Twig Season, Election 2016: Stories From Higley Hill

I can’t say I didn’t see this coming. Since we all found out the election results, I’m trying not to say the sentence that begins with “I told you….”

So.

Two years ago I was living in Florida working for a nice looking man, a very kind man, who ran a drywall company and was working on the project to build the new international terminal at the Fort Lauderdale airport. I was his bookkeeper and we had sixteen guys with green cards on the payroll. They were from Guatemala and Mexico. He paid them well and when the airport wouldn’t provide enough buses to get the workers from the employee parking lot to the construction site, he rented one of his own for his crew.

“They work a long, hard day. They don’t deserve to be waiting around for another hour.”

I respected him for that, despite the fact we argued about affordable healthcare and he told me if he got to twenty or more workers he would close down his business because he couldn’t afford to give them the healthcare required by the ACA. We argued about politics just about every day. From the minute I interviewed with him and told him I had written articles for the Huffington Post, he called me his liberal bookkeeper. My first day at my desk I changed my computer’s homepage from the Drudge Report to Pandora. Our constant banter was respectful but intense. We knew when to drop the subject and get back to work. My husband and I spent Christmas Eve at his backyard pool party in Pompano Beach and I tutored his son. He was one of the nicest guys I ever kept books for and last I spoke to him via email he was voting for Trump.

When we moved to Connecticut to run the inn, we lived in a corner of the state where jobs left long ago and heroin is a growing problem. I’ve driven through so many of these New England/Upstate New York towns I’ve lost track. A lot of what I saw ended up in the novel I have finished. Just back from California, Nevada, and Utah, I can tell you it’s like this all across rural America. All you have to do is open your eyes and pay attention.

needs-paint-wilmington-vt

Wilmington, Vermont

The primaries took place while I was living in Connecticut and I voted for Bernie. It was his economic message that spoke to me because I’m as angry as anyone out there. All my working life I’ve struggled with securing affordable healthcare, sending my kids to college, and paying the bills. My husband is a self-employed house painter and the burden to obtain decent benefits has always fallen on my shoulders.

After we moved to Vermont, registering to vote here was easy. I did it online one night while I was visiting my daughter in Lake Tahoe. They just needed my address, social security number, and where I was previously registered to vote. The next morning I got an email. “Congratulations! You’re registered to vote in Vermont.” If only it were that easy everywhere. Unfortunately, after yesterday, it will most likely get worse not better.

So. Yesterday.

I drove down Higley Hill to the parking lot of the Twin Valley Elementary School. I was there to do my civic duty. I sat in the car for quite awhile, not because I couldn’t decide. Of course I was voting for her. But I was reluctant. It didn’t feel like democracy was working for me, for we the people. The media (and the DNC) dismissed Bernie and coronated Hillary from the very start of the primaries. The cable news shows gave Trump all the air in the room. The American Dream is a nightmare for many or just simply a dream that ends when you wake up and can barely remember what it was you dreamed about. A lot of things need fixing, not the least of which is how we get our news. Like the guy I worked for in Florida who wanted to do right by his employees but couldn’t figure out how a small business that was just making a comeback from the recession that hit the Florida building industry hard could afford to provide health insurance to twenty employees. Where were the round table discussions about that? Where was the news he could use?

I finally got out of the car. The line to vote was short. No one stood outside holding signs, no candidates arrived for a last minute sales pitch. I wondered if maybe this is a Vermont thing.

vote-here

Wilmington, Vermont

My ballot had more choices than I was used to. The Liberty Union party is very active here. A guy from the American Marijuana party was running for U.S. senate but I voted for Patrick Leahy. When you live in a small state like Vermont seniority on those Senate committees matters but it felt good to see democracy is alive and well in the Green Mountain state. Later that night, when we lost the Senate, I wished I’d thrown my vote to the American Marijuana party. I could use a few ounces right about now.

The guy who checked in behind me said, “You now live in a state no one pays attention to”. I told him Vermont is no different from anywhere else. Since when do politicians listen to We the People. He nodded in agreement. I wondered if he was voting for Trump. After my last comment he probably thought I was voting for him. A lot of this speculation would take place over the coming days.

A guy five voters ahead of me had trouble with the machine you slide your ballot into. He’d already chatted it up with the ladies who sign you out about some surgery he’d just had and trouble with high insurance deductibles. Pays No Attention to Us fidgeted impatiently and said, “Well see that, you can tell people you had to wait in a long line, even in Vermont.”

Walking back to our cars he said, “Too bad they don’t teach civics anymore. I don’t see a lot of young kids out here voting.” I told him my Dad taught civics and U.S. history. “Then you know what you’re supposed to do.”

Yes, I do and I did it, reluctantly. Once again, I sat in the car feeling eerie and nervous. I posted a few of the above paragraphs to Instagram. I watched a Mom walk towards the polls with her two young daughters, teaching her own civics lesson. The lesson girls can also grow up to be President. The radio ominously played a bluesy tune that opened with “We get what we deserve” and the chorus repeated “They knock you down until you can’t get up.”

woodpile-mount-snow-vt

Mount Snow, Vermont

Around 10:00 pm I started getting a lot of panicked text messages. My wifi hookup was scheduled for the day after the election. I’m finally getting back on the grid and I thought I’d made it through the election circus without the media hype. I had company for dinner and had a few glasses of wine but the texts sobered me up so I put on my slippers and made the drive down Higley Hill to the empty town of Wilmington where all the bars are closed for twig season. I needed to find out what the hell was going on although the possibility had been in the back of my mind all day. I parked in front of the coffee shop, got on their wifi, and watched the unfolding news everyone was texting me about. I knew this was an election about anger but I had put mine aside and voted for her and now here I was at one fifteen in the morning on an empty Main Street in rural Vermont watching the world fall apart. A few semis roared by so at least commerce was still alive and well.

a-dark-election-night

Election night 1 a.m. Main Street Wilmington, VT

My husband woke up when I got home and I told him the news. “We’ll be okay,” he said. He’s a blue collar guy with a minuscule 401k that I should have moved somewhere safer and he’s never voted for a Republican. Yesterday he voted for Hillary. Something we need to remember in the coming days, not all white, blue collar guys are bigots, bozos, and gun-toting nuts. Stereotyping can’t be trusted and neither can polls.

Today everyone was pointing fingers. The media says rural America won this election for Trump. I’m a lowly blogger and Indie author who’s been writing about the middle class and rural America for quite some time, not a NY Times op-ed writer or a TV pundit, but I saw that coming over a year ago when I drove through towns like Woonsocket, Torrington, Pawtucket, Worcester, Brattleboro, even the ride up Higley Hill to my house.

trailer-on-higley-hill

Front Yard on Higley Hill, Vermont

The media needs to point the finger back at themselves. They are a major culprit here. Reporters who commute from Manhattan to D.C. and collect six figure incomes had their heads in the sand. Do they ever get off the beltway and sit in a bar somewhere, anywhere, in America to register the pulse of the average American? I heard one newswoman say she doesn’t usually like anecdotal stories because she doesn’t think they reveal the big news stories. I work as a bookkeeper for money and share plenty of anecdotal stories for free, and even I know the truth is in the details.

lonely

Providence, R.I.

This was a change election and Hillary was the wrong woman for the times. I argued this on girls weekends, at dinner parties, and on social media but you know how that goes. It wasn’t about ISIS or terrorism. It was about the economy and income equality, stagnant wages, jobs leaving the country, the cost of a college education. I still do believe Bernie could have beat Trump and it hurts, it really hurts. I’d like to contact that guy who called me a BernieBot on Facebook and tell him to go to hell.

We woke to heavy rain and the cable company called to say they’d have to install the wifi on Wednesday. Once again I drove down Higley Hill to see if anything had changed since one o’clock this morning. My phone dinged the entire drive down so I knew we were going to have to get used to the idea of President Trump.

barn-pine-plains-ny

Pine Plains, New York

My favorite coffee shop was closed for Twig Season so I thought about going to the Cup and Saucer. The parking lot was filled with large pickup trucks. I walked to the door then hesitated. Here I was, stereotyping working guys like my husband. Come on, this is Vermont I told myself. Then I remembered the guy across the street from my house. The guy with the four Trump signs across the front yard, two of which went missing Halloween night. So I got back in the car and drove into town.

neighbor-higley-hill

Higley Hill, Vermont

At Dot’s diner there were a lot of somber faces at the counter and the tears in an old lady’s eyes at one of the booths told me if someone started up a conversation I’d be okay here. ESPN was playing on the TV but an array of newspapers with the headline TRUMP WINS were scattered across the counter.

The waitress told me she had a hard time explaining all this to her eight year old daughter this morning. A middle aged man said, “They shouldn’t have ignored, Bernie. Goddamn media and Debbie Wasser whatever her name is.” A very quiet old man with a long beard wearing a flannel shirt, dirty jeans, and work boots sat between us, looking from one side to the other as we commiserated. He was squinting and I tried to figure out where he might be coming from, until he looked me in the eye, and asked, “Are you telling me Trump’s our president?”

“Yes, he is.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“I wouldn’t blame him,” I said. The guy to his right laughed.

flag-and-dumpster

West Brattleboro, Vermont

I’m back at home, in the recliner by the wood stove trying to take a nap but sleep is elusive. My husband said we’ll survive. The house is paid for, there’s food in the freezer, a large woodpile outside, and ten acres of hard wood if we need more. He’s got work and I do too, for the winter. The 401K would have got us through two years, if we were frugal. Health insurance is another story but we’ve been here before.

The highlights lead to links of blogs I wrote throughout the election season. The tattered flag series is on Instagram along with pictures of rural America from Winnemucca, Nevada to Woonsocket, Rhode Island. I don’t need a six figure income, just a living wage, a reliable car, and an expense account. I like to eat in diners and order inexpensive apps at a bar. It’s where you meet people so my food budget won’t be much. I’ll buy my own drinks. I’ll travel anywhere and everywhere there are struggling Americans with anecdotes to share. Oh, and health insurance. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need health insurance. Consider this my job application. Hungry writer who knows a small anecdote reveals a bigger story and isn’t afraid to write it. I work for myself and write with eyes wide open. No filters or corporate sponsors. My contact info’s to your right.

“Education is the anvil on which democracy is forged.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

winnemucca

Winnemucca, Nevada

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