We waited for someone to ask why we deserved a COVID-19 shot ahead of so many others. No one ever did.
There were a lot of other questions, once my husband and I arrived at the sports arena where we’d come to be inoculated. Masked volunteers asked for our reservation numbers, what we were allergic to, how we were feeling. One worker leaned in and asked me, in the passenger seat, if I was pregnant. We all laughed.
It was that kind of night. We were a bunch of people who’d met in a parking lot on a Friday after midnight to do a drug deal. No one was buying pot, which in our new world could be had from many storefronts we’d passed on our way here. If we were giddy, it was because we lived in a time when millions of people were dying, and we were here, late at night, hopeful for relief from that.
We snaked our way through an obstacle course of neon traffic cones at the ersatz drive-through clinic at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, where Arizona is running a 24/7 vaccination operation. My husband said it reminded him of standing in line at Disneyland, except at the end, instead of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, he’d wind up with a needle in his arm. I was remembering how we used to line up for shots in grade school — a long row of frightened children.
Tonight, we weren’t scared to get our coronavirus shots, although driving through Maryvale late at night had been unsettling. We were anxious for a little optimism, something we could add to our arsenal alongside “almost never leaving the house since March” and “constantly wearing a mask.”
At the first station, a worker scrawled our appointment numbers on the windshield of the car and asked my husband for our birth dates. He got mine wrong, and the worker laughed and told me not to worry. “I’ve been married 30 years and my guy still doesn’t know when I was born,” she said.
She waved us toward the next station, where someone asked if my name was really spelled that way and whether either of us had COVID-19 symptoms. We lingered there for a minute, and I resisted the urge to ask the attendant what it was like to stand in the cold for 12 hours to offer hope to thousands of strangers.
COVID-19 vaccines were hotter than Hamilton tickets or the new Airpods Pro, even more anticipated than the Sex and the City reboot. Pretty much everyone we knew wanted one, and here we were, sheepish about our good fortune but qualified, too: hubby because he’s a teacher, I as full-time caregiver to my 95-year-old mother.(We did know some people who didn’t covet our place in line. The trio of caregivers who help me look after Mom didn’t want vaccines, for instance. “I’m afraid of needles,” one told me. “Oh, I have terrible asthma,” said another. “I refuse,” insisted the third, with what became my favorite excuse, “because the vaccine is made from the stem cells of aborted babies.”)
Eventually, we were pointed toward a little white tent, a cocked-up inoculation station under which we parked to answer more questions. Our responses were apparently correct, because a pair of nurses, one on each side of the car, leaned in, pinched our arms, and stuck us with a needle we hoped would save our lives.
I wanted to compliment these friendly women on their well-arranged system, to tell them how obsessively we’d stayed indoors away from people, to ask why no one had asked for proof that we qualified for first-tier inoculations. Before I could, one of them scribbled the time on our windshield and pointed us toward a waiting station, where we were asked to wait for 15 minutes to see, I suppose, if the vaccine would cause our heads to explode.
Stifling yawns — we hadn’t been up past midnight in years — we passed the time by cobbling an injection-related song list. “Pat Benatar, ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot’,” my spouse suggested. “‘All in Vain’ by the Vaccines,” I added. And then, because we’ve been married for a very long time, we shouted in unison, “‘Shot Through the Heart’ by Jennifer Warnes!”
When our heads didn’t explode, the nice young woman who’d been checking on us every few minutes told us we could leave. We’d be able to sign up for the second of our two shots in a few days, she promised, and come receive it in about three weeks.
Headed home through darkened streets, I marveled at our good fortune and tried to muster some guilt about being at the front of the vaccination line. Finally I gave up. Maybe, I thought, I’d awaken tomorrow sick with post-vaccine symptoms, which would help me feel less smug. In the meantime, I resolved to focus on gratitude — for 21st-century science, and big-hearted volunteers, and a world that could create relatively quick solutions to a problem as big as a pandemic.
“You’re still wondering why no one asked for proof that we deserved to be at the front of the line, aren’t you?” my husband asked, as we dashed past another darkened check-cashing place.
“No,” I replied, having already forgotten about gratitude. “I was wondering why, after all that, they didn’t give us little ‘I Got Vaccinated’ stickers.”