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…