It’s 10 o’clock in the morning and I’m standing in the alleyway behind the Alliance Church.
It must be Friday, and this must be another flu clinic.
Something is terribly, terribly wrong — nobody is mad. Nobody is complaining; nobody even shows any signs of impatience.
A pleasant guy wearing a fluorescent vest comes along with a sheet of paper and asks those of us at the end of the line if we fit the required H1N1 vaccine demographic for the day: under 65 with chronic illness; caregivers of same; six to 59 months, and so on. If not, there’s a second list for the regular old seasonal shot: 65 and over, etc. etc.
At the bottom of the sheet is the hopeful announcement, “Watch for more clinics.”
I ask him a couple of questions and he moves along the line. Another guy shows up with a fresh garbage bag for the can that has accumulated a pile of paper coffee cups, snackbar wrappers and other flu-lineup litter.
People are chatting with one another in groups of threes and fours, strangers who quickly become comrades of a sort. We’re all on an H1N1 mission.
“They used to have flu clinics at the mall,” one gentleman — whose name I’m pretty sure is Jim — says to me by way of striking up a conversation. “I don’t think they do that any more.
“I remember one time,” he continues, “a lady passed out and they had to call the ambulance. I think they stuck the needle in a vein or something.”
Those in earshot don’t find this story particularly encouraging, but another fellow, wearing a maple-leaf toque and an overcoat, is prompted to explain that he lives near the hospital and the ambulances are keeping him awake at night.
“I asked them if they could stop the sirens when they drive past my house but they said, ‘no, we’ve got patients in there.’”
Then he laughs, adding he’s just back in town after living in Chilliwack and Penticton, and Kamloops sure has changed since the last time he was here.
“How long were you away?” I ask.
“Six months,” he says.
A few minutes later, we emerge out of the alley to the side of the church.
“Hey, we’re in the sunshine now,” declares a mom pushing a stroller with her young daughter in it.
“At least we’re in the sun,” someone else agrees.
My new friend with the flu-clinic story tells me he’s 77, then starts in on some new stories about when he used to work in Norm’s Attic, at the KXA, and other places in town.
“I was working with a guy at the KXA one time,” he says, “and he offered to drive me home. He’d had a few too many beers on the job but I said OK, and we get stopped by a cop who asks him if he’s been drinking and he says just one beer and the cop makes him blow and he blows way over the limit. Some people just don’t listen when you tell them not to drive when they’re drunk.”
He was working at Woodward’s one time, he begins, but the man beside him cuts in, “I remember Woodward’s before the lottery corporation was there….”
“I was in a casino one time,” says Jim. “I found a whole bunch of silver coins in a slot machine and I said, ‘Where did these come from?’ and I took them to the cashier and turned them in and then a woman comes along saying ‘has anybody seen the money I forgot in the slot machine’ and, well, was she surprised….”
Three small children are sitting on the curb making a game of tossing gravel into the roadway. A 30-something dad behind me is calling home, providing a running update of his exact location and an estimate of how long it will be before he gets into the clinic.
Turns out he’s a place holder; it’s his son who’s getting the shot, and his wife and boy are at home waiting until he gets close to the front door before they hop in the car, drive lo the church and make the switch.
Seems like a pretty good strategy. Except, “he was really cheesed off when I told him he’s getting a needle,” he says of his son’s reaction to the prospect.
“We’re almost at the corner,” says a guy in a camo ball cap.
“I’m guessing we’ve got quite a few corners to go yet,” I venture.
“Yep, I’d say,” another agrees.
A few steps behind us, a 40ish smoker steps a couple of paces out from the line and lights up. Not for long; a volunteer sees him and quietly suggests he move to the other side of the parking lot — his place in line won’t be lost.
Somebody decides the Blazers would be a good topic, and it takes on an inevitable slant. “How many in a row have they lost so far?”
“I dunno, seven at least, maybe more.”
“That new guy they’ve got coaching doesn’t seem any better than the last one.”
“Well, he hasn’t won any games yet, anyways!”
And we all share a good chuckle.
“Was anybody here asking for a chair?” an IHA staffer is asking as he carries said chair down the line. “Someone said a lady needed a chair.”
The young dad in back of me pulls a ham sandwich out of his pocket with a big grin and chows down, thankful he came prepared.
I check my watch. Shortly after 11. I decide to reconnoitre, moving out and down the line, soon reporting back that we have at least a half dozen more corners to turn before we reach the front door.
“We’re gonna need a lot of hot dogs on Remembance Day,” says Jim. “I remember one time….”
It’s about two hours this morning from the back of the line to the door. There are good-natured moans when the gatekeeper steps in to cut off the next group. Eventually, of course, everybody makes it inside, waits a few minutes in the hallway, and is ushered into the gym where a dozen-plus tables are set up like an assembly line.
There are sounds of children crying, scenes of information being recorded, needles going into shoulders, and a general hubbub. Organized chaos.
In an adjoining room, there’s coffee. Some of those who have spent a friendly couple of hours in the lineup sit together for a few more minutes of conversation but soon go their own way, exiting out the side of the church.
For a couple of hours on a Friday, it wasn’t about the politics of health care, about long lineups and inadequate parking and about complaints of poor treatment.
It was a time to meet some new people and talk to them as though you were gabbing over the back fence with a neighbour. Oh, and there was a flu shot in there somewhere, too.