I have never before felt so simultaneously relieved to vote and deterred from it in all my life.
And it’s because of astounding voter turnout.
I spent my girlhood watching my parents and grandparents number among the first in line to vote, like voting in and of itself was insufficient. They made venturing to the polls in pre-dawn darkness seem like it marked their ballots for extra credit.
They were just go-getters.
I cast ballot No. 149 two hours after the polls opened at the Bush Recreation Center on Kemper Lane in Walnut Hills. The line wended from the polling room in a counterclockwise snake back past the front door and I very nearly turned on my heels and walked out to come back later.
I thought better of it because, like me, every voter is sick, terrorized and weary from the campaign ads that grew nastier and more prolific the closer we got to Election Day.
Plus, the black woman with the limp wearing the Coach baseball cap pulled low over her eyes who came in right behind me startled me with a friendly and sincere “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” I said, quietly as I quickly eyeballed the line of heavy-lidded folks fondling their smartphones.
Before I knew it, I was folded into the line and shaking hands with two of my neighbors who’d just beaten me there.
Waiting in line to vote this year was like waiting in line for a plate of food at a black family reunion, one I hadn’t been to in enough years that my fam was familiar strangers to me.
And like a black family reunion, there was a smattering of whites there. Only, instead of being on the arm of a chagrined cousin or uncle — you know the ones who bring white women to family functions and feel embarrassed by their tastes among the ones who’ll judge them the harshest — these white folks numbered among us because their ZIP codes put them there.
And I looked around and thought: This isn’t just my neighborhood, this looks like my America.
Shift workers, parents with young children and infants in tow, boisterous cell phone barkers wearing obnoxious sneakers and triple-XL athletic wear, old saints leaning on walkers and with oxygen tubes in their noses, young professionals, young grandmothers who’d raised their children and now their grandchildren on welfare and food stamps and then misfits like me.
Directly in front of me were two petite and feisty and mouthy black women of indeterminate age. One wore a sculpted Kool-Aid red wig and was a veteran of voting and of standing in lines for social services who cracked jokes about fights in line at the Freestore Foodbank and who had scathing, running commentary on “Ronmey,” his money and the Republicans’ deceptive voting billboards aimed at confused blacks in their own neighborhoods. Her counterpart was a voting virgin who’d been rousted out of bed by her friend to come vote.
Kool-Aid wig turned her humor and vitriol to anyone in line who’d listen and laugh, blurting out breathless chestnuts like: “They said my baby I call him my baby the president Obama my baby they say he didn’t do nothin’ in that first debate and I was like sheiiit we used to hangin’ back that what we do is hang back he cool.”
And on Ronmey, as she called him: “When he started using kids in his ads I say that’s the lowest of the low using kids you done scraped the bottom of the barrel talkin’ ’bout ‘our future is...’ he got all the money and don’t want nobody havin’ health care sheiiit the people with all the money got the worst health all that bad blood just gone up to Children’s Hospital.”
Meanwhile, the woman behind me with the Coach cap kept her eyes peeled on folks cutting line, like the big black man in the Pelle Pelle leather jacket and Reds flat-bill cap who came in 10 minutes and 30 people behind us but who laughed and talked his way into line just as it curved into the polling room. She was incensed and I didn’t care because cutting line to vote isn’t like cutting line to get food. There’ll be plenty left.
By the time I was a few steps from voting, I’d seen and spoken to a half dozen folks I hadn’t seen in a few years. We hugged, caught up and exchanged phone numbers. One, a young white woman who lives a few blocks from me whom I never see, caught my attention across the small lobby as our two sections of the line faced one another.
“Are you nervous?” I asked her.
“Because you’re surrounded by all these black people?” Folks within earshot laughed.
She sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes in good humor.
“And you better vote for Obama or I’m coming over there,” I said.
Just as I was about to go inside to check in, a short, old black gentleman pushing a wheeled walker with oxygen tubes dangling from his nose who wore a leather cap festooned with World War II emblems gingerly made his way to the back of the line.
I turned to the Coach cap-wearing woman, the voting line police, and asked if she’d be angry if I let the gentleman up in front of me.
Confusedly, she nodded yes but said no, she would not be upset. Thinking of my own grandparents, I took him by the arm, telling him he could come right on in front of us so he wouldn’t have to stand and wait the 45 minutes it’d taken me.
A black woman slapped me on the back and gave me an approving nod and a white woman standing near him said, “That makes it easy, doesn’t it?”
Yep. The easiest thing I’d done all year.
Besides voting for Obama.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]