After beginning to think I had been lost in the shuffle, I received an email from UT Southwestern Medical Center “inviting” me to enroll in MyChart, which I did with fingers flying on the keyboard like I was still competing in a typing contest. I was hoping against hope that this would get me the ticket to that first vaccine dose, and sure enough, it did.
On offer were appointments at the actual medical center, which I knew was offering a drive through service, as well as at a satellite inoculation site at the old Red Bird Mall. Now officially known as Southwest Center Mall, it remains the only major mall in the southern part of Dallas and has been in steady decline for close to thirty years.
As luck would have it, the only available appointments were at Red Bird, and I took one for the following Monday. Although I really had no choice, I felt certain the expansion of vaccine availability was intended for the underserved community around the old mall, but I assuaged my guilt pangs by reminding myself that was a bit underserved myself, at least in this regard.
The irony of this particular mall being the site of my first visit to anything close to a shopping center in almost a year flooded my thoughts going through the forlorn main entrance. Despite the smattering of small stores, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of shoppers, all activity being centered on the inoculation site.
Spread around what should have been the busy main gallery were the snaking string of ubiquitous yellow squares marked “Social Distance 6 Feet.” I took my place at the end of the line and relaxed into what was sure to be an interesting opportunity for people watching.
I noticed the average people standing patiently in line, moving forward six feet as needed. There were several older ladies in wheelchairs accompanied by what I assumed to be their grandchildren. The lady directly in front of me had a certain aplomb as she moved from square to square, always standing exactly on it and not just touching it as if she were rounding third base. Others seemed to feel that being in the general vicinity was good enough to satisfy the distancing requirement.
No longer the last in line, I turned to see who had filled in behind me, spotting two women who looked quite out of place, one carrying a Goyard bag while the other had one by Louis Vuitton. They didn’t look uncomfortable, just not in their element.
But there was the one man behind them who seemed to want nothing more than to get this ordeal over. Dressed in belted khaki shorts with a moss green shirt over a polo, he looked like he may have spent the last forty years reading and re-reading The Official Preppy Handbook. He also seemed to have decided that six feet of social distancing was not nearly enough, opting instead for something like nine. As he hovered around his actual place in line without actually being in it, I found myself fighting back hopes that his shot would provide harmless, but none the less real, discomfort.
Once we all got checked in, we moved to the inner sanctum where we could actually see the inoculation stations, about forty of them. The line was moving quickly, and an upbeat energy seemed present. By the time the lady in front of me was on the last square, she was dancing slightly to the piped in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” but her movement was from the waist up as her feet remained firmly on the square.
Then it was my turn to be sent back for the actual shot. My technician was wearing a pink windbreaker and tennis shoes with pink accents together with one of those wrist devices that measure your steps and your heart rate while also providing phone service, internet connectivity, and Lord knows what all else, all secured with a pink band. I’m sure he was young enough to be my grandchild, and he was as “out and proud” as I have ever seen, particularly considering the location and circumstances.
Without a word of actual confirmation, I believe we mutually understood we were fellow travelers while we engaged in the slight talk and activity of his giving me the shot. “All done. See you in three weeks.” With that, I was on my way.
After the required observation period, I headed back to the car, feeling strangely pleased that I didn’t have a drive through vaccine experience. Maybe pre-COVID life was too much drive through and drive by anyway.