Covid-19 diary: Part 4

April 5, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 5, 2020

Between March 12, when I began quarantining myself in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19, and March 22, when I drove up to New York, I ventured further than two or three feet beyond my property line on only three occasions. Two of those took place on Sunday the 15th.

What’s the opposite of daring adventure? This is my tale of cringing semi-normalcy on that not-so-fateful day.

After realizing that I didn’t have enough food to eat comfortably for more than a few days, despite having stocked up sometime in the previous week, I reluctantly journeyed to a grocery store. The first one I tried, the Food Lion by Hillsborough and West Main Street in Durham, seemed to be extremely crowded based on what I could see from the parking lot. There was no way I was going to go inside.

After some vacillation, I decided to visit one of the Food Lions on the north side of town. This one was still too crowded for comfort, but, after sending some text messages, reading some new coverage of the spread of Covid-19 and psyching myself up, I decided to go in anyway.

I made preparations. I donned hygienic gloves and pulled out the credit card I intended to use. Near the store entrance, I took one of the wipes on offer and used it to sanitize the handle of the cart I was going to use.

Some 10 or 15 minutes later, I swiped my card to pay a tab just shy of $95. My haul included several varieties of apples, some oranges, a bag or two of baby carrots, many cans of soup, a bunch of pasta, a few jars of red sauce, two one-pound bags of rice (the rice selection was a bit skimpy), some canned corn and canned fruit, and a couple of bags of cookies. I very rarely buy snacks, canned vegetables or canned fruit at grocery stores, but it seemed appropriate since I was going to be shut in for a while.

One of things I’d done while sitting in the parking lot of the second supermarket was making arrangements for someone to cover for me at the Sunday night poker game where I serve as tournament director. If I’d had my druthers, there wouldn’t be in-person poker at all — two days previously, I’d sent the league an email urging that the games be halted. Still, I felt obligated to run that night’s game, since I hadn’t given much advance notice of my intent to quarantine myself.

So after unpacking my groceries and changing my clothes and lounging around the house, I hopped in my car and drove down to Cary.

I was low on gas, so before arriving at my venue, I stopped at — you guessed it! — a gas station. Once again, I readied my credit card and pulled on gloves before getting out of the car.

That night’s poker venue was a block away. It wasn’t hard to find parking. The joint itself was nearly empty. I morosely went about setting up for a game in the front bar: Moving chairs, rolling out the poker cart, putting out cards and so forth. I paused to wash my hands seemingly every seven minutes.

We had a grand total of eight players for our first game, a paltry number. The player sitting to my right was by a margin of around two decades the oldest participant in the event. His age put him at a bigger risk of succumbing to Covid-19 than the rest of us. He had a mild cough, which set my nerves on edge a bit. Even worse, he was doing what I used to do until about a decade ago: Coughing into his fist. I restrained myself from ordering him to cough into his elbow, but only barely.

I came in third place. The tournament wrapped up around eight o’clock, an hour before the second game was scheduled to start.

I started a satellite game, which I rarely do at bars where I direct tournaments. I put up a $5 gift card as a prize. We had five players; one turned in his chips after getting annoyed at what I thought was mild carping from another player. (The second player, I should note, said he’d felt offended by something that the first one had done in the first game — something that I said was not a deliberate attempt to disrespect the other.) I can’t remember what I placed in this event: Second? Third? Fourth? At any rate, I didn’t win.

The bar had filled up a bit during the first game, but it was still a light crowd by this venue’s standards for a Sunday night. This establishment has around 10 dart boards and frequently hosts darts tournaments on Sunday evenings; this time, no one was playing darts. And the crowd didn’t stick around — by 9:30 or so, the place had emptied out again.

We played our second tournament with four people. I came in third again. Afterward, I put the chairs back in their places, packed up the cards and rolled the poker cart over to the back room. I normally take the cards with me, but this time I secreted them in a bin — I didn’t want them to be stolen, which has happened at this venue, but I did want them to be handy for whomever took over for me on Sundays.

I washed my hands a number of times throughout the evening. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if I scrubbed them 10 times between six o’clock, when I arrived, and 10 or 10:30 p.m., when I left.

Typically, the venue covers my meals when I serve as tournament director. This time, I handed the bartender about $30.

I got in my car feeling a mixture of relief, because whatever exposure I’d had to Covid-19 was behind me, and regret, because I probably wouldn’t be out in public — let alone playing cards — much for the foreseeable future.

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