A Journey to a LAUSD COVID-19 Testing Site

Carter

It’s late October in Los Angeles. You have no idea whether it’ll be in the mid 90’s one day or raining the next, and the forecast doesn’t offer much clarity. Most of us are stuck at home, as we have been for the past…God who knows. 

“Stuck at home” is a strange way of putting it, considering that most of us Angelenos are still going out in small groups to brave our infected city. I sit in a dimly lit room eating cappacuolo as I write, one finds themselves eating much more meat when the world feels like it’s coming to a close.

 I was thrown into this story along with my friend, Julian Lopez-Albany. Our job was simply to go to a COVID-19 testing site and report back on the state of things. 

Testing sites seem like a light at the end of the tunnel, a chance at some semblance of normalcy. But probably not.  

We decided it would be best to walk to the closest one, which was a mile from either of us. An absurd journey, as absurd, strange, distraught and beautiful as our current world. An odd journey with an even stranger destination.  

Signing up was simple. I had a quick online form to fill out to schedule my appointment, and we were ready. I had to force myself to wake up early, as most rational people sleep until noon nowadays. 

At the intersection of Venice and Walgrove I saw a man yelling at the wind. I don’t remember the exact song playing as I heard his cries towards an invisible enemy. Thinking back, I think it was Journey, oddly enough. A suggested playlist had brought me to the tale of the small-town girl and the city boy and the world had brought me a man yelling at an enigma. His mind had conjured up some dark tale as all of ours do, but to him the line between imaginary and real was becoming blurred. It’s starting to feel like that for me too. I thought about interviewing him for a brief moment, but before I could get the chance, my body had spontaneously taken me a mile down Venice. 

At this point, I begin recording my journey as I am close to Lopez-Albany’s house.  

Oye, I’m outside,” I yelled at my phone.

“Yeah, just come in.” he replied.

Julian usually has his door wide open. Julian rarely wears pants anymore. We all have our absurd coping mechanisms for this harsh new world—I eat meat, Julian abandons pants and the realism of life itself. I’ve walked more than three miles with him while he wears nothing but boxers and a wife-beater. You don’t acknowledge these things as odd until you put them down on writing.

I enter his one-bedroom apartment and am immediately greeted by a stare from him— that’s usually how we greet each other at this point. A stare, a nod and then we’re off. 

“I bought something.” I say as I reach into my bag. About a week before I had bought a gas mask.

After walking down Centinela for a bit, we were finally at the testing area. Julian lives on the street, so the journey was anything but complex. The same Venice scenery we all know and love. You get desensitized to these things. Bum fights are something we’ve all seen on some cool fall night in LA. I love this city. We were at our destination. 

I didn’t realize there was a school where this school was. Some familiar scenery that goes unnoticed no matter how many times you pass it. It’s not as if it’s shocking, it’s just not a school you’ve visited so you pay it no mind. Like that house up your street. You’ve never been inside, you don’t know anyone who has, so it’s just another house out of thousands within a mile of yours. 

We got there about thirty minutes early. My concept of time isn’t what it used to be. Now, I either arrive thirty minutes early or thirty minutes late. Me being punctual is a rarity. So we waited. 

We then met Edward Regalado, a tall man with a black sweatsuit on during a day that lent itself to sweating profusely. On top of his sweatsuit was a neon vest, leading us to the assumption that he worked at the testing site.

 Before we could even ask for an interview, he spoke to us. He overheard our conversation about Halloween and asked us what our plans were. We talked about our plans to perhaps indulge in some god awful horror movies as well as how different this Halloween would be. Regalado and the two of us spoke about the times of simplicity, children running around in a school courtyard, some Rockwellian life we all love and miss. 

“That’s what I miss, man” he said as he pointed at a young child running around in the grass with her mother. “Childhood innocence.”

The life we didn’t know was as simple as it was. My conversation with Edward wasn’t as long as my appointment was ready in a moment’s notice.

Carter

The appointment was actually much simpler than I thought it would be. I walked in and was greeted by a lady at reception who I swear works at Venice. I don’t know anymore— faces blur, and it feels like I’m stuck in some prototype for a Caretaker album. I was told to follow a strategic line of blue arrows and orange X’s on the floor. 

Another familiar face asked for emails and signatures. It felt like something out of some weird 80s movie like They Live—you know it’s familiar, you can quote it, but you can’t place your finger on why. I had been here before—  it wasn’t déjà vu, but just an eerie recognition of my surroundings. 

After completing all the forms, I was given a long Q-tip about five inches in length and told to stick it in my nose. I had always been afraid of those tests where the doctor shoves that same Q-tip aggressively into your nose. But alas my pineal gland would have to wait, thank god. It’s odd that I had to administer my own test; I thought that only nurses and doctors were allowed to give it. 

After this, my nasal swab was swept away into a test tube with my name written on it sent to the fine labs of Quantico, or some lab of the sorts. As the process was incredibly quick, I was unable to ask questions. Before they had formed, I was out the door. Within a moment’s notice, I was back outside with Julian. 

Julian

While I was outside the testing center, I began to take pictures of my surroundings. The ominously colorful signs, Carter’s agitation, the reflective vests required for every volunteer. I was stricken with anxiety when photographing our new normal. Picture after picture flooded my camera roll until I found myself at the back of the school waiting for Carter. 

To my surprise, Regalado was patrolling the lot. I said hello and we chatted once more. We talked about The Oarsman and the article. We discussed on a deeper level how obviously insane our reality has become, and reminisced on how grateful we were for our old lives. The sun beamed down on me and I thought, ‘When would this man stop talking to me?’.

By the time I felt that our conversation was coming to a close, Carter stumbled out of the building, disoriented. I ran towards him and collected him before he could fall onto the concrete. I looked behind me and Regalado was waving goodbye. Carter and I waved back at him and walked off, by this time Carter could walk without my help. 

Carter

Down the street from the school sat an abandoned laundromat. Julian asked me to stop—he wanted pictures for the article. A homeless man’s tent sat in front, which made it an intriguing scene. 

As we continued down this strange side street, we met Venice Blvd, greeted by a barber shop, a Yum Yums, and a peculiar bowling alley I had been to only a few times. As we crossed the street I saw a bizarre metal frame, probably some store overhang brought down and cast aside. Who knows how it ended up there. Why it stood out I don’t know; it should’ve been just another piece of scenery. I stood on it for a moment. Julian doesn’t cross the street when the orange hand is on. This is odd for someone who doesn’t wear pants in public. 

Sunny Grill was the end of the line. I stopped the Voice Memos recording of everything while waiting to order. I don’t know why I always end up here. The food isn’t great, but it’s cheap. I order chicken fingers, a nostalgic piece of food for me. It’s timeless, and as I said at the beginning, one finds themselves eating a lot more meat when the world feels it’s coming to a close. I take off the top straps of the mask I’ve been wearing to drink my Sprite and eat my fries. 

“Is that Sebastian?” I don’t know who I was asking. Julian met Sebastian once and didn’t remember that meeting, so he wouldn’t have known him. 

“Who’s Sebastian?” he asked.

“Hold on,” I said, taking out my phone to text him. 

It wasn’t Sebastian. I ate my food, drank my drink. I swear that looked just like Sebastian. 

Two days later, my test comes out negative.