Alan Riquelmy: Vaccine feels like graduation

You’d have thought getting the vaccine would be a big deal.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I lined up outside the Whispering Pines facility earlier this month. Maybe something akin to graduation. Anxious bodies nervously waiting for a document they’ve worked so diligently to achieve. “Pomp and Circumstance” echoing through the massive arena. Then the signal given, and feet slowly advancing toward the stage.

Not exactly. Most folks stood six feet apart in jeans and casual shirts, wearing masks. A guy in a “security” shirt explained to one man how he needed to make an appointment online and couldn’t just wander up for a shot.

That just shows how difficult it can be to disseminate information, regardless of how many times you put it online or on the printed page. I, like many others, spent that previous Friday refreshing until my mouse broke. When I finally got confirmation of my appointment it was like, well, graduating to the next level.

I remember, months ago, talking to people about the vaccine. Wondering how long it would take to develop. Guessing about when it’d be safe to book a vacation. Huddled in my apartment, separated from the rest of the world, dreaming about life on the other side of the pandemic.

We were past all that now, standing in the shade outside the Whispering Pines building. Sure, everyone was masked. The person in front of me was double masked. But this was it, the other side.

You could almost hear the band inhale as the line began to move inside.

I displayed my driver’s license to the person just across the threshold, received my documentation and was quickly herded to the next station. No need to sit down. This machine operated like clockwork.

We turned the corner, directed to health care workers stationed in little offices. I sat, opted for the left arm and was getting handed a partially completed vaccination card moments later.

It was like listening to dull speeches by people you vaguely know before the big moment. Then, pageantry complete, you stood, arranged yourself in lines with your classmates, and began the slow march to the stage.

The band would have been playing by now, if it existed.

Instead, I wandered to a waiting room where I needed to sit for 15 minutes to ensure I had no significant side effects. People handed a paper to a man seated at a desk. Your name and the time of inoculation were written on it, and he periodically would call someone’s name, allowing them to leave.

Then they’d take their paperwork — proof of course completion — and walk across the stage.

The man was having fun with it, alluding to the game show “The Price is Right” at times.

“Robert Smith! Come on down!” he’d cry. And some person, waiting dutifully, would approach, gather their documents and head out the door.

I could almost hear the band swell when he called my name. He handed me the papers, which I’d waited so long to obtain, and told me I’d need to return in three weeks for the second shot.

It was done. All the waiting, the working to get the appointment, was over. A buildup of 12 months was replaced by a Band Aid and a slightly sore arm.

And I, like those before me, quietly exited through the outside door. I took a paved path toward the parking lot, the anxiety left behind.

You could feel what had just happened as the noises drifted away.

The pomp. The circumstance.

Alan Riquelmy is the editor of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at

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