Friday night.

I did it. I really, really did it. Everything went exactly as I planned, without so much as a hitch. (Though I did have a brief scare when I couldn’t find my passport in Ohio – it’d fallen between the seat and the door.)

Typing it up while all the memories are still fresh…

I snoozed my phone alarm a few times too many, and woke up at 4:35am instead of my planned 4am. Still, managed to leave on time, at 5:05am, after grabbing an envelope with all my documents and a backpack with my work laptop, just in case Canada decided not to let me in.

Driving Ontario’s highways before the sunrise, and on a statutory holidays, it’s almost as empty and eerie as when the first lockdown happened a year ago. So empty that it may as well be post-apocalyptic.

The Fort Erie crossing in Buffalo, NY, had just one lonely guard who waved me through after just a couple of perfunctory questions. When he asked why I was going to the US, I honestly replied that I was driving to Ohio for a vaccine. He had no comment, so either he was one of those rare laid-back security people, or I was far from the first to engage in some vaccine tourism. Likely both.

The stop at a walk-in testing clinic in Brunswick went smoothly and quickly: fortunately, the used a nostril swab method (and not the brain-poking one) to run a rapid PCR test. I had a minor scare when the waiting room’s door opened and I saw a lab-technician-looking dude who wore significantly more PPE than his previous colleague. Did I accidentally score positive on the covid test? Was that why I’ve been having that mild shortness of breath? Would I have to camp out in the States for a week or two? But nah, a few seconds later he confirmed that all was well, and that my test was negative. Total cost: 20 minutes and $170 USD. It was a bit disconcerting to hear heavy coughing from the lobby as others waited to get tested for whatever ailed them… All wore masks, for what it’s worth.

This was my first time in the US since a work conference in Nashville in January 2020. I forgot how many commonplace little horror stories there are… A Burger King I stopped at wouldn’t hand my food through a drivethrough window. (Weird business practice, but I always try to respect quaint local rituals.) While I waited inside, an unattended-looking little girl (around six or so) struck up a conversation and told me how much she loves school and how her little sister (in a nearby booth; no older than three) was a great tickler. I was getting worried as to location of their parents when the girl turned to the cashier and yelled “Mom!” …she had to use her fast food joint as an impromptu daycare for her little kids. That was tragic and desperate is such a low-key yet impactful way – and I’m sure there are many more like her.

…I never did get to explore the town of Ashland, Ohio, since there was a long line stretching around the vaccination center. The appointment times were more like suggestions: they functioned on the first-in/first-out basis. After finally finding my passport, it took just a bit over an hour to go through the process. It wasn’t FEMA-like efficiency, but still mighty impressive for such a small town. I roleplayed as a local (with a random address I’d googled in advance) without an insurance card. All they really needed was a piece of ID with my name and date of birth – the rest was irrelevant. Even so, I made sure to give them my US passport instead of the Canadian driver license. That would’ve been a social faux pas, I bet: only my exotic area code and the license plate gave me away as a vaccine tourist. I didn’t spot any other Canadian license plates, but there were a few from Michigan and New York.

I don’t know how exactly they decided who gets which vaccine (it seemed random), but I was assigned to get Pfizer while my neighbours in line got Moderna. I’m a bit more partial to Pfizer myself, so that felt like winning the lottery. The injection itself was fast and almost painless. When exactly did they start rolling out those round bandaids you can inject through? That seems so intuitive yet so futuristic all at once. After spending 20 minutes in the waiting area and convincing everyone involved I would not drop dead, I headed out. I received a retro-looking CDC vaccination card with my name, date of birth, vaccination date, type of vaccine (yay Pfizer!), and the vaccine lot number. The printout of a calendar they gave me suggested coming back in four weeks. Pfizer’s doses can be given three weeks apart vs four for Moderna. When I asked for a clarification, they admitted that setting four-week intervals is just easier for them, since it prevents potential Pfizer/Moderna timeline mix-ups. I’m being greedy here, I know, but waiting even one extra week would be too much. My next visit will be in three weeks. They admitted there’s nothing stopping me from seeking out an open appointment for April 23rd but warned that not all vaccines might be available that day. Oh well, I’m not above sleeping in my car while hunting for literally any open vaccine slot in Ohio for the following day. (It me, vicious vaccine hunter.)

The drive back was mostly uneventful, except that how much of a low-life do you have to be to have your mugshot on a billboard at a Native American reservation, with a “you shall not pass (again)”-type message? There were three mugshots and names. I wonder if that serves as a deterrent or an encouragement for others who seek cheap glory.

The drive would’ve been a whole lot more boring without podcasts… I drove for 12 hours and 700 miles (with four more hours spent in line or stretching my legs at gas stations), and finally managed to catch up on Welcome to Night Vale, listened to an awesome 90-minute discussion on the concept of time by Sean Carroll (the famous physicist) and Dean Buonomano (equally famous neuroscientist), and made it through the first five hours of Dan Carlin’s (you know, the Hardcore History guy) 25-hour podcast on Japan’s involvement in World War II. I minored in Asian Studies in college but still learned some new (and very gory) stuff today. This roadtrip was good for both my mind and my immune system, eh.

Crossing the same bridge back into Canada took considerably longer. There were only four other cars, which is some seriously low amount of traffic. The border guard marveled at my permanent residence papers (I had to assure him I got them through my work permit, not because I married a Canadian with low standards) and tried to scare me with a two-week quarantine. (He seemed disappointed when I told him I knew about that and had stocked up on food and cider in advance. Heh.) Once he waved me through, there was one final step: even though I showed a clean bill of health from my rapid PCR test, the PPE-covered medics still had me do a nasal swab (once again, so glad it wasn’t a brain-poking test), sanitize everything around me, hand them the bag (also sanitized) with the sample, register on the Switch Health portal, and promise to do one more swab just like that one on the 14th day of my solo quarantine at home. (Someone would come and pick it up.)

I’m curious whether they’ll actually check up on me during these next two weeks… I’m going to be a good Canadian and spend the entire time indoors (especially since I interacted with a few maskless clerks during my big US adventure) but I wonder whether they’ll actually call me or send a local constable to knock on my door.

Altogether, the trip took 16 hours: I left before sunrise, at 5:05am, and got back after the sunset, at 9:04pm. Depending on how much all the tolls will end up costing, the grand total for the day (including the rapid test and gas) will probably be around $250-300 USD. I’ll do the same thing again in three weeks. A cycle of two trips… Sure beats the hundreds of nearly identical cycles of waking up, commuting to the desk two feet away, hammering on the keyboard for ~10 hours, and playing video games just to repeat it all anew the next day. At this point, I’d hike to Mexico and back if that meant getting my life back. A nice one-day-long roadtrip with podcasts is such a comparatively low price to pay. (I wonder, though, if someone will start a party bus business to just take American-Canadian folks to Ohio for a rapid test and a pre-scheduled shots. There’d be a lot of money in that.)

Aside from my arm being sore and aching a bit, I’m not feeling any side effects yet. (And sadly, no new superpowers.) Anecdotally, all the weird reactions happen after the second dose. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, in the US, yet another domestic terrorist tried to storm the Capitol: he rammed his car into a barrier (and two cops), and tried rushing the building with a knife before being gunned down. One of the cops also died. The only unusual thing here is that this time around the culprit was Black, not white. It hasn’t even been three months since the attempted coup… The US is really gonna have to hang a sign saying “we’ve gone this many days since the last attempt to assassinate congressmen.”

In covid news, Pfizer has revised their effectiveness numbers a bit based on the updated trial data. They lowered their vaccine’s effectiveness from 95.3% to 91.3%, which is still pretty damn amazing. The really great news here is that Pfizer seems to prevent the South African variant: all the test subjects who got that particular variant had received the placebo, not the real deal. This is excellent, excellent news. Now that I’m in the Pfizer tribe (sorry, Moderna neighbours), this sort of news makes me feel even happier. Hard to believe that I’ll be fully immunized in only three more weeks… (Plus two more to let the full effect kick in.)

Go get your shots if you can, if you haven’t already, eh.