Safeway is the worst – part 1

Tuesday, November 24th 2020 at 9:23 pm
by Jonah

We live a 10 minute drive from the nearest town, which has a post office, a liquor store, three restaurants (although one of them has announced it is closing for good on Sunday), and a grocery store that’s more of a bodega and is definitely not a supermarket. Being Colorado, the town also boasts a brewery.

None of them deliver to our house.

If you drive another five minutes further, you get to the biggest town in the county, which is still not very big, but has two supermarkets and a Wal-mart. Nothing in the bigger town will deliver to our house either, unless it’s via UPS, FedEx, or the Post Office, which only delivers as far as the cluster of mailboxes at the end of the road.

When we went into lock-down, I set about trying to figure out how to procure groceries without going shopping alongside all the panic buying hoarders. I don’t patronize Wal-mart, so that eliminated that option. The other two stores are Safeway and Kroger (here in Colorado, Kroger absorbed two existing chains, King Soopers, which has bigger stores in the big cities on the plains, and City Market, which has smaller stores in the mountain towns). Our closest City Market had curbside pick-up, which had just dropped their service charge to the low, low price of free. The other store, a much larger Safeway, let me fill up my online cart and then informed me there were no pick-up times available for any dates for the next week. I kept going back to the site, each day, seeing if there any pick-up times available. After about a week of this, I finally realized that our local Safeway just simply didn’t have curb-side pick-up.

This should have been my first clue.

When I started going back to work, I found that a Safeway down in the big city where I work (the next county over) did have curbside pick-up, and it was along my commute. So I tried it a couple of times.

Here are the pros and cons of Kroger vs Safeway curbside pick-up:

Kroger:

Pros:

Coupons accepted.

You can choose if you want a substitution for each item and type in specific instructions.

You get a text asking about specific substitutions which you can approve or not.

NEW, you can modify your order up until midnight the night before your pick-up day

Cons:

You can only reserve to pick up during a one hour slot.

If you reserve a slot from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., you might get a phone call at 5:30 a.m. saying they’re running late and won’t have your order ready for another hour.

You might have to wait an hour for someone to bring out your groceries.

The website is atrocious. It is literally easier to Google the item names and the word “Kroger” than to use the website’s search.

Safeway:

Pros:

I reserved a time and then got a text saying I could do my pick up during a 6 hour window.

I got a call asking detailed questions about substitutions (the first time).

The website is much easier at finding items.

I was able to call the store and change the date of my pick-up.

Cons:

Lack of photos of products so you think you’re ordering one piece of produce when in fact you’re ordering a carton-full.

For substitutions, you only have three options: None, Same brand different size, Same size different brand.

Every year I get a flu shot at Safeway for free, and in exchange they give me a coupon for 10% off a grocery purchase, up to $20. Every year I use my coupon for my Thanksgiving shopping, and I add up my purchases to make sure I have at least $200 worth of groceries so I get the most out of my 10% coupon.

So this year I put in my online grocery order, making sure I had at least $200 in purchases. I selected “Same brand, different size” as my substitution option. I checked out and reserved a time slot for after work so I could stop by on my way home. After the Safeway employee had loaded up my trunk, I said, “And I have a coupon.” That’s when she told me that I had to use my coupon “inside”. At least my $20 coupon expires at the end of 2021, so maybe there will be a vaccine by then.

When I got home and unloaded the car, I found I now possessed all sorts of items I didn’t order. Most of them were apparently attempts at substitutions. But I ended up with half a dozen Safeway brand canned goods, which I was either going to have to attempt to return or donate to a food pantry, because we certainly weren’t going to consume them.

So my attempt at using Safeway’s curbside pick-up to safely stay outside the store completely backfired. Early the next morning I was back at the Safeway to return the unwanted canned goods, as well as a package of nuts that had been given to me sliced open. Of course, I had to go inside to make the return. The store was fortunately mostly empty, but the customer service desk was empty too. I approached a checker and bagger who were awaiting customers and asked where customer service was because I had a curbside pick-up the night before and received a bunch of items I hadn’t ordered. “I am SHOCKED,” the checker responded. It was at that moment the single bag, I had unwisely loaded with all the canned goods I didn’t want, broke, and the checker jumped to help me try to juggle all the cans trying to keep them from falling to the ground. The checker said that customer service didn’t open until 8 but that he knew who would know something about curbside pick-up. He picked up the phone by his register and paged someone to come to the front.

I am angry, and I want to speak to the manager. But I’m not going to say that. Instead I am going to act confused. If I am accusatory, you’re going to get defensive. But if I am helpless, you are going to try to help me. This works especially well with men, who can’t help but try to be a knight in shining armor to this poor damsel. Inside I am a Karen, but I am going to try to appear to be an Amelia.

After a couple of minutes, the clerk again paged someone to come to the front, and man in a buttoned-up shirt and khakis that screamed “assistant manager” emerged from a door. He approached me, and I took a step back. I explained that I’d been given a bunch of items that I didn’t order, and he explained that he didn’t know how to process a return. Then he offered to let me replace the items with items I wanted. I tried explaining that the whole point in me using curbside pick-up was to avoid wandering around the store exposing myself to everyone inside. “I don’t even want to be here right now!” I exclaimed. Amelia was showing signs of starting to have a panic attack.

“Okay, okay,” he said, taking another step toward me. I took another step backwards, and he realized his social-distancing mistake and stepped back again. “I’ll try to find someone to process the return.” He stepped behind the customer service desk and disappeared behind another door, then re-emerged with a woman. I couldn’t see her legs from behind the counter, but I’m pretty sure she was not wearing khakis. “I know it’s early,” he said to her, “but can you process this return?”

“I’ve only done returns a couple of times,” replied the woman, but the two of them took turns pointing at the other side of a register screen and pushing buttons. Finally, triumphantly, the man wearing khakis instructed me to insert my credit card into the reader on my side of the customer service desk and sign a receipt. It isn’t completely clear to me if I received a return for the unwanted Safeway brand canned goods or paid for them a second time, but I thanked the man wearing khakis and the woman who I’m pretty sure wasn’t, and all but ran out of the front door.

To be continued…

COVID updates

Thursday, November 12th 2020 at 6:13 pm
by Berck

I think I can say with reasonable confidence that I was wrong in my prior estimations of a super-low herd immunity threshold. Things are not looking good for COVID in most of the world. Colorado is seeing 10 times as many daily new cases as in the summer, and the United States as a whole is looking almost as bad. Colorado was barely untouched, so that doesn’t say much about the herd immunity claims, but then there’s Europe.

Europe looks so much worse than it did in the Spring. The UK, Spain, France and even Italy. The daily new case rate is hard to compare since we maxed out on testing capacity in March, pretty much all over the world. But the deaths do not lie, and they’re ramping up on a curve that looks like it’s going to match Spring. These are hard-hit places I’d expect to see showing some signs of immunity in this wave, but it’s not showing up anywhere I can see it.

But… why? The common claim is behavior has been returning back to normal. That’s maybe true, but what about Sweden? As far as I can tell Sweden has been fairly consistent in their response and they are seeing an enormous uptick in cases that I think we’d be hard-pressed to explain away with behavior changes.

Weather is starting to seem a likely culprit. I think it better explains the rise in the autumn than behavior shifts–the behavior shifts started in early summer and if that were the driving force, I’d have expected the uptick in cases to start way earlier than it did.

Where do we go from here? As long as we’re able to stay under capacity in hospitals, I think that full-scale lockdowns like we saw in the Spring continue to be unwarranted, and probably impossible anyway. But for those of us who can stay at home, now is the time to do it. It’s probably more important now than it was when everyone did it, and furthermore there’s an end in sight. In March, it was ridiculous to suggest that the majority of the world stay at home until there’s a vaccine, but given that we’re close now, this seems a more reasonable request now.

Stay safe and stay at home if you can.

Epistemic COVID Update

Monday, October 5th 2020 at 9:38 pm
by Berck

Time for a bit of a personal COVID epistemic update.  To reiterate: I’m no expert, and while there’s no shortage of those, plenty of folks keep asking what I think.

First, let me talk about the things it looks like I may have been wrong about.  I’ve been pretty loudly claiming that the low-threshold herd immunity people are on to something.  I think they still are, but I said early on that I’d seriously reevaluate their claims once we saw significant second-wave infections in places that were hard-hit initially.  And now we have.  First up was Spain:

That alone is enough to make me question. But we’ve also got the UK:

My first thought is that it would be very interesting to break these things down by region. I spent awhile trying to do that for Spain, only realize the Spanish numbers are a giant mess, with a huge shift in record keeping between the two waves. My thought was that it’s possible that the hard-hit regions initially (Barcelona) shifted to a different region (Madrid) in the second wave. Maybe, but I don’t think it’s enough of an effect to matter. I couldn’t find much data to support the theory in Spain, and found nothing to support the theory at all in the UK.

So what about other places that were pretty hard hit, but don’t seem to have a second wave? There’s plenty of those, too:

So, what’s different? My theory at this point is that the severe lockdown in Spain and the UK were effective at the beginning and halted the spread before we got to the herd immunity threshold. There’s some evidence to support this with seroprevalence studies. NYC saw seroprevalence as high as 22% in April, whereas Spain was more like 6% with similar numbers for the UK. Still hardly a smoking gun — we know these seroprevalence numbers aren’t very good. It matters a lot when you look as antibody numbers drop pretty quickly, especially after a mild infection. But, assuming (and it’s a questionable assumption) that the numbers are equally crap across countries, the higher numbers in NYC may well be significant.

So, does this mean that “pursuing herd immunity” is a good strategy? Probably not, though I don’t think any country actually did that. Still, you can pick countries that did near-nothing and you see a curve that’s pretty familiar looking:

I think (though I don’t have much data to support this), that a Brazil-shaped curve is probably far better than a Spain-shaped curve. I think you can get a Brazil shaped curve with a much lower peak by enacting sensible measures that are far short of a lockdown. You know where this is going:

I think it’s starting to be pretty clear that in the long term, the total lockdown strategies should be judged a failure. They absolutely slowed the spread while countries were locked down, but I don’t see a significant benefit when you consider the post-lockdown bounce. And you must consider the post-lockdown bounce.

Why lockdown? The lockdowns were initiated with the idea that they’d keep healthcare systems from being saturated. They would “flatten the curve” — instead of overwhelming healthcare systems with uncontrollable, exponential growth, we could spread the inevitable infections out a bit so the healthcare system could manage it. In retrospect, however, I think it’s pretty clear that lockdowns weren’t actually necessarily to accomplish that goal. It became pretty clear early on that we’d accomplished that goal in the civilized west, but then, inexplicably the call shifted to, “crush the curve!”

The shifting goalposts lost me. It’s certainly possible to lockdown your way out of Coronavirus. It’s been successful in China and New Zealand so far, and it might even work in Australia. (If anyone wants to bet, my money is against it working in Australia long term, though they’ve done an amazing job so far.) But what about the U.S. or Europe? By the time we even considered it, it was too late.

The next-best argument for the lockdown is that we could use the time to stop the spread, set up test/trace/isolate, make lots of PPE, better align hospitals, etc. We certainly did none of this in the U.S. Germany implemented a super impressive sounding test and trace program…. how are they doing?

Yeah. That’s not looking like super-impressive results to me, but I think it’s too early to judge.

What else have I been wrong about? I predicted the whole country would look a lot like New York by October. I meant by the end of October, so technically, I guess I’ve got 30 days, but it’s not looking good.

We know this graph is distorted. The April peaks should probably be closer to the 100k line if we had the testing then we’ve got now. But who cares–we haven’t see a huge testing ramp-up in the month of September when I’d have expected to start seeing a fall-off. The worst-hit states are showing improvement: California, Texas, Florida. But what about places like Illinois? Or Colorado? This is a huge country, and we spent a long time locked down. I think it’s going to take another couple months.

So what should we be doing? We should be investing heavily in rapid tests. Cheap, not-very-accurate rapid tests. Such tests have low false-negative rate, but a higher false-positive rate. But most importantly, they very rarely report negative when someone is highly contagious. Who cares how good PCR tests are if they’re expensive, hard to get, inexplicably involve shoving an unobtanium swab into your brain, and are so sensitive they can detect the virus long after you’re contagious? Imagine how much better the world would be if your fellow coworkers or students or friends could all take a daily test. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if the White House were doing it regularly (and, you know, acting on the results), we wouldn’t be looking at the disaster they’ve got right now.

What about a vaccine? I’m amused that everyone who thinks this virus is a deadly, terrifying scourge also believes that we should NOT rush a vaccine. Really? I think the worse this thing is, the more we should discount the risks of a bad vaccine in favor of the potential benefits. I’m not entirely sure where the right balance is, but the dissonance is deafening. Also, we’ve got thousands of young people who have volunteered for human challenge trials, but a world that’s too queasy to take them up on it. Why? The modern world has never seen anything like this, and I think it’s silly to be so sure that standard vaccine trials are necessarily the right answer here.

Okay, but what about individual decisions? I think, at this point and for the near future, theaters, cinema and live music are dead and should stay dead. I think any gathering of more than a dozen people indoors is unnecessary and shouldn’t happen. I think at-risk folks should avoid everything. But what about us younger folk?

It depends. An 18-year-old living at home with a 65-year-old has, I think, a duty to not expose themselves to anything that the 65-year-old shouldn’t be exposed to. But what about people like me? I live with an old woman, it’s true, but she’s not yet in the at-risk category. Sure, it’s possible either of us could have long-term health consequences from a run-in with COVID. But those risks are quite rare, and we ride motorcycles, which is far more likely to have long-term health consequences.

Personally, I’m mostly going about my life as normal, but my life isn’t that normal. I’ll forgo my annual trip to the movie theater, but I really miss live music. I’m going to restaurants less frequently, but a lot of that is just because going to restaurants sucks right now. I see small groups of friends now and again, and that’s all I really want, anyway.

But I’m also not visiting my mother, and this is rough for her. She’s lonely and hasn’t socialized in forever, and unlike me, she likes people. But she’s old, moth-eaten, and high-risk. I’m just not going to be the one that kills her (unless she asks me to). I’m considering a 2-week self-quarantine and then hopping in my plane to fetch her for a visit…

I’m convinced of a couple of things: At least for the U.S., it’s going to get better from here, not worse. Also, we’re all getting it eventually.

Early morning visitor

Monday, July 13th 2020 at 10:40 pm
by Jonah

Cuatro de Julio

Sunday, July 5th 2020 at 5:37 pm
by Jonah

For the 3rd year in a row, Andrew and Kayleigh joined us for 4th of July weekend. Tacos are a great meal have during the hottest part of the summer (that’s when it’s hottest here in our part of Colorado), because they involve grilling outside. Also, ice-filed margaritas are also great during the hottest part of the summer. And so began our tradition of having a Mexican feast on the 4th of July, which we’ve taken to calling Cuatro de Julio.

This year with the coronavirus, we decided to take the risk and combine our pods for the weekend. This year it rained, which is always a good sign, since it makes it much cooler and decreases the risk of having to evacuate because of an approaching wildfire (a very real threat two years ago).

Berck made American style pizza on Friday night, and I made peach-cot cobbler. On Saturday he made steak and pork belly tacos with black beans, Spanish rice, and homemade salsas, and I made 7-layer dip and flan. And on Sunday we had waffles for breakfast and Chinese dumplings for lunch. Of course, there were many pitchers of margaritas over the three-day weekend.

While the food was all very delicious, the best thing about the weekend was spending it with people we like who are not ourselves.

Good times