9:03 a.m. - I walked into one of ASU’s state-of-the-art testing facilities located in Sun Devil Hall, my home for the next 10 hours and a permanent home for asbestos. I informed the facility workers that I was not there to be tested, only to observe. They quickly told me they needed to keep a sterile environment, so they handed me a moist towelette with an expiration date of March 2003. I waited for the first people to arrive and my eyes began to scour the room in front of me. Near the entrance was the check-in table with three lines labeled “Symptomatic,” “Asymptomatic” and “Geminis.” On the wall behind the check-in, I noted a counter that read “13 minutes since our last positive case.” In the corner, a birthday clown blows up balloons that say “We got this!” seemingly for motivational support. Big white tarps have been erected to form several sections of small three-sided cubicles each containing a single chair, and in the center of the room, two armed guards pace back and forth.
9:18 a.m. - The first customer student comes into the facility, a cheerful-looking freshman with a red backpack on her shoulder. She checks in and receives her testing kit, which contains a plastic straw, a plastic bag, a wet wipe and what appears to be a reconfigured Starbucks cup — grande size. It was then I learned ASU had extended its partnership with Starbucks. The student asked for some water to make her mouth less dry but was informed she could not leave the facility until she had filled up her cup with saliva to the two-espresso-shot line.
9:21 a.m. - Cheers suddenly erupted around the facility. All of the workers pulled off their masks to celebrate, several of them appearing to recreate the kissing scene from The Notebook as another popped a bottle of champagne to simulate the rain. It soon became clear why they were celebrating: The counter was flashing “27 minutes since our last positive case” — a new record.
9:22 a.m. - The counter resets to zero, the facility collectively groans (including the roof, which appears to be caving in.)
10:13 a.m. - A slow but steady stream of students has made its way through the facility. While some students seem to have a plethora of saliva (one actually overflowed their grande cup), my friend with the red backpack from the very beginning is still struggling in her cubicle, the sad sounds of dry lips smacking together emanating from her direction.
11:49 a.m. - Two students with luggage in tow enter the facility and I decide to inquire as to why they appear to be headed to the airport. “We actually came from there. We live in Michigan but we were randomly selected by ASU to get tested,” the first student said. “If we didn’t get tested here, they threatened to take our scholarships, force us to eat red meat, and kill our goldfish... Oh, and they would reset our MyASU password,” the other said.
1:05 p.m. - Red Backpack finally emerges from her cubicle four hours later. By now, dozens of students have been through the facility. As she walked to turn in her sample, she tripped over one of the masking tape arrows on the floor and spilled her sample. I saw her dry lips whimper and a tearless cry escaped her mouth before she was lifted by the guards and ushered back into the cubicle to start all over again.
1:49 p.m. - A group of five fraternity brothers drunkenly stumbled into the facility. While they made their way through the line and into the cubicles fine, each of them went through several test kits as they kept accidentally vomiting Natty Light into the cup. Red Backpack looked on in awe at the amount of liquid they were able to produce as she sat with a yellow dish sponge in her mouth hoping to soak up every last drop.
2:46 p.m. - The birthday clown finished blowing up all 350 balloons. He quickly disappeared into a cubicle and Michael Crow emerged, only to levitate 6 inches above the hardwood floor and exclaim, “I have money to take — I mean make!” before evaporating in a flash of maroon light and sulfurous smoke.
3:32 p.m. - Red Backpack built a shrine to Poseidon, praying for saliva.
3:53 p.m. - The entire ASU football team entered the facility. When they were informed that facemasks in football and face masks for COVID-19 are not the same thing, a riot ensued. Red Backpack tried to use this opportunity to escape, but the guards quickly snatched her and padlocked her to the floor of her cubicle. A familiar maroon light flooded the room as Michael Crow appeared 10 feet above the feuding crowd. “You will give them negative tests. Only the best for our money bags,” he said, waving his hands. I can’t recall what happened after that.
4:37 p.m. - When I came to, a test-kit-straw spitball fight broke out among several students. The workers and guards attempted to stop the fight but ultimately decided to join it. One girl sniped everyone from the Symptomatic zone and was declared the winner. Red Backpack hustled to grab as many spitballs as possible to hopefully fill up her sample cup.
5:02 p.m. - The guards found Red Backpack assembling a machine to squeeze all of the spit out of her collection. They confiscated it and rubber-stamped her forehead with the words “Wrong Kind of Innovator.”
7:00 p.m. - As I got ready to finally leave my post, I walked over to Red Backpack’s cubicle, wondering if she’d ever finished her test. I was surprised to see her sitting in an old leather armchair, reading Moby Dick aloud at her hearth while her grandkids sat cross-legged on the carpet listening intently. I’m glad she’s happy in her new home.