Months ago, I started a tattered flag photo series on Instagram. The flags are not all literally tattered but in some way they are a symbol of our tattered nation and the election of 2016.
Last week I was visiting my older daughter in Lake Tahoe. She and her boyfriend, along with my husband, like to golf. It’s not my thing, so on the days they hit the golf course they would drop me off in Truckee where I wandered the streets. I find the most interesting photos are hiding on the back roads so I walked along the railroad tracks and the side streets where old houses are tucked in together, imagining them buried in snow, snuggling to keep warm.
I am a lifelong liberal. The prospect of a President Trump is beyond the borders of frightening. However, from my perspective, the powers that be — the wealthy donors, the respective political parties, the Super Pacs, the media — have given hardworking, taxpaying citizens an election without a choice this year. I honestly feel like someone grabbed me by the neck and shoved me up against a wall and said “you have to vote for her.”
“I know. I know. I will. I promise,” I answer in a strangled voice, gasping for air. The night before one of my afternoons in Truckee, before the weekend of the hot mic that revealed some disgusting locker room talk between Trump and Billy Bush, I finally stopped procrastinating and registered on-line to vote in Vermont. The next morning I received a reply. “Congratulations, you’re registered to vote.”
I posted the news on Facebook along with my doubts, concerns, and trepidation. Within seconds a ‘friend’, someone I only know through another friend I met after I wrote a blog about his book, called me a BernieBot and said “Fuck you, Enjoy President Trump.” It’s unsettling to receive these kinds of things so I started shaking, immediately deleted my rather innocuous post, and before I could block him, he blocked me. These are the times we live in. So much for civility and freedom of speech. This guy is voting for Hillary and so am I, albeit reluctantly. Politics is a blood sport these days.
In Truckee I took so many pictures my phone battery died. I was in need of an electrical outlet. The Bar of America seemed like an ironically appropriate place. They had outlets all along the walls and their menu offered The Stiff Drink. “Oh come on everyone asks for one, so here it is, with a Bacardi 151 float!” After last night’s emaiI, maybe I could have used one of those but instead I ordered a margarita. A passing train blew its whistle as I took my first tart limey sip. The Orioles were playing the Bluejays and at five o’clock the place was filling up fast.
This is a small town. The owner of the bar traveled from table to table talking to the locals. A guy passing by on the sidewalk knocked on the window and waved at two couples sitting at a table behind my barstool. “That’s my barber,” one of the guys told the other three. Another couple sat down next to me and ordered a half dozen chili rellenos standing up in shot glasses filled with a pink creamy dipping sauce. They also ordered boilermakers. The husband dropped his shot glass of whisky into his mug of draft IPA and some of it spilled over the side. “You did it wrong,” his wife told him. “You have to sip some of the beer first.” She proceeded to show him how it is done, perfectly.
The husband had a long gray ponytail and the wife looked like a friend of mine I met while working at the Inn. I quickly struck up a conversation. They are building a house up in the mountains outside of town and the wife showed me pictures on her phone. I told them about our house in Vermont and showed them pictures of the collapsing foundation and the renovation. Their kids had attended a private boarding school in Concord, MA so they were familiar with New England. We discussed my Rhode Island accent and I told them I never thought to change it but wished I had.
“Regional accents are good,” the husband said. “So, Vermont. That’s where a certain senator with the initials B.S. is from, right?”
I wondered when we’d get to the topic of the election of 2016. It seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. Did he mean bullshit when he used Bernie’s initials? Despite that possibility I decided, What the hell. The couple was friendly and I’d ordered my second margarita. I decided to go there. “You mean Bernie Sanders? Yeah, I voted for him in the primary when I was living in Connecticut.”
“So did we!” they said simultaneously, the husband slapping his hand down on the bar. Phew! A barroom brawl avoided. It seemed as if the three of us breathed a collective sigh of relief which released the flood gates holding back the desire to talk about the underlying hum of anxiety that has gripped the nation.
“Trump is beyond awful but I don’t trust Hillary,” he said.
“Well, it doesn’t matter. We have to vote for her,” she told him.
“No we don’t. We live in California. He’s not going to win this state.”
“I’ve contemplated the same thing.” I admitted. “He won’t win Vermont either and we’re dealing with an electoral college so we could lodge a protest and not vote. Still, I’ve never not voted. Democracy doesn’t work if we don’t vote.”
“Do you really think it’s working now?” he asked.
“No, not even close, but we have to protect the Supreme Court.”
“Do you think she means what she says about Citizens United?”
“No. Maybe…” I laughed nervously. “We can only hope, right?”
They nodded in solemn agreement and we changed the subject to the new Thursday night football uniforms. The wife and I didn’t like them. He did.
One of the pictures I took in Truckee was of a flag hanging from a porch with a Trump/Pence sign on the front lawn. It was snuggled between two houses, both with Tibetan prayer flags strung along their front porches. Do we assume the Tibetan prayer neighbors are liberals and the Trump family are bigots? It’s hard to imagine voting for Trump and ignoring all the atrocious things he says, but maybe they are low information voters who aren’t tuned in? Maybe they get all their info from a certain news channel? Are they tired of politics as usual? Do they think an outsider, a businessman who doesn’t pay taxes, will improve their lives and clean up Washington? Do these neighbors get along?
These questions are impossible to answer and if you think any of these divides and issues and problems are going away after the election you’re a better dreamer than I.
The following night we were in South Lake Tahoe and had dinner at an old-fashioned Italian restaurant that played Frank Sinatra, had a large salad bar, and a 1950’s Italian trattoria vibe. I asked my daughter if she’d registered to vote. Yes, and she’s voting for Hillary.
“We need to get you registered, too” I told Rich. “We’ll do it when we get back to the room.”
We discussed the election for a bit although Rich hates discussing politics. A woman two tables over called out, “I’m sorry but I couldn’t help overhearing some of what you were talking about just now. So…” She hesitated. “Do you mind? Ummm, you know… I was just wondering… Who are you voting for?”
Rich nudged me under the table. The Don’t Get Started nudge, but I ignored him. “We’re voting for Hillary. Reluctantly, but the alternative is unthinkable.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “We are, too. But his..” she pointed to her husband, “his co-workers at the distribution center where he works are all voting for Trump and it’s so scary. We were beginning to think he might actually win this thing.”
They live over the border in Nevada which at the time I am writing this has Hillary up four percentage points in the polls. We talked for awhile. “I don’t see how he can win,” I said, trying to reassure her but what do I know? The waitress brought our bill and we got up to leave. “Good luck to all of us,” the worried woman from Nevada said as we walked toward the door.
Lost in all the profanity and bullying and obscenity of Trump over the weekend of the hot mic locker room conversation and the debate that embarrassed a nation was also the news of Hillary’s Goldman Sachs speeches. My heart sank when I read about it. It left me with an anxious feeling in my gut. All that trepidation and doubt that brought about the hate email I received.
On Wednesday at the Salt Lake City airport while waiting to board our flight my husband struck up a conversation with a guy wearing a New England Patriots sweatshirt and a U.S. Marine baseball cap. They talked about Tom Brady and how he was on fire during Sunday’s game. A man with a mission. I joined in and added, “There’s no stopping him when he’s pissed.” Rich asked the Marine where he lived and he told us Rhode Island. We got into the where in Rhode Island are you from conversation. I grew up in Warwick, he grew up in West Greenwich, his wife was from Cranston.
“We live in Vermont now,” Rich told them.
“Aaaah, Bernie country,” he said. “We voted for him. He won Rhode Island. I couldn’t believe it.” He said this with a smile full of wonder then frowned. “Now we got a mess on our hands. Trump’s a raving lunatic. And her….I can’t bring myself to vote for her. Don’t trust her. I’m sitting this one out.” His wife nodded in agreement. I didn’t say it out loud but I thought to myself, Bernie was as pissed as Brady but politics is a different game than football. And yes, I know, if you want to bring deflategate into the discussion some would say both games are equally rigged. Such is the world we live in.
A guy wearing a Korean War baseball cap came over to shake the Marine’s hand and said, “Thanks for your service.”
“Well, thank you too,” the guy from Rhode Island replied.
“I always make a point of thanking another vet.”
It was time to board our plane. We were flying Southwest. The veterans had an A boarding pass. We were a C.
Before I could vote, when I was sixteen, I rode my bike to McGovern headquarters in Warwick, R.I. to phone bank for George McGovern. I was twelve the day RFK died and I cried. My first presidential vote went to Jimmy Carter in 1976. It’s been a long forty years and a lot of elections haven’t gone my way but that’s how democracy works. I have canvased and phone banked for Barack Obama, John Kerry, and other Democrats over the years. I’ve contributed small dollar amounts to campaigns. I sent twenty seven dollars to Bernie times four. I have never not voted, even in the mid-terms. Raised by a U.S. History teacher, I understand my civic duty. I know my vote is my only voice.
I am afraid for my country and the state of our democracy. Of course, I am with her.
On the flight home I sat next to a man flying to Missouri and reading USA Today. One of the headlines was Trump at War With GOP. Our descent into Chicago was bumpy and turbulent. Surrounded by clouds, there was zero visibility behind, below, and ahead of us. The landing came in hard and fast. It seemed the flight was a metaphor for the 2016 election.
Arriving safely at our gate, the steward welcomed us to Chicago and said, “It’s a crazy world out there. Stay safe, be kind to one another, and pay it forward. Don’t forget to wash your hands after handling chicken and don’t fry bacon naked.”
As I write this blog, I feel nervous and hesitant about posting it. Is there someone else out there whom I will piss off because I’m not enthusiastic about my choice? Although Hillary is more than qualified, I don’t see this election changing much of anything for middle class America. It’s politics as usual and there’s some really big money involved. I felt a lot better when millions of us donated $27. We knew the candidate was beholden to We the People. I hope I’m wrong. I would love for Hillary to prove me wrong. I will gladly eat crow if I am wrong, but it seems to me the problems we have will continue to fester and I hate to think about where we will be in 2020.
There are a few things I do know. Kindness is rare but it can still be found if you look hard enough. We can all learn a lot by talking to strangers. We live in a period of history when no one feels safe, and that may have something to do with the fact that at times it seems this country is frying bacon naked.