Kylie_J

Kylie_J wrote

You have to protect the things you can, so when the cashier at the Harris Teeter checkout counter asked Matt Gillette if he wanted anything double-bagged, he considered the stakes.

“I’m really just worried about the eggs,” he said, before carefully wrapping a second bag around a carton.

The eggs were not his. Gillette, 36, makes shopping runs for customers who place orders via Instacart from the safety of their homes. On this day, Gillette’s cart held provisions for three households. He was worrying about their eggs so they didn’t have to.

He is part of a corps of workers who have become essential in the coronavirus pandemic: those who are willing to risk venturing out to places that many people are trying to avoid.

Gillette was dressed for the job in jeans and a T-shirt. No mask, no gloves. He had hand sanitizer and wipes in his car, for disinfecting after the fact.

“As an HIV-positive person, it does worry me a little bit,” he said. But, he added, “I am more cognizant of the fact that I’ve got to survive.” In this case, survival didn’t just mean avoiding infection; it also meant continuing to work so he could buy groceries of his own.

The eggs would make it safely into Gillette’s car and then safely up Connecticut Avenue, en route to their destinations: a large apartment building, a penthouse with a private elevator operated by a concierge, and a home in upscale Chevy Chase, where a voice would ask him if he would mind leaving the groceries on the other side of the door.

For years there has been talk of a divided America: those who have thrived in the modern economy and those who have been hurt by it. The wrath of a highly contagious coronavirus has made that dividing line bluntly literal: It’s about two inches thick, and it locks.

Gillette spent the past two years trying to make the gig economy work for him. He’s driven people around via Lyft, done their handiwork via TaskRabbit. It hasn’t been much of a living. He’s been on the verge of homelessness, crashing with friends and asking others to take in his beloved dog, a Labrador mix named Nitro. He’s currently living with a friend, kicking in rent when he can. Things had been looking up in early March, when he was in line to interview for a management position with a local parking company. Then came the novel coronavirus, the closures, the stay-at-home orders. Gillette sanitizes his car after completing grocery run. Gillette sanitizes his car after completing grocery run. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

Health-care professionals warned that the coronavirus would not discriminate between rich and poor, black and white, insured and uninsured. But there is emerging evidence that covid-19 is killing a disproportionate number of African Americans, and the virus’s broader economic fallout is not egalitarian. Salaried workers fortunate enough to be able to work remotely have a couple of safety nets: the paychecks that are still being deposited into their bank accounts, and the health-care plans that will protect them financially if they do fall sick — a scenario made less likely by the privilege of teleworking. An Axios/Ipsos survey released last week found that 48 percent of upper-middle-class Americans are working from home, compared with 11 percent of their lower-middle-class counterparts. For the latter group, it’s seldom an option.

Among the most vulnerable to coronavirus: The tens of millions who carry HIV and tuberculosis

When Gillette signed up to deliver groceries for Instacart, he joined a small army of colleagues in the Washington area that he may never meet. You can spot them by their uniform, a lanyard around the neck, sometimes a T-shirt: green for Instacart, blue for Amazon Prime Now. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) And by the way they constantly stare at product details on smartphones as they attempt to do other people’s grocery shopping for them.

They are folks like Moe Ali, a 27-year-old tile salesman who can’t sell tiles during a quarantine but still needs to provide for himself and his wife, who is a student. Angelique Thornton, a 24-year-old with thyroid cancer who lives with her elderly grandparents. (“I’m extremely nervous,” Thornton says.) Nina Makel, a 32-year-old mother of four who estimates she has been working 60 hours a week lately — mostly at a Whole Foods in Friendship Heights that regularly has more shoppers-for-hire than regular customers these days. And ­Phyllis Greenhow, a woman in her 50s whose immune system is compromised because of kidney problems and a recent heart attack. She is giving half of her Instacart earnings to a friend who got laid off from a pizza parlor. Greenhow’s adult daughter wants her to stop but is not winning that argument. “I am one of these people that believes God has me,” Greenhow explains.

Some of Gillette’s new colleagues joined one-day nationwide strikes of people working for Instacart, Amazon and Whole Foods last week. The workers, who do deliveries or fulfill orders in warehouses, demanded increased hazard pay and safer conditions. The strike succeeded in garnering national attention and some concessions from the companies, though many workers say they still don’t feel safe.

Grocery shopping during the coronavirus: Wash your hands, keep your distance and limit trips

Still, for folks who need work, it’s one of the few opportunities available right now. Instacart says its orders have increased 300 percent in recent weeks, compared with last year at this time. And in the last week alone, 50,000 new people became Instacart shoppers. Some of them, surely, are among the more than 17 million Americans who have filed for unemployment in the past month.

Gillette did his first Instacart run the day after the strike. He was “a little overzealous” his first time out, he said, trying to fulfill multiple orders in a store he didn’t know well. Instacart calculates how long it thinks its shoppers should take to complete the shopping based on historical data it tracks through the app. Gillette took an average of 153 seconds per item that first day; the app suggested he step it up and “use these metrics to track your progress as a shopper,” a reminder that some of his pay would depend on speed.

“Our fastest shoppers earn the most,” Gillette read as he looked at the app. “Learning to shop faster will help you fulfill more orders.” Gillette makes a grocery delivery. Gillette makes a grocery delivery. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

On his second day, he went to a familiar Harris Teeter to fulfill a single order. At first the store’s WiFi wasn’t working well on his phone, which made it impossible to load the customer’s shopping list. Eventually the 27-item list loaded and Gillette, in a black vest and a gold-sequined baseball cap turned backward (still no gloves or mask), steered a shopping cart with a defective wheel through the produce section. Furrowing his brow, he examined a container of blueberries to see if it matched the brand specified by his customer.

Gillette spent years working in restaurants and cares too much about food to prize speed over quality. When he saw that the button mushrooms the customer ordered were out of stock, he dictated a text message recommending that the customer consider replacing the item with oyster mushrooms instead. “They’re $9.99 a pound,” he said. “And worth every penny.” Gillette prepares to fulfill an order at Giant. Gillette prepares to fulfill an order at Giant. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

Every replacement required a consultation. Every unfulfilled item could cost Gillette a bit of tip money. The customer would take the oyster mushrooms, but the shortages kept coming and the responses to his questions slowed. No regular ground beef. Could he grab the grass-fed kind? Chicken drums were gone. Did they want wings instead? No answer.

Time was ticking, so Gillette moved on: to a soup aisle that was picked over, a pasta shelf that was nearly bare and a stretch of emptiness where the bread used to be. He stuck his head down the toilet paper aisle — “Nope!” Compromise would have to be the order of the day. After more than an hour in the store, he wheeled to the checkout area.

With travel time, the job took two hours to complete and paid just under $40. Gillette says most of his customers have been grateful and generous — one even handed him $20 in a zip-top bag. When customers request that Gillette leave their bags at the door, he understands. People are supposed to keep their distance.

Shopping for others won’t net Gillette a fortune, but it’s the kind of money that could help him stay afloat — if not indoors — while the pandemic runs its course.

And afterward? Maybe the TaskRabbit work will return. Maybe the position with the parking company will open back up. Maybe he can rent his own place and get Nitro back.

Gillette’s voice catches. Being apart from his dog, Gillette says, is “hard every day.”

Lately, everything has seemed hard every day.

But the nationwide strike by his fellow Instacart shoppers did bear some fruit: Gillette was notified late last week that Instacart would soon be sending him a personal safety kit with a thermometer, hand sanitizer and a reusable mask.

By Monday, he had already started wearing one. You have to protect the things you can.

“I hate things on my face,” he said. “But I would rather be alive.”

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Kylie_J wrote

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Opinion Op-Ed: John Cho: Coronavirus reminds Asian Americans like me that our belonging is conditional The actor John Cho John Cho in Los Angeles. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times) By John Cho April 22, 2020 3 AM

I called my parents a few nights ago to tell them to be cautious when stepping out of the house, because they might be targets of verbal or even physical abuse. It felt so strange. Our roles had flipped.

My plea mirrored the admonitions I received from them as a child growing up in Houston. The world, they cautioned, was hostile and it viewed us as strangers. So they warned me to stick close to my family. Close to my kind.

The fact that the coronavirus seems to have originated in China has spawned a slew of anti-Asian hate crimes. Across the country, Asian American parents and children are making versions of the call I made. Friends are sharing first-hand accounts of abuse on text chains and circulating articles on Facebook, always ending with the suddenly ominous “stay safe.”

Growing up, the assumption was that once we became American enough, there would be no need for such warnings — that we would be safe. To that end, my parents encouraged me and my younger brother to watch as much television as possible, so that we might learn to speak and act like the natives. The hope was that race would not disadvantage us — the next generation — if we played our cards right.

When I became an actor (maybe as a result of all that TV), and really started to work, I felt glimmers of my parents’ hope coming to fruition — doors were open, strangers were kinder. In some ways, I began to lead a life devoid of race. But I’ve learned that a moment always comes along to remind you that your race defines you above all else. 475172_ME_asian_enough_GXC_0051.JPG California On a new podcast about Asian American identity, we talk about the struggle to feel we’re ‘enough’ March 10, 2020

It might be a small moment, like a salesperson greeting you with “konnichiwa.” Or it might be a string of moments, like the press tour that Kal Penn and I took to promote “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” in 2004, a few years after 9/11.

We flew across the country — New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle — and it became a grim routine: Flight after flight, Kal would be pulled aside for a “random” search. On one leg of the tour, Kal’s friend Gabe joined us, and when we hit security, Kal was selected for a search while Gabe and I flew through unscathed. We gathered our bags and waited on a bench for Kal to be released. Rummaging through his backpack, Gabe suddenly said, “Kal’s going to be annoyed.” When I looked inside it, I realized why: Gabe, who is white, had gone camping recently, and had neglected to remove his Rambo-sized hunting knife from his backpack.

I gasped and looked back at Kal, who was watching a Transportation Security Administration worker empty the contents of his bag. It was a reality check.

Asian Americans are experiencing such a moment right now. The pandemic is reminding us that our belonging is conditional. One moment we are Americans, the next we are all foreigners, who “brought” the virus here.

Like fame, the “model minority” myth can provide the illusion of “raceless-ness.” Putting select Asians on a pedestal silences those who question systemic injustice. Our supposed success is used as proof that the system works — and if it doesn’t work for you, it must be your fault.

Never mind that 12% of us are living below the poverty line. The model minority myth helps maintain a status quo that works against people of all colors.

But perhaps the most insidious effect of this myth is that it silences us. It seduces Asian Americans and recruits us to act on its behalf. It converts our parents, who in turn, encourage us to accept it. It makes you feel protected, that you’re passing as one of the good ones. Illustration for “Dispatches from the pandemic” op-ed piece for Sunday, March 29, 2020 Opinion Here’s how the coronavirus has changed the lives of Americans across the country April 10, 2020

And because the stereotypes may be complimentary (hardworking, good at math), it makes people — including us — think that anti-Asian sentiment is somehow less serious, that it’s racism lite. That allows us to dismiss the current wave of Asian hate crimes as trivial, isolated and unimportant. Consider the comedians who mock Asians, but restrain themselves when it comes to other groups.

Of course, with the falsely positive come the negative stereotypes (you’re sneaky, you’re stealing jobs, you’re corrupt). After I had been busted for cheating on a Latin quiz in high school, I recall my teacher asking, “Why are Koreans such cheaters?”

During times of national stress, it’s these darker stereotypes that prevail. My wife’s families were incarcerated in camps during World War II, even while her great-uncles were serving in an all-Japanese American battalion of the U.S. Army. Vincent Chin, a Chinese American autoworker, was brutally beaten to death in Detroit in 1982, blamed for the Japanese “takeover” of the auto industry. And just recently, an Asian woman in Brooklyn had acid thrown at her while she was taking out the trash, another among the skyrocketing attacks against Asians.

I came to this country in 1978, at the age of 6. I was naturalized on Nov. 21, 1990, during the military buildup before the start of the Gulf War. I remember being surprised by the judge at the ceremony asking me whether I would defend my country in uniform if called upon. I wasn’t expecting that question, though my friends and I had been wondering about a possible draft, and I took my time to truly consider it. I answered yes and I meant it.

I claimed the citizenship my parents wanted for me and I think I’ve spent my life earning it. I’m not going to let anyone tell me or anyone who looks like me that we are not really American.

If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that the solution to a widespread problem cannot be patchwork. Never has our interconnectedness and our reliance on each other been plainer.

You can’t stand up for some and not for others. And like the virus, unchecked aggression has the potential to spread wildly. Please don’t minimize the hate or assume it’s somewhere far away. It’s happening close to you. If you see it on the street, say something. If you hear it at work, say something. If you sense it in your family, say something. Stand up for your fellow Americans.

John Cho is an actor best known for his roles in the “Harold & Kumar” and “Star Trek” films. He lives in Los Angeles.

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