There’s not a single person or place that hasn’t been impacted by the coronavirus in some way, shape or form. Daily life can feel incredibly lonely and stressful. To help keep us connected, we’ll be sharing stories of real people dealing with this new way of life. Want to be interviewed or know somebody whose story we should share? Send us an email at [email protected].
St. Patrick’s Day was the last normal day of Tristan Matthews’ life.
He had gone into work that day, ready to serve the soccer-loving fans that flock to Small Batch in Winston-Salem, but instead he was laid off. He had been there on and off for the last three years, most recently returning to the restaurant in October as a line cook in the kitchen. Gov. Roy Cooper had put out his first COVID-19 executive order a week prior, but on March 17, Cooper enacted the one that left Matthews without a job.
“That’s when Governor Cooper came and told everyone that he wanted to quarantine all restaurants down to takeout only,” Matthews says.
Eventually, Matthews — who has been working in the service industry in Winston-Salem for the last decade — took a job at Homestead Hills, a retirement community. He started out with 20 hours a week as a dining room server in the assisted-living part of the community, but quickly switched to working in the kitchen when the dining protocols changed from residents being served en masse to boxed lunches delivered directly to individual rooms.
Now, he’s working full time in the kitchen, grateful to have a job but concerned for his health and safety.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was slightly terrified,” he says.
To mitigate risks and keep the community safe, all employees get screened before their shifts, according to Matthews. Individuals have to answer a series of questions about who they’ve been in contact with recently and whether or not they’ve traveled or have exhibited symptoms. Then, they get their temperatures checked.
As a food service veteran, Matthews says that he’s seen the toll that COVID-19 has taken on service-industry workers in the Triad. Most recently, a friend of his from Small Batch, Paul Magee, passed away. Those who knew him think it might have been due to a drug overdose.
“Depression has kicked in very fast on us,” Matthews says. “He was sitting at home a lot by himself. Him having too much alone time, that’s the only thing I can think of. I wish I was there in those final moments so I would have known. We just talked the other day about unemployment and what we needed to do. We could still joke about it then because we didn’t understand the severity of everything. We only had eight cases in the state at that time.”
Matthews, who has a wife and a son, says that he’s struggled with depression too, but that having a family keeps him motivated. He also says that being able to spend more time with his son has been a silver lining. Before COVID-19, he was often too busy working multiple shifts to see his family at all.
“Working in the service industry, we are working when everybody else is spending time with their family,” Matthews says. “Like for graduations, we are there making sure you have that T-bone steak and that cab.”
He says the transition and the stress has taken a toll on him and that he hasn’t been sleeping well.
“I’m messed up,” he says. “I wear myself out at work and then I’ll take a nap. And then I’ll stay up all night and when I look at the clock, I got to get up and shower and go to work. There’s no set schedule for me right now. This is the most unorthodox I’ve ever been in my life.”
But as a longtime member of the service industry, he says he’s used to it and he’ll adjust eventually.
“I’m bred for it,” he says. “That’s how we are in this industry. We just get up and go.”
For those who have the luxury of being able to work from home or those who go out to get food, Matthews says to treasure all essential workers.
“We didn’t have to do this,” he says. “We could have stayed home too.”
Tristan, at a glance:
Favorite thing eaten in quarantine: I have a neighbor across the street who likes to cook. We try to have cook offs. Recently, we started to do potlucks. I made the sides and he smoked some ribs the other day, smoked jerk ribs. That’s probably it right there. We would sell out of that at any restaurant.
What you are watching/reading/listening to: If you’re not into “Ozark” yet, get into “Ozark.” It’s very dark, but I love it. It’s right up my alley.
Words of encouragement or advice for others: Excuse my French but stay your ass at home if you have no reason to get outside. I want to civilize again. I want to be able to go outside. Stay home. Let’s get this death rate down. We are all in this together. Any stupid action could literally impact all of humanity right now. Stay home, stay safe.