I wasn’t expecting the end of the pandemic to be beige.
But there I was, sitting in a metal folding chair in an empty department store that once housed a JCPenney’s, staring at my reflection in one of those floor-to-ceiling columns with mirrors on all four sides. My back was straight, my feet were firmly planted on the ground. I have never had such good posture.
Members of the Vermont National Guard strode between the rows of chairs collecting paperwork and directing human traffic. Like cattle. And I was grateful to be joining the herd. I looked around trying to find some familiarity behind all the cloth masks but it was an effort I was doomed to fail at—I barely know anyone here anyway.
So I focused instead on the carpet. It was beige. So were the tiles lining the aisles where shoppers once pushed carts filled with clothing, towels, coffeemakers, and shoes. The movable partitions segmenting the operation into check in, shots administered, and check out, were beige too.
I can’t say it wasn’t what I expected. Because honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But in case you are wondering: There are no hugs at the end of the pandemic — at least not in the beginning.
During the 15 minute waiting period after my shot, I put my cell phone down and watched the scene unfold. I wanted to absorb the moment. I wanted to lock eyes with someone, anyone, seated nearby and smile. I wanted a fellow witness. Someone else to acknowledge how far we come in the last year. And how much we have lost along the way: People. Jobs. Futures.
When the announcement for the JCPenney’s closure came in June 2020, it was unknown what would come next. “Hopefully the replacement will offer new types of merchandise that will enhance their shopping experience,” the property owner said.
I suspect he was not thinking it would become a mass vaccination site.
“From our point of view, change is good,” he said.
He was right about that.