Scenes from Darlington’s coronavirus nightmare
Friday, March 13, a couple of hours after President Trump declares a national emergency over the coronavirus threat.
I go to the Darlington Wal-Mart to buy socks.
Getting out of the car, I hear a man telling someone, “ – Can’t help them out of the car anymore. That’s what they said. You can’t help elderly people out of the car now – ”
Inside, I see three or four shoppers wearing surgical masks.
I hear a snatch of conversation by a woman talking on a cellphone: “ – Tested positive. He tested – ”
I see a clerk at the checkout counter wearing a surgical mask.
I see a woman carefully wipe down, with a cloth or a Kleenex, the front and sides of the card reader she’s about to insert her credit card into.
I see people not so much buying groceries as stocking supplies for a hurricane.
That visit to Wal-Mart was my first glimpse of scenes from Darlington’s coronavirus ordeal – little things that have added up to life-changing fear for everyone.
Here’s what I saw the following week, starting March 16:
A huge stretch of shelf at Food Lion, stripped bare of toilet paper and tissue paper.
On a Bojangles’ sign, the message DRIVE-THRU OPEN BE SAFE.
At Hardee’s, all the chairs in the dining area stacked up. (No indoor dining at S.C. restaurants by order of the governor.)
At Burger King, the dining area closed and drive-through employees wearing clear plastic gloves.
On Piggly Wiggly’s sign, the message DUE TO THE VIRUS WE HAVE LIMITED SUPPLIES.
At First Citizens Bank, locked doors and customers turned away if they haven’t made an appointment. (Drive-throughs manned and ready, however.)
An emergency meeting of the county school board broadcast live on Facebook so that the school district could limit the session to “essential personnel” while also honoring the public’s right to know what was said.
And the next week, starting March 23:
A note at the end of an obituary from Kistler-Hardee Funeral Home: “The family would like all of their friends to know that they understand that folks are not to gather. They ask you simply to remember them in your prayers.”
At CVS Pharmacy, some employees are in surgical masks and some are in surgical gloves. There are signs up: PLEASE STAND SIX FEET FROM ONE ANOTHER.
There’s a flare-up of nastiness at the CVS checkout as one customer, buying a jar of something, literally throws a $5 or $10 bill at the clerk.
“There’s no need to do that,” the clerk says mildly.
“Maybe I do need to do that!” the customer says. “Maybe I don’t want to be that close to you!”
“You could always go to Wal-Mart,” the clerk says mildly.
“Maybe I will go to Wal-Mart!” the customer says. “Maybe I will go to Wal-Mart and you can kiss my, my you-know-what!” He takes his jar and leaves.
“I’m sorry you had to experience that,” the clerk tells me. She says that kind of thing is rare. It’s stress. It’s fear of something you can’t even see. It’s Darlington fighting a war against a virus.