My husband and I joined an absurdly long line of seniors outside a lower East Side high school to get the coveted Covid vaccine. Prior to the pandemic this long a queue happened only for a hot sample sale, Beyoncé concert tickets or at Zabar’s smoked fish counter. But nobody was complaining. The vaccine had just become available to New Yorkers over the age of 65 and we were all thrilled. The only thing better would be if they were tossing in free Botox shots.
For me, January 16 was a red letter day, getting us closer to the light at the end of the tunnel and haircuts. We were among the first to be vaccinated, not essential workers despite babysitting our little granddaughter so her parents can work from home. This meant we would soon be able to reconnect with loved ones and doctors, take the subway and maybe even eat in a restaurant. I never thought I would miss going to the gym, but even that was now appealing. My calendar had been sadly empty except for a mammogram in November.
“How did you get the appointment?” friends asked, as if to suggest I had a tight relationship with Andrew Cuomo or someone else that would give me a perk. That wasn’t the case. I’d gone online at 8 in the morning the first day we could and within minutes scheduled it. It was amazingly easy. At my urging, my husband did the same though his time was two hours ahead of mine.
That added to the fears that had been keeping me from sleeping. A Jewish woman my age who had reason to believe in Murphy’s Law worried about any procedure. That we were getting vaccinated at a public high school could be a problem. Would they have the proper refrigeration required? Should we be doing this at a hospital, where they had experience dealing with medications? If that wasn’t troubling enough, I heard that the Trump administration had lied about availability. What if they run out of the vaccine? We were both jubilant until Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer said she also had concerns, and felt that the city was not adequately prepared for the roll-out of the shots.
An hour later, I went back to the computer with the hope of switching to a medical facility or pharmacy. “There are 5723 people ahead of you,” flashed on my screen. No problem. I had nothing more pressing than hanging up on people trying to sell me a car warranty. Eventually, learning that the chain drugstore they had in mind for me was in a remote part of a distant borough, I chose to go to the school.
The morning we were to be shot up, I received 11 emails confirming my appointment. What was that about? Was it possible that the site I’d registered on was a scam and Proud Boys were waiting to assault me? Martin and I, even more anxious than usual, looked in all directions before joining the long line of masked people quietly waiting outside the school.
Masks were better than any wrinkle cream for hiding age, but you had to be at least 65 to qualify for the vaccine. I assumed the entire group, like me, forgot what they’d had for breakfast but remembered the lyrics of every Peter, Paul and Mary song. Just seeing their foreheads, I couldn’t tell if any belonged to our shul. But they were my generation, so it was conceivable we’d been together before, maybe wearing tie-dyed shirts, at anti-war protests in the Sixties. That was when street drugs were valued more than any vaccine.
I was surprised that the outdoor staff, identified by orange safety vests, organized us according to our time slots. Walking from the front to the back of the line, one of the men announced, “If anyone has difficulty standing, there are chairs inside where you can sit.” Nobody accepted the offer. “Thank you for being so cooperative,” he said to the crowd.
“Thank you for all that you’re doing,” I said. The staff was far more pleasant than those in any ER I’d been to.
Martin was scheduled at noon while my appointment was later that afternoon. I’d accompanied him, hoping they would allow us both to get the shots now. Though the email instructed us to arrive no more than five minutes before the scheduled time, he’d said, “Let’s go early. The subways aren’t reliable on weekends.” Because of that, we waited two hours before being admitted.
I explained to the person at the entrance that I was a plus-one. “Is there any chance they might take me now?” I asked. He looked at the bar code on my email and I expected he would turn me away, but he gestured for us to go into the gym. Medical people wearing white gauze jumpsuits held up a paddle indicating they were available. It was a system I knew from Trader Joe’s. After being jabbed, we were told to sign up for the second shot the week of Feb. 13. Martin and I then headed to the Essex Street Market. Camembert and gruyere had replaced pot cheese and cream cheese. The lower East Side had morphed from being Jewish Town to trendy. Men with beards had nose rings, not yarmulkes.
Returning home, I emailed friends to tell them where they could get the shot. “It’s over six miles from where I live,” my friend Patty said. “That’s half a marathon.”
“You can take the subway,” I told her.
She was horrified. “The subway? I go nowhere, not even to old people shopping hour.” But she came up with a way of getting a ride there.
“Once we all have it,” I told her, “we won’t have to zoom. We’ll have everyone over for a big party and celebrate being together.”
“Like the Republicans,” she joked.
“Of course, I’m sorry this happened,” I told Martin, “but it’s the most unusual thing to happen in our lifetime. It’s tested us and made us aware of our own resilience.”
Not a person to flaunt an accomplishment, I wouldn’t have attached an “I got the Covid-19 vaccine” sticker to my puffy coat. But a few days later, a thread on my Facebook page showed pictures of friends who’d received them, and I felt cheated. In years to come, they will certainly be worth something on eBay, commemorating this tragic, but historical, experience.
I’m wondering if the follow-up shot will be even more exciting or feel like the second day of a Jewish holiday.