Wednesday morning, just before dawn. Hazy grey mist clung to the palm trees and streetlights that bordered the gravel parking lot where I kept my Mini. It hadn’t had much street time over the course of the year+ lockdown, and a coat of khaki dust had turned the metallic finish matte. I washed the windows and headlights by hand before hopping in and pulling up nav to Bakersfield on my phone.
I had first seen a tweet about it early in the morning on Monday. An hour later I saw two more, excitedly confirming the first: CSU Bakersfield was opening up their vaccine supply to anyone 16+ who wanted one, no appointment required. Surely this only applied to people in Kern County, I thought.
Another tweet hit my feed, a mutual from Los Angeles reported in that she had taken the drive out to Bakersfield and was given the vaccine with no fuss. It did not only apply to people living in Kern Co. A thrill ran through me.
Given the near-constant stream of complaints online about the MyTurn online appointment scheduler, and the stories of waiting in line for hours just for a chance at the vaccine from some in my area up in the East Bay, it was not a question of if I wanted to drive four hours to Bakersfield, but when. I wasn’t leaving my vaccination to fate. When they hadn’t run out of supply by Tuesday, I scheduled my day off for Wednesday and set my out-of-office.
The drive was liberating, at first. I had missed the open road more than I realized. Now here I was, windows rolled down and music blaring, going somewhere outside of city limits like it was just a normal thing people did every day. When the sun came up and turned the dark fields gold, I actually squealed to see it.
But as I got closer to Bakersfield, I began to worry. Celebrities had been posting selfies at the Bakersfield vaccination site. What if word had spread too much and they were out by the time I got there? What if the line was hours long and I didn’t make it through before they closed? What if I couldn’t find parking?
The reality was more like a dream: friendly masked volunteers waited at the CSU entrance to point me in the direction of ample parking. Another guy at the crosswalk welcomed us in a joyful, booming voice: “We’re so glad you’re here! Come on in!”
At the cordoned-off entrance, a dozen of us lined up and were asked the standard questions: Have you been around anyone who tested positive? Do you have a fever? Have you had COVID recently? We all answered no and were sent on in through a temperature scanner and another volunteer thanked us for coming.
I checked my watch when I parked: 10:55 a.m.
I checked it again when they stuck a band-aid on my arm, handed me my vaccination card, and pointed me to the mandatory waiting room: 11:10. It had taken fifteen minutes with no appointment for me to get inside and get my first Pfizer dose. I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout victoriously. I wanted to run down the aisles of folding chairs and high-five every single person in the room.
After I was cleared to leave, I turned right back around and drove another four hours home. I made it back by mid-afternoon, victorious. My boyfriend had been skeptical that I would get a shot and opted not to come with me. He accepted my I told you so with good humor.
I napped the rest of the afternoon but otherwise had no side-effects, save for the glowing joy that I’d skipped tedious hours of fighting with a website just to make an appointment. That I’d received my first dose a full week before scheduling would even open for me in my area. And perhaps most of all, that I had, for the first time in a year, felt like I was able to act. It has been such a long period of waiting quietly in this apartment. It felt so good to be a part of the world again.