There was a time in St. Augustine–not too long ago–when we’d stop at a roadside gas station to “fill-er-up” and use the restroom. Perhaps, we’d pick up a scratch-off card, or a sweet or salty snack and a beverage before getting on the road. But what about all those times when we needed gas and a bikini, or a lawn chair and barbeque, or a pound of Texas brisket, a box of fudge or a jar of pickled quail eggs? What were we to do?
Well, now there’s Buc-ee’s!
Newly opened along I-95 by World Golf Village, Buc-ee’s, a Texas import now lays claim as the largest filling station in Florida with 104 pumps…
and 53,000 sq. ft. of convenience store space.
Pandemic aside, after a St. Johns County ribbon-cutting on Feb. 21, patrons were idling their engines at 4 am the next day, anxiously waiting for a taste,
and a hug.
But this eager beaver is not resting on its laurels. In one month’s time, Buc-ee’s will be opening in Daytona Beach with 110 pumps, damming St. Augustine’s bragging rights as Florida’s newest largest gas station.
Ever since Ron DeSantis, Trump’s toady and Florida’s Republican governor decided to ignore CDC guidelines for rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s been a confusing patchwork of inefficiency for Florida’s 67 counties. Of course, first-responders, front-line healthcare workers and long-term facility residents were early targets. However, rather than vaccinate the area’s essential workers–in an effort to stem the tide of infection–DeSantis determined that Phase 1 inoculations should also be delivered to a more vulnerable and deserving population of seniors 65 and older. Rightfully, critics have accused DeSantis of politicizing the vaccine priority as a bow to those who supported his election 2 years ago.
This week, county health department officials throughout Florida received nearly 94,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, with 3,000 doses slated for St. Johns, my home county. Leah and I have been actively following the announcements through state and local websites, and wondered how this would trickle down to us. We were determined to bob and weave through the bureaucracy for a chance that whatever news we learned would lead us in a useful direction.
Yesterday, we latched onto a hotline phone number that promised to connect us to a human who’d be scheduling appointments, but no matter when we called, the line was either busy, never connected, or went to voice mail. An after-hour answering service eventually took our information, but failed to return our call.
“Hurry up!” Leah shouted, running into the bedroom. The weight of 365 days of 2020 had worn me out, and I was comfortably lounging in bed. I glanced at the night table clock. It was 8:30am.
“Let’s go!” she commanded. “The Health Department is giving out the vaccine, and cars are already lining up across the street.” Leah had been on her morning walk, when she received a call from a neighbor–who on a whim, woke early, and was now first in line since 8am.
By 8:45am, I was behind the wheel, and behind a long string of sedans and SUVs, waiting to turn the corner from US-1 onto San Sebastian View, approaching the St. John’s County Administration building.
Leah and I slowly crept forward for the next hour until we turned the corner. We were making progress.
Eventually, we arrived at the first checkpoint…
where a healthcare worker offered us a sanitized clipboard with a validation form listing cautionary medical conditions, and alerting us to potential medical risks and complications for this unapproved, albeit emergency-authorized vaccine. We were instructed to tell our vaccination provider about:
a lapsed fever
a bleeding disorder
blood thinner usage
a current or planned pregnancy
any breastfeeding activity
or if we have received any other COVID-19 vaccine.
We inched closer to the next checkpoint…
where Private Johnson, 1st Class of the U.S. Army entertained us while we waited further still. I had nothing but questions for him.
“How many shots have been given out so far, today?” I asked.
“I heard someone say 58 seniors over the past 2 hours, since opening at 9am,” he informed.
“So what happened to ‘appointments only’?” I asked.
“I really can’t answer that.” he asserted.
“But how did everyone even know about this vaccination site?” I queried.
“Beats me! Social media, most likely.” he posited. “All I know is that after 100,000 inquiries yesterday, the phones crashed, and people started showing up.”
“You mean, the Health Department was giving shots here yesterday, and there was no promotion or notification?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. So much for organization.
Our conversation was cut short when I was directed to move closer to the RN station. After two hours, Leah and I relaxed our arms, and we finally received our experimental pokes.
We were directed to a 15-minute waiting zone where EMT would monitor us for:
swelling of face or throat
a rapid heartbeat
a nasty rash all over our body
While waiting, I couldn’t help but ponder the many conspiracies spewed by Alex Jones and QAnon advocates surrounding the vaccine: No, I don’t believe that Bill Gates implanted a 5G-enabled microchip to surveil me; I don’t believe I was injected with Satan’s blood. I don’t believe my DNA was altered to turn me into a cannibal or a pedophile; and I don’t believe my immune system has now been compromised, leaving me open to greater infection.
Thankfully, after 15 minutes, Leah and I remained symptom-free.
The entire process took 2 1/2 hours, door to door. At home, I pealed the Band-aid off my left upper arm–not even a speck of blood showing.
Four weeks from now, we’ll repeat the process, as we anticipate the second dose. Perhaps by then, the roll-out will be more predictable.
But more importantly, new leadership will be moving our nation forward in a different direction, and there will be much less to fear besides COVID-19.
The day in St. Augustine started out dreary, with passing drizzle and smoky cloud cover, but with the polar vortex finally loosening its grip on the Midwest, and the California coastline bracing for epic rain and mud, the local weather seemed well within the bounds of “I can’t complain” conditions for a Florida weekend.
Nevertheless, taking a chance on an outdoor activity seemed risky. So Leah and I hedged our bets and we traveled to St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, where $12.95 will buy a St. Johns County resident general admission for one year. We figured that we could always duck the rain…
by browsing the Keeper’s house,
and following the marble tiles to the landing anchorage.
Then it’s 219 steps to the top.
Congress authorized new construction in 1870 to replace the fading “Old Spanish Watchtower” by the shoreline, that’s evolved since the late 1500’s.
$100,000 funded three years of construction.
Tourists have been climbing the corkscrew stairs since 1910. The Philadelphia iron works…
hug the walls of the 165 foot Alabama brick structure,
occasionally interrupted by keyhole glimpses of life…
until the stairs reach an opening…
to a 360-degree lookout…
that’s capped by 370 hand-cut glass prisms arranged in a beehive shape towering twelve feet tall and six feet in diameter.
The original lens was restored in 1992 because of vandals,
and re-lit by a 1000-watt bulb the following year.
Today, the tower represents the oldest brick structure in St. Augustine, and shines a bright light on a community that preserves its heritage, protects through its presence, and invests in its future.