I washed my hands while listening to the two women behind me chatting in front of dark pink bathroom stalls. The short dark-haired one, wearing a blue-and-green, flower-covered dress leaned against the wall, while the older one worked on shifting her snug, dark purple dress down her body.
“So did you just get back from Germany?” the older woman asked.
“No, no, we went to Indonesia,” the shorter one said.
That’s when I looked into the mirror at the shorter woman. I usually don’t look someone in the eyes for more than two to three seconds, especially in a bathroom. Now I locked eyes with this woman for at least six. She had large, round, brown puppy-dog eyes.
She gave me a little smile and I realized she thought nothing of having just returned from Asia to go dancing mano-a-mano, cheek-to-cheek, sweaty-forehead-to-forehead at a public dance where there were at least eighty people gathered. She was enjoying the attention of the older woman, also there to dance and who continued in a loud, raspy voice to ask the shorter one questions.
… she thought nothing of having just returned from Asia to go dancing mano-a-mano, cheek-to-cheek, sweaty-forehead-to-forehead at a public dance where there were at least eighty people gathered.
Astonished, I lingered, squeezing more soap from the dispenser and gave my hands another once-over in hot water. Did she really say she just returned from Indonesia?
“… he’s in the hospital,” the short one said.
I looked up again into the mirror and stared at her. I missed what the older one, now speaking in a lower tone, asked next. But I could still hear the answer.
“His liver is bleeding.”
My mind ran through all the articles I heard or read in the past week and any conversations I had with people about the virus. I wondered if bleeding was one of the symptoms. The shorter woman met my eyes with her big round ones and she smiled again. Really?
I almost expressed aloud my disbelief at such irresponsibility or simply plain stupidity of a person to come to a public gathering when she had just returned from an area that has extremely close ties to the center of the current epidemic. A region from where a steady beat of virus mania is slowly spreading out to the entire world.
In fact, the next day that mania erupted into bursts of panic when people in one of the highest-income places in the world, Silicon Valley, raided local market shelves of non-perishable foods, hand sanitizer, paper towels, and toilet paper.
I grabbed a paper towel, dried my hands, and threw it into the trash. I grabbed another towel and covering the exit door handle with it, pulled the door open and walked out to the dance floor. Women clasped men around the neck and men wrapped their arms around the women, holding them belly-to-belly, chest-to-chest, head-to-head. I should have gone home. But I didn’t. Am I the stupid one?
The next day my boyfriend called me from Europe.
“How’s Santa Cruz?”
“Oh, it’s beautiful, warm, sunny, 68 degrees.”
We talked about the dangers of him having gone to Europe for work and to visit his sister. He wasn’t allowed to be too close to her, definitely not touch her, because she is undergoing chemotherapy treatments. His family was displeased that he came to visit at all.
He said he washed his hands regularly and wiped everything he touched with antiseptic cloths. He went to a company party the last night he was there. I thought of all the people who would be at such a party and where they recently traveled.
As I walked to the beach with my dog Bruce, my boyfriend on the phone said that probably thousands of locals are already infected and don’t know it. But he wasn’t worried. Neither was I, I told him.
He pointed out that the flu kills thousands of people each year. Between Oct. 1, 2019, and Feb. 1, 2020, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 18,000 to 46,000 people have died from the regular ol’ flu. The CDC also estimates that up to 45 million Americans have been infected by the flu virus and 310,000 to 560,000 have been hospitalized due to the flu since last year. With numbers like that, who needs to worry about the coronavirus?
Bruce and I detoured from our regular walking route to Seabright Avenue to get coffee and a sandwich. There were a few people sitting outside the coffee place.
Sipping my coffee from a small paper cup, I looked across the open space between Java Junction and the Seabright Brewery and Restaurant. Despite the summer-like weather, the restaurant patio was empty. It was lunchtime. That’s strange, I thought. Are people freaking out and staying home?
My news sources are the podcasts NPR News Now, The New York Times Daily, and similar outlets. I don’t watch cable or free television, therefore I don’t listen to or watch news channels that reach the masses with repeated headlines and whatever new angles they come up with for the same story.
Of course, the news organizations I listen to are covering the coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it is officially named. I knew about the infections and deaths in Washington and in California and the sprinkling of other cases throughout the United States.
But when I opened my news app in the evening, which I haven’t done in a long while, the entire newsfeed centered on the virus, the spread of it, the deaths, the early panic mode in Silicon Valley, the predictions certain of a pandemic. I learned in my reading that a pandemic differs from an epidemic in that it is the global spread of a disease rather than confined to one country or specific area.
Nah, Santa Cruz is mellow, no one’s going to raid all the markets here …. yet.
Shit, I thought. Am I ignorant? Going dancing, attending Meetups, eating out, not even having enough food in my fridge for dinner let alone to outlast a pandemic panic? Should I go to the store now? I asked myself as I lay on my bed, looking at the headlines, half asleep because of the beer I drank.
Nah, Santa Cruz is mellow, no one’s going to raid all the markets here …. yet. And if the non-perishable food is gone, I’ll just buy a bunch of vegetables and fruit, and freeze it. I wondered how many people grew their own food here.
Maybe I should walk to one of the local dive bars? There are a couple of small, dark, hole-in-the-wall types of bars in Seabright where you can imagine Meryl Streep in “Ironwood” sitting, but not as nice.
If the world is going crazy, the best place to sit it out would be a bar, just like in those Apocalypse-type movies. I imagined sitting at the bar with a couple of weathered, life-beaten, neighborhood Wisemen, raising shot glasses, and toasting the end of the world.
Instead of going to the market or a bar, I took a hot shower. Hot or warm showers before bed supposedly help you sleep better. But I didn’t sleep for hours.