In the mid-sixties, a relatively unknown band (outside of San Francisco) released an album that would become one of the enduring recordings of the last 60 years. The Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was both strange (surreal) and comforting (pillow) in its beautiful melodies (Today and Coming Back to Me) and cutting edge norm shakers (Somebody to Love and White Rabbit). This is a record that I still listen to often, but failed, over the years, to understand the meaning of the album title – until today.
After weeks of trying I was able to arrange a date to receive my first of two Covid vaccinations. Needless to say, I was excited (interesting that I was excited to get a shot). It was to be administered in Plattsburgh – a 1-hour drive from home. First, it was one of the longest trips that my wife and I had taken since March 2020. It was a beautiful winter drive through snow covered trees and the black and white panorama of winter. The roads were dry and a light snow flurry was in the air. We had planned on stopping at Panera for a curbside delivered sandwich (our first venture to a restaurant since March of last year) and had ordered our food an hour in advance with an email confirmation resting in wait on my phone.
The Plattsburgh Panera had moved from their old location (things happen while you are tucked away in your house for 9-months) and the new building was built for drive-thru and curbside service. I parked the car and hit “we’re here” on my email message. Two minutes later, our neatly packaged sandwiches were delivered to our car. Off to a similar experience at Dunkin Donuts for a cup of coffee and we found a nice parking spot for our “restaurant meal”. It seemed a bit odd that this would be my first “restaurant like” experience, after all, the business of food is my life, quick service has never been my venue of choice, and eating in my car while bundled up in winter jacket and fur hat was hardly “normal” for me. Yet, here we were, and it was good.
I plugged in the coordinates on Google maps for our next stop – vaccination central. I never knew that this part of Plattsburgh existed. It was desolate, poorly lit (dark already at 4:45 in the Adirondacks) and actually a bit creepy. This was part of the remnants of the old Plattsburgh Air force Base and our destination was a warehouse at the intersection of Connecticut and Arizona Ave. Digital signs directed us to the first stop where a State Trooper checked my ID to make sure I was eligible by age and that it matched my reservation receipt. National Guardsmen directed us to a drive thru tent where they again checked this information and provided additional paperwork to be filled out (damn – did I bring a pen?). We moved on to the next line waiting to enter an unknown warehouse space (the door would open to allow one car in at a time). We frantically looked for a pen and finally found one under my seat and I worked quickly to complete the five pages of information while holding the papers in my lap. The excitement was building while I worked to beat the clock and occasionally look up in anticipation of the door opening.
I had shed my jacket and sat with mask on and short sleeve shirt in anticipation of an event that had been wished for almost exactly one year. The garage door opened and the National Guard waved me into the large, 30 foot ceiling space – creeping along till I reached the table where two nurses were waiting. I shut off the engine and rolled down the window to a warm, friendly greeting: “you made it!” They were pleased that I had completed the paperwork and after entering some data into the computer, the nurse apologized while gently stabbing my left arm. It was a tiny bit un-nerving when she stated: “this vaccine is not approved by the FDA, it is available through “emergency designation” and that it still carries the experimental tag.” My response was quick: “bring it on”. A Band-Aid followed as she told me to pull my car into an outside lot for the required 15-minute wait and that I would receive an email message indicating the time I should arrive for my second dose in 21 days. She smiled as I pulled away. I felt a bit emotional about the whole experience – this meant that there was light at the end of the tunnel. The dangers are not over, our lives will forever be different, there are nearly 300 million more Americans that need to experience this yet, but it was the beginning of the end.
Driving home in the dark winter night, struggling to see very far down the road on this mountain trek, I suddenly understood the meaning behind Surrealistic Pillow. The album that I faithfully listen to will never be experienced in the same way. This day was both strange and comforting. The fact that what was experienced is accepted and expected meant that normal was headed in a new direction. This new normal is with us now and the world is adjusting. I felt truly blessed to have the experience and pray that others will line up soon to discover the same. Get your shot as soon as you can and don’t forget to bring a pen.
We will get through this – of this I am sure. Today, for me, was an affirmation that there are brighter days ahead. The restaurant industry will survive – Panera was an example of adaptation and an encouraging sign that great minds are carving out a new way that will only continue to evolve and improve. The chaos surrounding the pandemic, the tragedy that continues, and the questions around expediting the vaccine will be answered (I felt real comfort in how well organized the process of delivery was), we will eventually be able to shake hands and hug each other again, and life will be great at some point in the near future. As this happens we should never forget what has and continues to occur and how unprepared we were at the onset. We must not lose sight of how important it is to be ready and think through many scenarios that can and will accompany the next crisis. Let’s learn from this experience. In the meantime – wear a mask, keep your distance, avoid crowds, and wash your hands. The time will come when the good life will return if we work together.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
CAFÉ Talks Podcast