feel a sort of obligation to people showing them kindness. Don’t do this unless you really suspect something, because of the worried, stressed, hurried, panicked and scared look and actions of someone. And don’t help if they are looking for the duct tape, rope, hatchet or axe, shovel, ski mask, ammo, long zip ties, plastic sheeting, etc. As I was writing that, it occurred to me how much buying prepping stuff was like buying kidnapping and body disposal supplies. Spooky…… Maybe that is why some people and the government think we are criminals…..

    2. I do the same thing. I went to the grocery store one day and it was unusually crowded. I asked someone what was going on, and they informed me that a snow storm was predicted. My own fault as I had stopped watching the news as it was always bias, so naturally I now miss the weather reporting which would always follow the news. I have since added the weather channel web site to my bookmarks and check it daily. However I still don’t watch the news and will have to find a way around that to be more aware of possible SHTF events.

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