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The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped everyone’s lives. For essential workers, that has meant going into work even as others stay home. Lauren Hughes, 28, is a grocery store worker in Temecula, Calif. She has been working in grocery for nine years as she pays off college loans. Although she has many duties, she works the cash register, receives and unloads deliveries, stocks shelves and helps customers.

We asked Hughes to keep a 30-day diary of what the pandemic has been like for her. She’s currently living at home with her parents and her 21-year-old brother. She says that Temecula, a city of about 100,000 in Southern California, has a conservative demographic, which plays into the way customers interact with workers and respond to the mask requirement.

Day 1

May 26

Sometimes, I hate the United States. I hate that our country, which was built upon the backs of black people, can carry such disdain for human life. I want people to acknowledge racism and stop acting like it doesn’t exist. Someone who is supposed to protect you shouldn’t be able to take a life so easily. Where is the justice? I want people to care. I want George Floyd to be alive.

Day 2

May 27

This morning I cried. I wept for George Floyd, another black man’s life senselessly lost. It could have been my dad, brother, uncles. That terrifies me. I cried because it makes me think of all the times our family has been stopped by police for no other reason than to harass us. How “fortunate” we were in those moments, because it was just blatant racism, not physical harm. Emotional harm is its own demon. These last few days reinforce why I’d rather not bring children into this world.

When I get ready for bed, the headache from all those tears is still throbbing.

Day 3

May 28

I started work at 5 a.m. The day went by slowly. Fewer and fewer customers are wearing masks.

My co-worker Georje came over after our shift to swim and unwind from the work week. It was nice to be able to have a friend to talk to about everything that’s been going on between George Floyd and covid-19. I still haven’t hung out with “regular” non-work friends since the start of the pandemic.

Day 4

May 29

I had the day off. Talked to my dad about race relations. He’s clearly upset and rightfully so. He’s worried about Joel, my brother, more than anything else. I can’t even begin to imagine.

Day 5

May 30

Went to a protest at the duck pond today. No social distancing, but everyone was wearing masks.

Here I am with fellow protesters in Temecula. (Courtesy Lauren Hughes)
Here I am with fellow protesters in Temecula. (Courtesy Lauren Hughes)

Day 6

May 31

Work, work, work. I feel like all I do is go to work, get yelled at or complained to for eight hours, and then come home.

Day 7

June 1

Work closed early today. Riverside County enacted a mandatory curfew starting at 6 p.m. because of the protests. We tried to get everyone that had been waiting in line inside before 5 p.m., and managed to actually do that.

A few of us stayed outside to let people driving up know that we had to close early because of the curfew. People were angry and still wanted to come in. A woman told us she needed to come in for a few things, that she had hungry children in the car. When we told her we were sorry and weren’t allowed to, she told us we were horrible people and wondered how we slept at night knowing we were letting children starve.

Day 8

June 2

Yet another day at work, but I tried to have a morning of self-care. I made coffee and breakfast, watched Netflix and stayed in my pajamas as late as possible.

Work was fine — until the last hour. I had to tell a man that he couldn’t be in the store, because it was county-mandated to wear a mask in public. He made a scene as he grabbed his young son out of the cart, calling me a fascist and saying that if he wanted to live in a communist country, he would’ve stayed in Romania. I really wanted to tell him he was welcome to go back there.

Instead, I bit my tongue and told him to have a great night.

Day 9

June 3

Kat, a friend from high school, reached out to me a few days ago. Today, we decided that we would meet up for coffee to talk this weekend. I’m hopeful but cautious.

Day 10

June 4

I had work, then sat with Georje and Leslie drinking wine for a couple hours after we got off. I needed a reason to stay out of the house. I’m definitely starting to get stir crazy.

A selfie with co-workers on our shift. (Courtesy of Lauren Hughes)
A selfie with co-workers on our shift. (Courtesy of Lauren Hughes)

Day 11

June 5

A picture and note from my friend in Seattle came in the mail.

Day 12

June 6

I met with Kat to talk about our lived experiences. We actually sat and talked for almost three hours. It was refreshing to talk with her about growing up in Temecula.

Day 13

June 7

I worked until 2 p.m., then went to my co-workers’ house for a dinner discussing race, police brutality and allyship. Most people there were fellow grocery store employees.

Day 14

June 8

I worked from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., then had drinks with co-workers after work. I came home and watched the news. My mom thinks the fact that “Looney Tunes” changed because of the uproar over police violence is stupid. I can understand both points of view, but why do kids’ shows need guns in the first place?

Day 15

June 9

I worked the early shift again today. For the most part, customers have stopped complaining about masks — especially when we point out that we have to wear them for eight hours straight and that 30 minutes in the grocery store isn’t that bad.

After work, I hung out with two co-workers for the first time outside of work in forever. Because restaurants are starting to open back up, we went to a place called Yard House. Not going to lie, it was weird to see how everything was set up.

Day 16

June 10

Work. Afterwards, I came home and exercised.

Day 17

June 11

Georje came over. Our boss has apparently been talking to all the black employees about how we’ve been holding up lately. We told him that we want to wear Black Lives Matter pins. He wants to support us, but feels it’s going to create issues if someone tries to make a comment about them.

We’ll see how long it lasts that we’re able to wear them.

Day 18

June 12

I didn’t have work today. We went out as a family for dinner at Texas Roadhouse. It was weird to see how people were handling it. Most people outside had masks with them, but weren’t wearing them while talking in their groups. Social distancing didn’t seem to matter to anyone. People were still getting close to people they didn’t know, and where we were sitting inside, there was no distancing going on.

Day 19

June 13

I went to a baby shower today where there were loads of people. I actually felt uncomfortable. No one was wearing masks. I didn’t think that would bother me as much as it did.

Day 20

June 14

I had a morning shift again. Jean, my new favorite customer who I met during the pandemic, left for France with her husband this morning. Apparently they have a house in the South of France and because flights are still pretty light on passengers, they thought this would be the best time to leave. She told me they’re going to be gone until the end of summer, and I actually am really going to miss her.

Day 21

June 15

I worked from 12 to 8 today. Before work, I practiced my French lessons on Duolingo. I also went to Walmart. It was the same old: Half the people were wearing masks and half weren’t. Still no luck finding Clorox wipes, but at least most stuff is restocked save for the cleaning product aisle.

Day 22

June 16

I sent out the first email for a new book club I’m helping to start; I decided to call it Readers for Racial Justice. After work, Joel, my mom and I went to get boba and donuts. I’m happy to see that the small business is still doing well. They’re a really nice family.

(Courtesy of Lauren Hughes)
(Courtesy of Lauren Hughes)

Day 23

June 17

I had a 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift today. I was so tired, I just came home and napped.

Day 24

June 18

I went to happy hour at Crush & Brew today. Masks are being recommended again, but this spot has done the best job I’ve seen at social distancing. And I love their wings! Prices went up, but that’s understandable. Our waitress told us that one of the employees at a restaurant down the way tested positive for covid-19, and the whole place had to close down again.

Day 25

June 19

I went to a Juneteenth barbecue. The guy who put it on is running for city council.

(Courtesy of Lauren Hughes)
(Courtesy of Lauren Hughes)

Day 26

June 20

I did a spin cycle workout this morning, the first real and hard workout I’ve done in a while. I got woozy afterwards, which I’m used to … but it was still embarrassing to have the others see me have to lie on the floor.

After that whole ordeal, I made some Father’s Day cakes for my co-workers who are dads.

Day 27

June 21

It’s Father’s Day! After work, I came straight home and we started to prep for dinner. We made filet mignon for the first time, and my dad was so excited. It actually turned out great (which surprised us all), and he said it was the best steak he ever had.

Day 28

June 22

After work, one of my co-workers came over to have a few beers and barbecue.

Day 29

June 23

Today, I went to work at 6 a.m. I was irritated before I even got to work. I saw some cute kiddos whose dad asked me if they were allowed in the store; he had a mask but they didn’t. I told him they were allowed in, and it was the first time I felt I had made a customer’s day in months.

Day 30

June 24

We had a Black Lives Matter meeting today with those of us who are trying to organize protests in Temecula.

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