I’m working on getting a new site going. While you’re waiting, have you listened to my latest story, THE RADIANT WEB, narrated by Andrea Richardson on StarShipSofa?
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.
One year ago, my boyfriend and I, maskless for one of the last times in public, went to our local grocery store to prepare for a month at home. The aisles swarmed with angry, frustrated, panicked people, all darting between each other to snag canned vegetables, dried pasta, the last bags of store-brand sugar and flour. The bread aisle was utterly bare. The eggs and milk, not much better. Absolutely forget about toilet paper or cleaning products of any kind. We got what we could and left, discussing in the car what else we could do, where we might shop, wondering if a month would actually be enough.
This weekend, the new moon marks a year of pandemic lockdown for us here in the Bay area, and what a dramatic shift it has been from those first weeks, where we were told COVID probably wasn’t airborne and mostly came from direct contact with an infected person. We breathed in shared air on public transit, in stores, in restaurants, but washed our hands eight million times a day and once more for good measure. We were told to not touch our face under any circumstances. Hand sanitizer became a rare and prized commodity, like toilet paper.
I looked up searches online like how to make hand sanitizer and where to buy toilet paper online that isn’t already sold out.
When, not long after lockdown began, we started to hear reports that maybe it was airborne after all and masks might be prudent, everywhere online was already sold out and stores locally were not yet selling them like they do now. We dragged our sewing machines out of storage and found our bag of scrap cloth. We watched a video on how to make good masks. We found we had just enough elastic cord in our projects bin to make two masks each. They were pretty good masks, and I still sometimes use mine, even though now a year later we have much better options. Masks have become a standard part of one’s wardrobe.
It has been a long, exhausting, scary, frustrating year, and for the two of us it wasn’t even that bad. I was already working from home at my job, my boyfriend was able to easily pivot. We have had lots of projects to occupy our time, loving pets to soothe our souls, garden beds to allow us to feel like we’re connected at all to the outside world. So many people were not so lucky, and I am filled with gratitude every day for what we do have and how we were able to weather this.
A year later, I’ve almost completely dissociated from the idea of ever gathering with people in person, indoors, without masks on, again. I know, logically, that it has to happen one day. The vaccines are rolling out, the spread is slowing, the deaths are slowing, but it’s all still too much.
According to the New York Times, on March 13, 2020 there were 556 new cases in the US reported that day. 68 of those came from here in California. That was enough to trigger a full lockdown.
Yesterday, we recorded 64,177 new cases nationwide, with 2,304 of those coming from California. Yesterday, 204 Californians died of COVID. And yet we are told outdoor dining is now fine. We are opening things up again. People are planning weddings and baby showers and going to bachelor/ette parties like somehow we did it, we won! The little line is going down now! Texas’ governor just dropped their mask mandate and already, people who continue to wear masks in that state are being harassed and threatened. Their refusal to put themselves in harm’s way is that much of a threat to the shared delusion that we have in any way beaten COVID-19. We have not. We are a long way off from victory, my friends.
Today is the one-year anniversary of the last time I went out in public without a mask on. I am marking the occasion with a candle for our dead and lost, and a dram of whiskey for our stolen year. May reason and humanity prevail, at least, in 2021.