Remember the good old days, when no one ever thought about something called the “supply chain”?
It ran in the background and wasn’t our concern unless something exciting happened, like last March, when an enormous container ship wedged itself in the Suez Canal, and even then, we mainly focused on the memes.
But now? The supply chain is in your face, like a Kardashian-Trump love child, and there’s no escaping it and its little problems.
On the South Shore, Sansa the dachshund has just a few weeks left of the special food she eats for her sensitive skin, and then who knows? “If Walmart and Chewy can’t get it, who can?” asked her owner, Linda Merrill.
At a Medford hair salon, owner Alyssa McCarthy has been unable to find the bright, jewel-toned hair dye her clients want, and, as a blue-haired woman herself, she’s worried because she knows that when the urge for blue or green strikes, it must be fed. “They’re so disappointed,” she said.
Some supply chain problems are as serious as they get. School lunches are being threatened in Massachusetts and across the country.
In a local nursing home, an aide mistakenly threw away Susie Davidson’s mother’s hearing aids, and the family has no idea when the new ones they’ve ordered will show up, and the over-the-counter replacements aren’t doing the job. “She doesn’t even have CNN on anymore because she can’t hear it, and that was her lifeline to the world,” said Davidson, a Brookline journalist and author.
Other supply chain issues are throwing into greater relief how seriously we take first-world problems.
High-end real estate agents are dealing with clients upset that their Sub-Zero refrigerators are taking so long to arrive. People redoing bathrooms are growing impatient for their glass shower doors. Hostesses are having trouble finding the right dress in their size.
As Whole Foods frozen vegetable shelves go bare, and the owners of the Harvard Book Store send out an email alerting customers that “Publishers have told us that their capacity to print and distribute books this holiday season will be … severely impacted …” the supply chain is taking up ever more space in our brains.
Needless to say, we’ve arrived at the point where there is supply chain humor:
“Next time someone asks why I’m single, I’m going to say ‘it’s a supply chain issue,’” reads a viral tweet by @madisonc_morris.
“With our country more divided than ever, I think it’s important to remember the one thing that unites us all, the credo that we live by: Gimme more stuff,” Stephen Colbert said on the Late Show. “But now that gimme-gimme lifestyle is threatened because America is facing an unprecedented supply chain crisis.”
There are supply chain excuses: “People are making stuff up,” said Catherine Bassick, a local real estate agent who sent her daughter birthday flowers in Atlanta — they arrived five days late, along with an apologetic note from the florist blaming … guess who/what.
At this point, supply chain rage could be cathartic, but at whom do we shake our fists? The issues are so widespread: trucking, a chip shortage, outsourcing. I read a quote from a supply chain expert — the new rock stars — saying the problem was 40 years in the making.
“We allowed supply chains to get away without having … measures to ensure humanity would never be subjected to this,” Nick Vyas, the director of the Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Southern California, told Recode.
Problems happening in China or the middle of the sea, or some port on the other side of the continent, have become all too local.
In Shrewsbury, in what should have been a fairly fast and simple porch rebuilding job, supply chain issues that affected the porch screens set off a string of delays that resulted in a “ginormous” swarm of bees taking up residence on Laurie Hull’s porch.
She called a pest-control guy who came over and sprayed poison, but now she’s forced to vacuum up the fallen insects. “And I’m an animal lover,” she said.
With Salem’s busy Halloween season in full throttle, the Lobster Shanty is out of so many items Diane Wolf, the co-owner, had to spend her day off printing and laminating a new, reduced, menu so that her staff doesn’t have to greet diners with a list of what they can’t order: tater tots, corn dogs, bar pretzels, baked seafood.
“The struggle is real,” Wolf said.
Of course, the supply chain problems are coming on top of the pandemic problems, feeding off each other in a hideous loop. For example: With so many people spending 24 hours a day at home, the need for decluttering became urgent, but now various organizing tools — stackable shelves, under-sink drawers, Lazy Susans — are nearly impossible to find, said Rachel Carlino-Dangora, founder of the professional organizing firm, Make Peace with Organizing.
When she does find something a current or future client might need, she buys a lot of them. “I feel like a hoarder,” she said.