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My pandemic year, bookended by the ACC Tournament
Last March, I told my wife that watching basketball at the Greensboro Coliseum would be our last big event for a while. A year later, I'm thinking back to some things that got me through.
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A year ago, the North Carolina Tar Heels were absolute trash, so I used that to my advantage. I went on Stub Hub, and bought two tickets to UNC’s Tuesday night game at the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Greensboro. My wife and I got seats in the upper level for $15 apiece. It was a steal.
Up until we got there, it felt fine. For a few weeks at work, I’d been scrubbing my hands incessantly, because that’s what the guidelines told us would be the most effective. “Don’t want to get that coronavirus!” I thought, as I washed each individual finger for the third time in an hour.
On my lunch break, I picked up my tickets at the Natty Greene’s tap room across the street from the Greensboro. I gave directions to an out-of-towner who was looking for a Pitt fan club gathering across town. Later, I looked at an update from Governor Roy Cooper. Someone asked him about the ACC Tournament, and he’d said that he had no plans to shut down any sporting events. He recommended that people over age 65, and those with underlying health conditions, should avoid big gatherings. As much as possible.
So we went. It felt … strange. We sat in our seats, careful not to touch anything. We were packed in, with people on all sides of us. After the Tar Heels won, we basically put our hands at our sides and hotfooted it out of the arena. We talked the whole way home about whether we’d made the right choice by going to the game. “You know,” I told my wife, “I think this is the last big event that we’re going to go to for a long time.”
The next evening, the ACC announced that it was closing the tournament to fans. Then, on Thursday morning, the league cancelled the rest of the games and awarded the title to Florida State, which gave the Seminoles an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which itself was swiftly cancelled. At the beginning of the week, everything was proceeding cautiously. By the end, the world had gone into lockdown.
I called my parents, and told them not to drive down from Ohio to celebrate my 40th birthday. We told my in-laws, who live three miles away, to stay home as well. I stopped going in to the office. My wife worked from our bedroom. The kids stopped going to school. Toilet paper ran low. We all know what happened next.
This week, the ACC Men’s Tournament gets a do-over. Teams are playing again here in Greensboro, the ACC’s ancestral home, a place that allows us to mercilessly troll Jim Boeheim. There will be some fans. But for me, it’s a marker of just how long we’ve been dealing with this pandemic. It’s a tangible beginning to a time of incredible losses and mental and financial strain that almost all of us have felt. I have another birthday coming up next week. I feel like I’m, in some ways, back at the beginning.
So, I figured I’d take a little time to mention a few things that have gotten me through. It’s a privileged list, and certainly not a complete or comprehensive one, and I’m not trying to gloss over the very real toll that all of this has had on everybody. But with everything upended, here is what’s helped:
In March 2019, I was supposed to run the All-American Marathon in Fayetteville, but I got tendinitis and had to defer my registration to 2020. Then, in 2020, I signed up for the half-marathon. It got cancelled. The race doesn’t appear to be happening this year. Look, I tried, okay? I really wanted to go striding on to Fort Bragg whilst breaking 3:30 in a marathon, and that’s gonna have to wait.
In the meantime, I kept running. I put in 1,463 miles in 2020, mostly around my neighborhood and around my community here in Oak Ridge. I’ve passed the military academy more times than I can count. And, thanks to both Runners World and Brian Mister, who’s the race director for the Around the Crown 10K in Charlotte, I gave streaking a try. RUN streaking, you heathen. I’ve run at least one mile every day since March 28th, 2020. That’s 345 straight days of running. I’m going to continue until March 28th of this year. On March 29th, I’m going to rest.
I don’t have any real deep reason for doing this. Like so many of my random pursuits, I started off only to see if I could do it. My streak hit one month. Then two. I just kept going. But running settles my mind and makes me feel less fidgety. That’s usually what happens I have a goal that demands that I do a specific thing every day, whether I want to or not. Sometimes I’ve gone out at 10:45 p.m. at night to get a mile in. I’ve done it in excruciating heat and the pouring rain. I’ve dodged cars. I’ve explored trails. I enjoy the deer. Not so much the tiny unleashed chihuahua that comes after me when I get to the end of the neighborhood.
This is not a way to get faster, and yet, I THINK think I’m getting faster? A little bit? Last March, I ended up running a half-marathon by myself on the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway in Greensboro and set a personal record (1:35:59). I ran a socially-distanced 5K at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market in Colfax last weekend and finally got my time back down under 20 minutes (19:44). The only downside is that my 4-year-old daughter has the world’s most overwhelming sense of smell. She shrieks and runs away whenever I walk in the door after a run.
The Shutdown Fullcast
I know, this one feels kind of out there. But stay with me here: Spencer Hall, Holly Anderson, Ryan Nanni, and Jason Kirk put out the internet’s only college football podcast. That is the description that they give. What it actually is the dumbest smart podcast (or smartest dumb podcast, either or). It is extremely my shit in a way that I can’t quite articulate to anyone except for other Fullcast fans (hey Miller Yoho). I also listen to it while running, which is bad. This is the only podcast that makes me laugh uncontrollably, which means that I start gasping for air and grunting like a gorilla at full trot. Last year, during a discussion of ¡El Assico!, I was jogging on the Salem Lake trail near Winston-Salem and started making frightening noises, and people nearby recoiled behind trees. There’s also a tendency for the most absurd parts to happen right at the bottom of large hills, which leaves me seeing stars due to a lack of oxygen when I hit the top.
I’ve tried, and mostly failed to stop doomscrolling over the past year, mostly because insanely important information had been coming in at all hours, every day. (Update: I finally deleted the Twitter app from my phone). I was overloaded on real life. This, so many times, was an antidote.
Also, yes, there is a North Carolina connection. The podcast is now part of the Learfield IMG College Network, which means technically the show and its producer, Michael Surber, are based in Winston-Salem. He’s local, as you can tell by his description of Wake Forest’s parking situation at the beginning of the most recent episode.
Outdoors? Check. Kid-friendly? Check. An activity that takes you away from other people? Check. This one allows us to extend any trip that gets us out of the house. Although! We did have one bad experience, when my daughter got pricked by a briar in a creepy overgrown Revolutionary War cemetery and started screaming as I carried her back to the car in an EXTREMELY rural part of Guilford County. She ended up being fine, we didn’t wake up any ghosts, and we fortunately found the geocache beforehand. A win!
My parents fished their old Pioneer turntable out of their crawlspace and brought it down to me over Christmas break in 2019. If you can get it working, you can have it, they said. So my dad and I searched out the Vintage Audio Exchange, a fantastic little place in the basement of a strip mall in Jamestown. There, Ed the owner found a new stylus that fit the original cartridge, and voila! We had music again.
We started off with five records that my parents brought down, most notably the Eagles greatest hits. But over time, we raided my parents and my in-laws vinyl stashes that had been hidden in closets and attics. I started scanning thrift stores for old albums, and made trips to Hippo Records in Greensboro into special outings. The entire family, including the kids, gives records as gifts now. (My wife and I both bought each other the Avett Brothers’ “Emotionalism” for Christmas. Oops.)
The physical experience of pulling out an album and having to flip an LP over every 20 minutes makes you actually interact with the music. The speakers fill the house with sound. The whole thing allows us explore and connect more with musicians, rather than experience a drive-by sampling of their most popular songs. And, it’s just a fun thing to hunt down albums. I got legit excited when I found Willie Nelson’s “City of New Orleans” at a record shop for $5. I stop in the Goodwill store next to the Lowe’s Foods every time I have to run to the grocery store, just to see what people have brought in. Last time I was there, I walked out with 11 records of mostly classical music (but also an album of Mario Lanza pouring his heart into some Italian standards). The cost: $5.50. That 40-something-year-old turntable has warmed our home and our moods over the last year. My 6-year-old can now name every song on Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Spirit”, and my 4-year-old daughter is a legit Steely Dan fan. The only downside: Those children sometimes touch the turntable in a child-like way. Hence, I’m on my third needle in a year’s time.
This goes without saying, but obviously this pandemic has changed our family’s relationship, because we’ve all been around each other more than we ever have before. At first, we all had to adjust to a new life that, really, only included the four of us (and the dog). Now, we’re all better off for it. My son and daughter are best friends, and my wife and I now enjoy our date nights that much more (although a birthday-dinner trip to Durham this weekend was an adventure in endurance, since we chose to sit outside in 38 degree weather). The dog is happy to have people around all the time, and enjoys turning into a barking maniac thanks to more-frequent visits from the Amazon delivery guy. There are a million more reasons why my family has gotten me through this time, many that I recognize and many more that I don’t. It’s been hard. Very hard. But I’m choosing to see this as a glass-half full time in our lives. After all, we (hopefully) won’t find ourselves in this situation again, and it’ll only be after it’s over that we’ll recognize the things that we took for granted.
What About You?
So now, here’s a homework assignment: If you can name a few things that have gotten you through this panedmic year, I’d love to hear them. You can reply to this email, @ me on Twitter, or leave a comment by clicking on the button below. I’d also like to hear about the last thing you did before everything shut down, and how it feels to you now, a year later. I’ll have a roundup in a later newsletter.
I, Jeremy Markovich, am a journalist, writer, and producer based outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. If you liked this, you might like Away Message, my podcast about North Carolina’s hard-to-find people, places, and things. Season 4 was all about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Author avatar by Rich Barrett.
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