I am Madeline Kahn in Clue, feeling flames on the side of my face. I am Peter Finch in Network, mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I am the cast of Office Space, murdering their office tech supplies in a field with a baseball bat. I am Sissy Spacek at the prom. I am living in a van down by the river. Terence Stamp from The Limey has just come into my office to explain it all, and there’s one thing I don’t understand, and the thing I don’t understand is every motherf*cking word the Oregon Health Authority’s online vaccine scheduling tool is saying.
Thousands of people signed up themselves or their septuagenarian friends and family this morning using Oregon’s online scheduler. “My friend just told me she breezed through it,” a coworker tells me as I’m sharing my frustration on the office Slack. Good for them. La-di-frickin-da. For me, trying to schedule a first dose for two 70-something neighbors who are not the most tech-savvy, no such luck. The state reported some 200,000 users trying to make appointments Monday morning, when 70-year-olds could first sign up, overwhelming its systems. On Monday, I spent a lot of time waiting for pages to load. A list of times appeared for a fleeting second and disappeared. For the Thursday-morning appointment drop, only 3,800 users at a time would be able to access the site. At various points, I was one of them. I think. Or maybe two or three of them, since I had engaged my work computer, my phone, and a laptop in this effort. Maybe next time I’ll commandeer my children’s Portland Public Schools–issued Chromebooks, too. I was in possession of way too much of my neighbors’ private information (with their permission), I had reviewed the state’s tip sheet on navigating the scheduling system, and I was ready.
At one point, Device 1 looks close, with a steadily beating heart image assuring me something was loading. Kesha’s “Die Young” is in my head, feeling your heart beat to the beat of drum. I am full of hope, surely just moments away from walking over to one neighbor’s driveway and shouting from a safe distance that I have succeeded. Device 2 has a white screen, but it’s mere backup. Device 3 displays “Our site is really busy at the moment,” and that’s OK. Device 1 is about to deliver. But wait. Device 1 is warning me my session is about to time out if I don't do something, even though the page is still loading. The soundtrack in my head changes to Paul Westerberg’s “Dyslexic Heart.” Do I read you correctly, state vaccine scheduling tool? Do I hate you? Do I date you? Are you just playing, making passes? Your heart could use some glasses.
The beating heart turns into a sad face. Device 2 still appears to be down for the count. But, after inviting me to gaze for a while at Mount Hood and its green foothills, Device 3 is showing me some appointment times. By the time I click the captcha and get to the next screen, though, the time I picked is unavailable. I’ve gone out and back in on Device 1, and now I’ve hit a new wrinkle: a request to enter “the 8 digit code you have been provided.” Eh? I look through my open tabs. No code. I check my email (yes, all the spam and junk and promotions folders, too), and there’s nothing. I have received no texts. I call my neighbor and ask him to check, even though I gave my contact information on our account. I call the number listed for help, and after an endless spiraling phone tree the recording tells me to check the website or call back later, and then it just hangs up on me. I email and text, too. An hour later I see a clue on Twitter that the 8-digit code has to do with an appointment url that should have appeared when I clicked on the time, but at the time I see no such thing.
I leave the code-request tab open while I go back to the beginning and try again. Times appear and disappear. I pick one and am told it’s not longer available and I should pick another. When I do, I get “we are experiencing a problem with our server.”
My mind and mood are now plowing through Kafka, Orwell, Dante, and Conan the Barbarian, my internal soundtrack skipping right over Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (which is fundamentally a song of hope and generational revolution—children’s choirs should sing it at ballot dropboxes) and going full biblical Coolio. As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at all of my screens and realize there are no appointments left. I hear Walgreens is opening more appointments this weekend, and Monday morning I can enter this circle of hell once more, competing with another five birth years’ worth of people seeking appointments.