Vaccine Family Reunion: Las Vegas

Since March 2020, I have been asked where I most want to travel when the world reopens. At first, I spoke about countries on my list that I haven’t yet visited: Croatia, Norway, Vietnam and Costa Rica. As the months dragged on, my list began to change. I wanted to go back to my favorite cities, if only to reassure myself that they were still there: Dublin, London, Vienna, Paris, Rome, and New York. While chatting on a conference call at work in the fall of 2020, someone asked me the travel question again. The real truth finally bubbled to the surface. I found myself struggling not to cry. As my voice broke, I said, “Honestly, I just want to see my family again.”

The vaccine anticipation has been like waiting for Christmas morning, but with life-or-death consequences. In late December, my little sister, a nurse on the front lines, sent word that it soon would be “her turn.” January found my siblings and I strategizing how to get my mom and dad vaccine appointments. My dad, the tough one, grumbled about “waiting to see how things go” and not wanting to be the “guinea pig.” He took his jabs like a man anyway. My mom was an easy sell. She really wants to go on a cruise.

February was a vaccine desert for our family. We watched the news and waited–not patiently. I found myself being secretly and uncharacteristically jealous and bitter towards older people. In hindsight, that was mean and inappropriate.

Then, March!! At the end of the month, I received the glorious notification. It was my turn. I dropped everything and drove four hours round-trip for my first shot, and then I made that drive all over again two days later for my husband. Within days of being fully vaccinated, we were on the road to Las Vegas, which is where I was raised and where my family still lives.

Las Vegas hasn’t been the model of appropriate pandemic decisions. This city, known for unapologetic debauchery, was never going to do well in a situation that requires sacrifice for the greater good. Brought to its knees by the pandemic and desperate for tourist dollars, Las Vegas reopened casinos in June 2020. It has been a beacon for Californians who blissfully want to forget that the virus exists. Despite leaving California early on a Friday morning, we found ourselves in a 2-hour traffic jam to that oasis of bad behavior. A trip that normally takes four hours took 6.5 hours.

Masked Statue of Liberty in Las Vegas

Now is when I am going to overshare. The desert is an unforgiving place for emergencies. The highway stretches into brown, flat nothingness as far as the eye can see. After sitting in the traffic jam for almost an hour, my bladder began to exhibit signs of distress. I looked at my husband and said slowly, “I bought a tool for bathroom emergencies at the start of the pandemic.” He looked at me quizzically. I informed him, “I found a car urinal in case all the bathrooms were closed and we found ourselves in dire straits.” He sighed, and said, “Of course you did.” I had prepared for the pandemic as if we would be the last two survivors on earth.

I retrieved the car urinal from my emergency kit, crawled into the backseat, and found blessed relief. I did it without giving the big trucks a show and without spilling a drop on my husband’s beloved Tesla. Through a group text chat, I provided the details to my siblings. At that point, my brother sent me this text, “That is a very detailed description. Maybe your husband is right. We might be sharing too many details of our lives with each other.” I responded that he is a boy and he can’t possibly understand. My older sister immediately asked for the link so that she could purchase the device herself.

I am sharing this information for all the ladies out there who have ever been stuck in a traffic jam. I will receive zero compensation for this recommendation: Outfandia Emergency Expandable Urinal, 750 ml. Amazon. You are welcome.

The device, not to be confused with the water bottle, which is added only for size comparison.

Somehow, this seemed like an appropriately dramatic beginning to a pandemic-era travel experience. We finally reached Las Vegas and checked into our lodgings. I was a bit twitchy about staying in a hotel, but we found a non-casino timeshare far away from the tourist chaos. Everyone at the hotel was wearing a mask and seemed to be following appropriate protocols. Then, I had the following conversation (paraphrasing might be involved):

Hotel Guy: “How many wristbands do you need for the hotel shuttle that transports large groups of drunk people to the casinos every few minutes?”

Maureen: “None.”

Hotel Guy: ‘Why?”

Maureen: “We are still in a pandemic. It seems unwise to partake in or encourage this type of behavior.”

Hotel Guy: “Well, as a first-time resort guest, you are entitled to a $150 gift card. We just need you to sign up for a two-hour timeshare presentation in that small, airless room behind me with 50 of your fellow hotel guests.”

Maureen: “Um, that also is a hard ‘no.'”

Hotel Guy (looking utterly perplexed): “Why?”

Maureen: “Well, I will revisit my previous answer and cite the pandemic. This will be my answer to any similar questions you inevitably will pose now and for the duration of my stay.”

Finally, finally it was time to see my family. We aren’t an emotive group. We did not have those Hallmark-greeting-card, sob-filled vaccine reunions I am happily watching on social media. But, honestly, it felt that way on the inside. Hugging your family, it turns out, is no small thing. The days that followed were filled with family time that would be unremarkable in any other year. In 2021, it was the trip of a lifetime.

Today, for the first time, all Americans aged 16 and over are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. This post is dedicated to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency staff and the U.S. Army soldiers who helped administer our vaccines in Los Angeles. I also salute my entire extended family who have stepped up to take their vaccines. This is the way we end the pandemic.