Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election day and Indian summer

Two unrelated topics that happen to coincide this year: election day and Indian summer.

After looking at the forecast, I took today off. With the temperature projected to start dropping tomorrow, this really does look like my last day outdoors at Bonjour. It's tempting to return this afternoon for a final hurrah.

I voted at Montgomery Place, where there were two lines—a longer one for Precinct 38 and a shorter one for 37. The handwritten signs were so light that I didn't notice them until someone mentioned that there were separate lines based on precinct.

I stayed in the longer, right-hand (38) line out of habit, which turned out to be the right choice. It was perhaps 10-12 people long, and the elderly man ahead of me carefully felt for one of the chairs lined up against the wall. I'm not sure how much effort this saved him because, although I gave him plenty of room, he got up and changed chairs a couple of times as the line moved.

As he provided his information—like my father would have done, he gave his address as "Montgomery Place, whatever that is," although he knew the address because he spouted it effortlessly later—he added, "I'm blind." That explained why he sat so gingerly on the chairs. After he signed a form attesting to his disability, he was directed to a chair to wait for assistance. He looked ahead blankly, so I offered him my arm to lead him to it. He said, "Well, I can see your arm!" I did not quite know how to take that, but fortunately a judge came along to lead him. So much for my attempt at chivalry!

The judge started to read the choices and to mark the ballot—whether as indicated, who can say? I was sitting next to them and could hear all that was said, so it was not so secret. It's no wonder we treasure our individual independence once it is lost.

My turn. This was the strangest ballot I'd ever seen; instead of punching out holes to make my selections, I used a marker to connect two arrowheads by the choice or the candidate. The "booth" served only as a partial privacy shield/desk. The topmost question on the page was in the middle column and was about local district commissioners, I think. It took me a few moments to find the presidential candidates buried at the bottom of the left-hand column.

When I was done, I tried to put the ballot in the privacy sleeve, but one or two judicial retention votes peeked out obstinately. It would have taken only one more inch—but no matter. I plugged the ballot into the collection machine, which dutifully sucked it up—and dutifully spit it out. "Missing initials," it complained. I had to get a judge to initial it (which strikes me as odd and not very secure). The first two I went to to demurred and sent me to a man who scribbled, "KP" in the box. The machine accepted it; my vote was official. Time spent in line and voting? Perhaps 20 minutes.

Part of me would like to say that I was at the Grant Park rally, but my dominant reclusive introvert self, which hasn't been sleeping well lately, had no choice but to go home and avoid anxiety by reading. I did well for a while, but then I found out that Google News had posted an automatically updating map. It was fascinating and disturbing to watch the nation divide itself yet again along the usual lines.

The election appears to have been called between 10:00 and 10:05 p.m. CT. My first clue that it was time to check the map again was when I heard whooping and hollering from in front of the restaurant/bar downstairs.

I'm relieved that it's over. Months of hyperbole, ridiculous representations, and rampant paranoia. Racism was evident, but so was ageism—there were plenty of people who disqualified John McCain based on his age (not his health) and who pulled out every derisive age-ist term in the cliché book. In the past year I've learned that there are two characteristics left that are fair game for mockery and derision: age and weight. Someday I may be both old and fat. So may you. We should all find hatred about either unacceptable.

WWI veterans are virtually no more, and WWII and Korean War veterans are on their heels. As the oldest first-term presidential candidate, John McCain woke me up to the obvious: the young men I remember returning from Vietnam are not only no longer young; they are old. Somehow, I have lived half of a lifetime since then, although it seems like yesterday.

I don't envy Barack Obama. He's about to take over leadership of a nation that may be as troubled as at any point in its history. The difficulties are deep and wide, and the solutions will not be instant or immediate. With so much to do and such high expectations, he is bound to disappoint. As one woman I heard today said, "He's not only going to save black people; he's going to save the world."

That's quite a burden for any one person.

Yes, we can, we hope—but Obama needs to remind us, and we need to remind ourselves, that healing and reconstruction will take time and sacrifices.

Let's give them to him.


  1. Did you know that for us outside the US who never took part of the actual voting process, that this is the most under-reported part of the democratic process? How you know where to go to vote, how you actually do it, how the ballot looks like and what is it that you vote for beside the well-advertised sides of the coin... all that is a mystery. The networks may think it's the boring bit but without taking a peek, there is no way I could tell how it is for the Joe to go vote and become somebody (thinking of Tim Allen's Joe Somebody - not of plumbing...)

    Thank you for this bit, Diane.

  2. I wasn't in Chicago, much less Grant Park, but I did go to Springfield to see Obama and Biden after the convention. Being in a large crowd with no way out, literally, takes a lot of getting used to.

  3. Alexis: In the old days of a less glitzy (and profit-driven) media, a lifestyle reporter might have done a story about the voting process and how it's changed over the years. Now we're too busy talking about Paris Hilton and committing character assassinations.

    I used to know where to vote because the Democratic Party (machine in Chicago) used to leave flyers in every building. I used to vote at a local school. Then I was moved to Montgomery Place, where I've gone ever since. There were no flyers in my building, but I understand that you can also find your polling place online (I could not get Google Maps' vote site to cooperate, however).

    In every election, there are choices about local offices (this year, water reclamation district here) and whether to retain judges. These are difficult unless you follow recommendations made by the local paper or groups you believe in, e.g., the local Sierra Club. I would guess most people just ignore them or say "yes" or "no" to most to get it over with.

    On the Illinois ballet were questions about changing the state constitution (comes up every 20 years, apparently) and whether the governor should be able to be recalled. You don't want to know what I think about that.

    I remember now that this year I didn't see any straight party options, where you check something off and automatically vote ALL Democratic, ALL Republican, ALL Green, etc.

    I understand that my home state of New York still has the curtained voting booths with pull levers that I remember from my childhood. That is unbelievably cool to me.

    Michael: My aunt and I struggled for four hours, if I'm not exaggerating, to get out of a Beach Boys crowd around the Washington Monument (we were walking around innocently and didn't realize how bad our timing was). For someone like me, it was a horrifying experience. I felt a little like that at the free Sting concert a few years ago. Give me a blankie on the lawn at Ravinia any time.

    Besides, Obama eats here, in Hyde Park, and lives a mile and a half from me. Until he sells, of course. I gather many Hyde Parkers have run into him since his political star began to rise. I'm not one of them. I need to get out more. Perhaps he could be persuaded to try the tarts at Bonjour?