State Fairgrounds, Here I Come! (You think?)

Posted February 15, 2021

Sorry, Enfield, you can’t have my COVID vaccine appointment.  I worked too damned hard today to get it.

My Registration Ticket; I fought for it hard.

Any of us over age 65 knows the drill.  It ain’t no fun.  And I assure you, I enjoy no special privileges as your friendly Town Politician.  I want a vaccination against the coronavirus just as much as any one of you do; or for that matter, as any other sane senior citizen does.  And today (Hooray!) I got my appointment.  It’ll be a drive.  It’ll be more than a month away.  But you know what?  At least it’s an appointment; a prize; the proverbial bird in the hand.  I kinda’ feel like having my appointment slip bronzed. 

As I’ve written before—and as our Town Board resolved with its unanimous vote last week—New York State has made it annoyingly difficult for people like me to even get onto a vaccine waiting list, let alone to get a shot.  In the minds of those pompous bureaucrats in faraway places—think of that guy who’s up to his eyeballs trying to explain away nursing home lies—we at Cayuga Lake’s headwaters live in the boonies.  If we didn’t vote for Trump and Tom Reed, we probably did for Cynthia Nixon or Zephyr.  So we can suffer.  We can wait on hold.  We can refresh… and refresh… and refresh our browsers.  We can do just about anything to bide our time except get what we really want; nothing more than a hot date to receive an arm’s worth of a little vaccine.

Tompkins County and Cayuga Health have built for us a blue-ribbon Point of Distribution, perhaps our state’s best, up at the mall in Lansing.  But if you’re over age 65, don’t plan on getting a COVID shot there.  Not unless, of course, under the most recent rules, you have some life-compromising “comorbidity,” like cancer or severe heart disease. 

Nope, by gubernatorial mandate,  any healthy senior must either hope against hope that some local pharmacy chooses to open a vaccination slot, or else try to book an appointment at one of Governor Cuomo’s prized—and favored—State-run sites, the nearest of which lie close to Binghamton or at the Syracuse State Fairgrounds.  Either achievement stands akin to winning the lottery.

A precious few I know have snagged pharmacy shots, but I’ve had no luck.  We’re told only Kinney’s and Tops Market in Lansing have local elder-vax.  But when I go to their registration portals, I only read the repeated script, “No Appointments are available this month”… or the next month; or the month after.  If it weren’t so tragic, it would be laughable.  I’ve surfed the Kinney site over and over.  After about a dozen tries, my attitude devolved to simple:  Why Bother!

Fast forward to today, Monday, the 15th.  I had much other work planned; the first of two-days of online training to help make me a little bit smarter at my Town Hall job.  At a break between classes, I took a quick look at the vaccine portals.  What do you know?  Those state sites in Syracuse and Johnson City had opened up.  They were actually, at long last, taking appointments.  Most often, the only site open is way up in Potsdam, the snowy North Country.  Should I do it?  Should I bank on Binghamton or the Fairgrounds?  The soonest booking, the site said, was on April Fool’s Day.  Worth the risk?   

“I’d wait,” my sister counseled me. (She’s waiting on vaccine, too.)  I went back to classes.

Four-Thirty arrived.  The school day was over.  I revisited the State portal.  At first, it appeared Syracuse and Johnson City were still taking appointments.  Then the latter slammed shut, leaving only the Salt City.  I reached my conclusion.  Jettison the uncertainty.  Stop hoping for local vaccine that may never arrive.  Book an appointment; the best appointment I can find.  Come Hell or high water, by the time I go to bed, I’ll have an appointment slot in hand, whatever the date, whatever the hour, whatever the cost.

Two old TV shows quickly came to mind.  The first was Deal or No Deal.  Every click of Refresh brought a new first-date.  First, March 11th.  Then, April 18th.  Oh look, February 17th (the next click proved it was a dud.)  The system was strained, on the edge of a crash.  Booking that mid-April time slot, I worried, might forfeit a better choice one click away.  But the longer the shadows drew, the later the dates listed.  People just like me were swarming like vultures, gobbling up all the time slots fast.

The other show on my mind was Seinfeld; one of those episodes where determination and adrenaline overtook Kramer.  For me it became a battle between me and the State Scheduler.  And Dog-Gummit, I was going to win!

With snow falling at sundown, I thought I’d nailed an acceptable date, March 11th, one day after Town Board.  Not the most convenient, I thought, but doable.  I proceeded to book it.  Date, time, data about me and my insurance… and then, poof.  “It will not ‘Post,’” said my computer.  “Restore” your data, I was told.  (Did you know F5 is “Restore?”  I Googled and learned it on the spot.)  But “Restore” led me down a dark rabbit hole.  I suspect somebody had snagged the 11th, while I was still inputting my subscriber ID.

Back to the randomness of the mouse click.  I concluded the system was irreparably broken.  And so was I.  The site listed a toll-free scheduling number; a lifeline for the lost.  I called it.  “Wait time 48 to 58 minutes,” I was told.  But the kind lady robot allowed me to keep my place in queue if only I’d let her call me back later.  I did.  For three-quarters of an hour I did other things.

Right on schedule, at then about Six O’clock, Ms. Robot called me back.  “Hello…. Hello…. Hello,” I said.  Silence was the only response; prolonged silence; about 20 minutes of silence.  The line was open; but no one was there.  In case someone picked up, I reminded Mr. Dead Line that a live person was listening.  I sang.  I talked nonsense.  Best of all, I read to the wind that 750-word COVID Resolution we’d adopted, the one none too obliging to the Albany Bureaucrats who designed this thing.  I thought it appropriate. Still no human voice.  Concluding no one would ever answer, I hung up.  But the Kramer in me kept going.  I still wanted that appointment.

On sister’s advice, I dialed 833-697-4829 again.  Only this time, I failed to heed Ms. Robot ‘s kind suggestion.  I stayed on the line those “36 to 46 minutes” until a live body—I’d hope—would pick up.  Meanwhile, I toyed with the website, still shopping for alternate appointments which all quickly vanished in the imaginary ether.

Thirty-eight minutes after I’d been placed on automated hold, the music ended.  I awaited the blessed, helpful, human voice.  I should have known better.  You guessed it, that same silence that had greeted me an hour earlier returned like a phantom from the past.  One wonders whether the State’s Vaccine Hotline even has any people.  I certainly never found one.

While nothingness played into my ears this second time, I knew that I and my computer stood as my only weapons against the world.  Another date popped up, Friday, March 19th.  Not as good as my first (probably lost-forever) choice, but better than nothing.  It actually had hours attached.  It let me navigate all the way to the end this time.  I clicked “Confirm” and it worked!  I hung up the dead phone.  I printed out my confirmation.  And then I began writing these 1400 words.  My ordeal was too precious to keep to myself.  Agony is best when agony is shared.

Me, after shot #1

The question lingers, what happens if vaccine floods the pharmacies and our local mall site before the 19th?  Should I exercise the cancel option for Syracuse, or should I hold firm.  Logic dictates flexibility.  But my stubborn streak points me northward.  I feel like I own that little Syracuse Fairgrounds appointment.  I worked about three hours, two wasted phone calls, a ton of toil and 60-some mouse clicks to get it.  It’s mine.  I own it.  And I’ll be damned if anyone attempts to take it away.

Now watch March 19th bring a blizzard.

Bob Lynch

Addendum: Yes, I honored my Syracuse appointment: First shot on March 19th; the second shot three weeks later on April 9th. No snow. No rain. Just a long drive. And a long line at the Expo Center. And of course, by the date of my appointment, the vaccine was free-flowing locally. But what matters is what matters. I’m vaccinated! I hope you’ll get vaccinated too.