I love Aldi. Its half-priced staples and surprising delicacies make it a nearly perfect grocery store. Sweet and spicy refrigerated pickles for $2? Yes, please! Imitation Girl Scout Thin Mints® and Caramel Delights® for about a dollar per box? Take my money!
But Aldi requires some sacrifice from its customers as it does not cater to customer convenience. Grocery carts require a quarter deposit, bags aren’t free, and shoppers must face the dreaded check out. The cashiers can be ruthless, scanning items and throwing them in the cart as fast as Usain Bolt ran the 100 meter dash.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has created innumerable challenges for consumer shopping, Aldi has managed to make things even better by offering contactless curbside pickup. It’s now like the Star Wars franchize without Jar Jar Binks.
I ordered online, drove to the store, and texted my arrival. A staff person came out and set six large paper bags of neatly packed groceries into the trunk of my minivan. I yelled, “Thank you!” 15 times. I didn’t even have to leave the vehicle. It was glorious.
I drove out of the parking lot, and I turned on Iowa Public Radio because it was time for the daily COVID-19 numbers. The Iowa governor’s handling of COVID-19 has been costly, impractical, and inefficient. In other words, Iowa’s governor is the anti-Aldi. On that particular day, the radio hosts reported astonishing numbers. COVID-19 cases in my county were increasing at an alarming rate as the University of Iowa students returned to campus. We had a 7-day positivity rate of 47 percent. (In contrast, New York City has had a positivity rate of under 1 percent for about six weeks). The reporter repeated the number as though anticipating listener objections.
Then I rounded a bend where I saw an enormous canvas sign so absurd it would have been laughed out of the editorial room at The Onion: “BUFFET NOW OPEN!” The sign included a large arrow pointing to the nearby Pizza Ranch.
Pizza Ranch is a chain of wild west themed pizza restaurants in 14 states, stretching from Iowa to Montana. It is a business that dares to incorporate Christianity into its brand and operations. Faith messages and Bible verses decorate its walls next to cowboy hats and wagon wheels. And according to its website, the vision of Pizza Ranch is “to glorify God by positively impacting the world.”
Evidently, the owners of Pizza Ranch believe that an all-you-can-eat-pizza buffet in one of the top global pandemic hotspots is an act of worship. Let pizza be served, let the positivity rate reach unimaginable heights, and let God be praised.
And let the daycare centers shutter their doors so that working parents have no options.
Let the schools go online so that learning is less accessible, especially to those who need public education the most.
And let the hospitals be overrun with the dying and the dead.
As I drove by the sign, it occurred to me that the choice between Aldi and a quasi-religious buffet was a perfect parallel for how the Iowa Governor has led during the pandemic. The governor could have led Iowa with research-based solutions which require limits and sacrifice. Instead, the governor has opted for popular convenience and unlimited indulgence.
As I contemplated the growing number of hospitalizations and deaths of my Iowa neighbors, my laughter at the buffet sign turned to rage. I shut off the radio and spoke, “Hey, Google, call Governor Reynolds.” The hands-free dialing system on my phone connected me to the Iowa governor’s office where I listened to the familiar voice recording. For the tenth time in a couple months, I voiced my disapproval of the governor’s negligence.
I drove home and unpacked the groceries. Pizza sounded really good for lunch. Having passed on the buffet, I turned on the oven. I couldn’t wait to eat the perfectly mediocre, $2 Aldi frozen pizza.