Tuesday, November 02, 2004

It's been a long, long day and it's going to be a long night.

I started the day in line at my local polling place, on the second floor of an assisted-living facility a block from home. The lines were already long at 7:30 am, and long-timers in the precinct were saying that they'd never seen anything like it.

It's an interesting neighborhood: we're north of Pico-Robertson, the big Jewish and Jewish/Iranian enclave. We're south of Beverly Hills by a mere block. Lots of retirement-age folks in the neighborhood, and lots of immigrants.

In the voting line, the couple in front of me were from the former Soviet Union. They spoke Russian to each other, and heavily accented English to me. Ahead of them, a man with a heavy Farsi accent asked the fellow next to him (Arabic speaking, judging from his accent) for his opinion about one of the ballot initiatives. That sparked a lively conversation in the line, debating the pros and cons of stem cell research. The Arabic accented fellow worried that it would cost millions of dollars, and who would pay? The Farsi-speaker looked worried; he hadn't thought about that. All the diseases they could cure, surely?

Then he said to the guy next to him, "You want the old one, or the new?"

"Old or new, what do you mean?"

"Old Bush, or the Kerry fellow?"

"Well, what do you think?"

The couple just ahead of me said that they were afraid to vote for anyone but Bush, and looked at me for agreement. I hadn't planned to participate, but heck, I was not going to let anyone put his vote on my ballot. "Some of us are afraid NOT to vote for Kerry," I said.

"But the terrorists! And the war! You cannot change presidents in a war!" they protested. I just shook my head.

Others around us began to chime in with their own two cents' worth. Both parties were enthusiastically represented. The un-airconditioned hallway felt very close and hot. Voices began to rise. I began to sweat. I did not come to L.A. to die in a geriatric riot.

"Thank God we're in America," I chirped, as enthusiastically as I could manage. "We can disagree!"

"Yes! Thank God!" Everyone nodded and the tension was gone.

Thank God, indeed. Most of the people in the line with me today were not born in the United States; most of them, I'm guessing, can appreciate that precious ballot in a way I can only imagine. A polling place is a kind of holy ground, a place where people try to combine their own best opinion with the opinions of their neighbors. Some have fancy degrees; some came up through the school of hard knocks. The wise and the foolish each get a single vote, and the result is their common effort. In the voting line, we are no longer an assortment of individuals; we become, on election night, We the People.

I don't know who's going to live in the White House next year. I have my hopes, and I have my fears. I told a friend today that I'd vote for Richard Nixon before I'd vote for George W. Bush, but I said to someone else that if my candidate loses, I am most certainly NOT moving to Canada, or England, or even to Israel.

I'm staying right here.

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