Photo by Tony Pierce

T.P. Hits the Shelves — ‘This is Like War Rationing’

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Shoppers at a Porter Ranch Walmart rejoiced when managers wheeled out a shipment of today’s most precious commodity — toilet paper.

2020 will be remembered for many things, but the weirdest will be the nation’s run on toilet paper.

Just a few weeks ago, the Walmart in Porter Ranch received a shipment of one of the most sought after products in this pandemic.

A Walmart associate wheels out a pallet of toilet paper out onto the sales floor.
A welcome sight: A Walmart associate arrives with the products everyone had been waiting for. Photo by Tony Pierce.

It was the middle of the afternoon. There was a buzz in the store typically reserved for Black Friday prep.

Then, came the whispers.

“Why are they shutting down the paper goods aisle?”

“Why are those managers all converging next to the empty racks?”

“Why does everyone in vests look so serious?”

The murmurs turned into gasps as shoppers at the back of the store saw what all the commotion was about.

Kim Kardashian wearing an I <3 Los Angeleno hoodie?

Even better. A Walmart associate easing several cases of Angel Soft toilet tissue out of the warehouse and onto the sales floor.

“MANUEL!” One woman yelled. But she was soon hushed.

To their credit, the store managers knew the drill and performed beautifully. They blocked off the back aisle on both sides so the associate with the pallet had a clear path to the empty shelves in Aisle N8.

Meanwhile, another manager calmly instructed shoppers to form a line. People had questions. They got answers. An elderly man or two tried to skirt the line and were swiftly rebuffed.

A Walmart manager loads up a cart for a customer.
A Walmart manager loads up a cart for a customer. Photo by Tony Pierce.

The team performed like a well-oiled machine and if any oil spilled, paper towels were next to come out from the back.

While one manager freed the 12-packs of T.P. from its packaging, another doled them out one-by-one to waiting shoppers.

And like the loaves and fish of the Good Book, despite there being a limited supply, far more customers received these treasured items than this reporter would have expected.

One of those fortunate souls was Northridge resident Sheri Albala, who ventured inside for bottled water, dog food and other necessities.

A lucky shopper at Walmart was able to stock up on canned goods and toilet paper.
Sheri Albala got most of what she was looking for at Walmart. Photo by Tony Pierce.

“It’s like a war mentality here,” she said. “Everything has been hoarded off the shelves.”

Originally from New York, Albala has lived in L.A. for the last 40 years and said her generation has never experienced anything similar.

“Nobody has seen anything like this since my parents were in World War II,” she said. “But seriously, this is like war rationing. It’s unbelievable how bad it is. It boggles my mind. I’m normally a very, very even-keeled person. If there’s an earthquake, I go to the Red Cross and volunteer. Floods; I collect things and send them out. But I am worried about my father who is compromised at 87 years old. Everything is closing down. Nothing has ever closed down country-wide before. This is really — and I am not a conspiracy person — but for the first time, I believe this is a weaponized virus.”

Two stacks of chocolate displays block the entrance to the paper goods aisle at the Walmart in Porter Ranch.
Stacks of chocolates were placed with precision to control traffic into and out of the paper goods aisle. Photo by Tony Pierce.

From whom? It seems like everyone’s got it.

“I think it got out of hand,” she said. “But I think it came from a laboratory unintentionally — or intentionally. Because nobody has ever seen anything like this.”

One thing she has never experienced is her own lack of preparedness in regard to the response to this pandemic. Which is something many of us can probably relate to.

“At the beginning of the Iraq War, I started working for Operation Interdependence, which was a civilian-to-military pipeline to give them things,” she said. “And in the beginning, it was at airbases. So I spent 16 years collecting items and sending them overseas to specific platoons.

“So normally, I am very organized and under control. So the fact that I am out of control of this is very disconcerting. I can only imagine what it’s like for people who are normally not in control. And unfortunately, today, people are often not nice on the best of days. Now they’re just mean.”

Albala had been lucky, though. Maybe the Fates were looking down on her, rewarding her good deeds. “I was in Vons the day their shipment came in,” she said, “and I was here now when this came in, so you just need to be patient.”

Los Angeleno