Finding Toilet Paper and Hand Sanitizer Like a Steve McQueen Great Escape

This article article is part of an ongoing series of life in the Pandemic 2020

By Dave Price (3/17)

The movie that has been on my all-time Top 10 favorite list the longest is the World War II 1963 classic The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen and James Garner.

In the film, based on the true story of a POW escape from a German prisoner of war camp, McQueen played motorcycle-riding, baseball-loving, authority-hating American escape artist and Cooler King named Captain Hilts, while Garner portrayed the camp scrounger, Hendley.

I first saw the movie as an impressionable 11-year-old and now, 57 years later, I still can see traits I picked up from McQueen’s character in my personality. But today, in the new COVID-19 normal, I feel sometimes feel more like Garner’s character, scrounging in grocery stores and pharmacies for 3 of the DC-area’s least available commodities – toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and wipes.

The Great Escape Trailer
This past week, my Garner training came in handy as I scored 2 of the biggies – a 16-roll package toilet paper and not one, but 2, small bottles of hand sanitizer.

The Toilet Paper Caper
When I popped in one of the 2 Harris Teeter supermarkets within a mile of our apartment complex, the toilet paper shelves were empty, as they had been for days. This was disturbing since we were down to our last 2 replacement rolls. But, walking by the customer courtesy desk, I discovered the store still had a few toilet paper packages stashed there to keep a better handle on who was buying the bathroom necessity, which could now be bought only in limited quantities.

Proud of my purchase, I didn’t bag the toilet paper and walked the near mile to our complex with the package under my left arm.

The toilet paper proved to be one of the greatest conversation starters I had ever worn or carried., even more so than the my collection of anti-Trump T-shirts. People kept asking me – where did you find that? I told them and a few of them actually headed off in the direction of the Harris Teeter.

Our area is home to a lot of soldiers who work in the Pentagon, and one in uniform, a giant smile on his face, offered, “Hey, you want me to escort you home so nobody can take that?”

Another friendly fellow pedestrian jokingly said he would trade his wife, but not his dog, for 4 rolls of what I was carrying “Better than a six-pack of beer,” another chimed in.

The Sanitizer Search Ends (For Now)
But I was even prouder of my scrounging find later in the week of hand sanitizer, since I truly did employ some of Garner-as-Hendley’s suave charm to secure that.

There is a CVS store across the highway from our complex and I had made it a habit to pop in there once a day on one of my exercise walks always asking the same question – any sanitizer come in yet? Of course, by visiting with such frequency, I formed a relationship with 2 managers and one of the cashiers.

On Wednesday, one of the managers motioned me to follow her into an aisle.  “You know, we don’t have any of what you’re looking for today,” she whispered conspiratorially. “But we’re getting a store shipment tomorrow. If you come back right around this time, you may find what you’re looking for”.

Next day, of course, I showed up, but 15 minutes after the suggested time. The manager proceeded to walk behind the front desk and produce not one, but 2 small bottles of sanitizer. She handed me both. “I kept these for you, but if you hadn’t come in just now, they would have gone back on the shelf.”

I thanked her sincerely.  I would have probably paid just about any amount for the sanitizer, since we were down to one small bottle. But they were only $1.79 each. No price gouging here at CVS. I purchased the sanitizer, hid the bottles in my pocket, and walked out of the store.

Now finding a 16-pack of toilet paper and later 2 bottles of hand sanitizer isn’t anywhere near as important or exciting as escaping from a German prison camp. But at the risk of appearing overly dramatic, I do admit I whistled the theme song to The Great Escape all the way back to our apartment on both occasions.

More About The Great Escape
If You Haven’t Seen It, Now That We”re All Sheltering in Our Homes This Would Be A Good Time to Check It Out
The Theme Music

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