FIRST thing: I hate needles.
Yes, sure, we all do, but I can take it to the next level. So it takes a special reason to get me up to a place that exists solely to the purpose of sticking needles in your arm.
Turns out the promise of life beyond COVID was a good enough reason. And with fears that a large chunk of people might be delaying getting vaccinated, I thought I'd share my story of a trip to the NSW Vaccination Centre this week.
I was one of more than 5000 people who headed to jab central in Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush, on Monday. Remember the scene in E.T. when the feds came and covered the doors with a series of tents? That was the vibe on arrival.
Once allowed entry, instead of the bustling, breathy crowd I'd expected, the path ahead was clear, save for an abundance of ushers making sure you didn't hesitate for uncertainty. All friendly and upbeat, like they'd just been hired from Hosts R Us.
Just enough time for a quick pic to show the kids before a manager came and said no more photos. A sticker bearing a code for why I'm here, and another saying something else, are installed on my shirt. Next, after the series of gatekeepers, came a series of QR code scans. After a quick triage chat I enter Pod 2.
It wouldn't be the NSW Government if there wasn't a good long waiting room - and what a waiting room this is. Imagine the boffins who designed your local RMS were given a blank cheque, half an acre of of office space, and told "go for it, but a little bit friendly".
Enormous flat screens hang from the ceiling showing the ticket number being called. Music is playing - it's simple and nondescript, except for occasional chimes and monkey sounds - because we're on hold. There's vending machines and mobile phone charging stations. Indoor plants have been hired to become nicer barriers than carpeted petitions.
After being hurried in I'm now No. 580 in this flesh-sticking deli ... and they're serving No. 495. I settle in to shallow breathing like a ninja slowing down his metabolism for a long hide. After all the space outdoors, we will be spending hours indoors with hundreds of others, tickets in hand.
They're as vast and varied as their city. Many are under 50, many not. It's hard to pick what groups them together. With some it's obvious, if you know the potential reasons. With most it's not.
They're health care workers, people with underlying medical conditions, police and fire fighters, nurses. A good chance for a bit of sneaker envy - on their feet all day, nurses and doctors have great shoes.
This being Sydney, someone's having a loud chat on their phone in the middle of the room so we're all invited to help solve her problems. Many people are coughing.
"No photography!" calls a supervisor. We are being watched intently. I'm determined to get some pics. Luckily I already had. No photos, repeats another supervisor. I remember seeing, as I arrived, a professional photographer just leaving, laden with lenses.
We're flying through the numbers. It can't be more than 12 minutes since I was ushered to my seat at the front of a 1.5m grid setup, and we're up to 551 already. This is one major operation and it's mighty impressive.
Stretching out beside us are the vaccination stations. The lady to my right has been called up. An aide swoops and cleans and sanitises her chair. No trace. Sweat's beading on my upper lip inside my mask but I dare not pull it aside. This is how Rudy Giuliani got caught out.
I'm next. It worked. I'm through. My reward is to be stuck with a needle - and to start seeing the world beyond COVID. Who needs any more incentive than that?
The needle is long and I have to remind myself I came here freely and enthusiastically. The nurse is a top pro and it's done before I even finish a few selfies. I hardly noticed. I'm given another sticker which signifies how long I have to stay in an observation waiting room, where the big screens feature calm green bush and lake scenes. The music's louder and a bit like a murder mystery. The air doesn't move much.
One bloke gets faint and has to lie down on the ground; a lady nearby is nauseous and dizzy. They receive plenty of attention. A nurse questions her: is the room spinning? Is the room spinning? The woman offers a feeble "not yet".
Both are OK before long. Two out of more than 100 in 15 minutes isn't bad.
This is one major, impressive operation - a show of what government can do if the will, and the money, are there. I was inside for a total of 50 minutes - including 15 in observation.
Olympic Park, an earlier example of this, makes a fitting setting. Don't believe any authority that says building a bridge or an accessible stairway is too hard.
This place, with its wide footpaths, generous facilities, abundant parking and clear, helpful signage, is proof. It's like Canberra, complete with far fewer people using it than there is room for.