Pipkin Parade: Roughing it in the Vaccination Line 

You do feel the needle going in. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. And, depending on the day's weather, it's likely to be cold and drafty when you have to bare an upper arm to get your COVID vaccination shot.

Have an "appointment" to get a COVID vaccine, do you? Well, good luck. Things may have become more streamlined since early last week, when negative word-of-mouth and social media had famously attested to the delays and traffic snarls of the county's vaccine rollout. You could count on spending hours of your life in bumper-to-bumper traffic, driving in seemingly endless loops across the whole of the Fairgrounds driving surface to reach one of the six improvised bays in the interior space in the Pipkin building. There, finally, assisted by some very helpful and, under the circumstances, preternaturally cheerful folks administering the shots on behalf of the Shelby County Health Department, you could begin your inoculation against the potentially deadly and certainly ominous virus and conclude Phase One of the requisite two.

click to enlarge SCALIGER | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Scaliger | Dreamstime.com

An ordeal? Yes. And worth it? Yes, and hail to the hard-working folks who were there laboring in the building's six bays long before you get there and who will be there long after you leave. Like the besmocked lady wielding the needle when I pulled up: "Got to have some flesh," she said, prompting me to temporarily shed coat, sweater, and shirt, and the assisting Sheriff's Department deputy who had greeted me by saying, "Where you been? Been waiting on you for six hours!"

And that was no joke. It had been every minute of six hours since I had pulled my Kia Soul into the north entrance of the Fairgrounds, off Central Avenue onto Early Maxwell Drive. "Where's the Pipkin Building?" I had naively asked the deputy who was parked there, his car's revolving light flashing, to monitor new arrivals. "Get behind the red car," he said, indicating a late-model Volvo. Upon complying, I noticed that I was thereby joining a queue of seemingly stalled vehicles that, via that previously indicated series of back-and-forth loops, spread far into the distance. Farther, indeed, than I could see. Hundreds of them, I would ultimately realize. The line would presently begin inching forward, and I mean "inching." You know that old maxim about watching paint dry? Well, the queue's progress was of that kind.

It was only later that I reflected on the obvious circumstance that all of these folks could surely not have been scheduled for 4 p.m., as I was, or 4:30, as my son Marcus, who was with me, was. Nor even 5 nor 5:30 nor 6, for that matter. A significant percentage of them had to be crashing (as in "gate crashing," though, given the immensity of the jam-up, the literal form of the verb was always a possibility).

Note: I am trying not to be overly querulous here, nor judgmental. We all know that, going into January, neither the state nor federal sources had been models of advance preparation. Nobody knew exactly how much vaccine was on hand locally nor how long it would last. The first shots had been administered, without prior notice, in several days in late December and the first week of the New Year. They were earmarked for first responders and medical folk, but the grapevine had alerted a sizeable number of interlopers, and, in practice, those word-of-mouthers who were 75 or older had been permitted in the drive-throughs at Lindenwood Christian Church and the Health Department's facilities on Sycamore View. For a week or so, the vaccination process was on hold, then opened up again on January 12th via a registration process.

Before the rolls closed on the month of January, I was able to grab a spot on grounds of age, and Marcus by dint of certifiable disabilities. Believe me, when the day came, it was beneficial to have a companion and an active radio, tuned mostly to SiriusXM news stations, from which I would learn, repetitiously and in detail that day, about both Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and the Robin Hood caper on Wall Street. There wasn't much we could do about the paucity of porta-potties — only three over the whole Fairgrounds expanse. And we hadn't thought to pack water bottles or snacks.

I am no masochist, but, lookit, all of the hardship, culminating in that final bite of the needle, turned the whole day into something of an adventure. And, yes, I'll be grateful for the chance to do it one more time.

Jackson Baker is a Flyer senior editor and politics editor.

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