Love That Dirty Water

As you may have heard, thirty communities in the Boston area are currently affected by a boil water order because of a pipe break. We don’t watch the news much, particularly during bright weekend afternoons, so heard a little late from our landlord. At first we didn’t think too much of it other than that it was weird; we boiled a big pot of water, let it cool on the stove, and went to bed.

The next morning we began to think that some bottled water (though not normally something I endorse) might come in handy, but also that we were probably too late to get any. Around eight a.m. Sunday, I headed to Stop and Shop in Arlington Center. Water shortages aside, the trip reminded me that every once in a while you should get up early and see your town before it fully awakens. I saw a line a mile long at the neighborhood bagel shop, a place usually dead by mid-morning. I saw homeless guys sleeping on benches, because no one had chased them away yet.

Stop and Shop had a decent crowd, most people looking for what I was. The bottled water and sports drinks aisle was ravaged: empty shelves and a few lone bottles scattered about. Since that was about what I’d expected, I started rounding up stray PowerAde and GatorAde in flavors no one really likes (Rain Berry). Others milled around doing the same. But then—lo and behold—an employee wheeled out a pallet of cases of Poland Spring gallon jugs. One pallet—it had maybe 30 cases total. Only a few people saw him at first, and then it was a feeding frenzy. People started elbowing each other aside to grab a case. One woman called out, “How much are they?” and the employee answered, “Does it matter?” I thought a case might be more than I needed, but since it was a case or nothing, I hefted one up, too. (And nearly dropped it— it was a bit heavier than anticipated.)  As I struggled to rebalance, an older man leaned toward me and whispered, “This is what it was like in the Soviet Union.” His dramatic intonation inspired me to hold it together and get that case up front and out to the car.

On the way, frantic shoppers asked, “Where did you get that?” and so did one Stop and Shop employee, who hustled off to go get her share. By nine a.m., the streets of Arlington were populated by joggers and moms with strollers, and I was home with some clean water. It’s days like this when I realize we take a lot for granted, and we’re probably a lot closer to going all Lord of the Flies on each other than we like to think.

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