I realized they were poll workers too late, after I was halfway across the cross walk toward their side of the street. I was trying to get back to the office before the fine mist turned all the way into rain, and my skin had turned to a canvas of goosebumps.
“Are you voting today?” She asked me, and memories floated back, of looking up at people twice my size, offering slick pamphlets and brochures. I saw a different, younger, version of myself, naive, hopeful and eager, stunned at the callousness and rudeness of a world I was just entering.
I kept moving when I answered her, told her I was working, I’ll vote later.
Later, crossing the muddy parking lot behind the church, a skinny teenage boy was standing across from a bearded man, thermos by his work boot, each on one side of the door, passing out “vote for…” cards. They were working for opposing candidates, and the boy looked uncomfortable.
I kept moving past them, through the doors that they stood too close to, said no thanks to the cards they were holding out to me.
It’s habit. Just five minutes out of the office, and I can’t lay aside my need to stay outside of the arena, to watch but not join.
Inside, the older woman struggled to find my name in her binder, reading slowly down the list of names. “Let me guess,” the woman who held the ballots said, watching us. “Democrat?” I wondered how many people end up with the wrong ballot. I don’t like answering the question, not out loud. I don’t like that I’m registered with one party, and not the other. I show up on lists now, and someone reading my coverage might know, might read bias where it shouldn’t be.
She handed me the ballot, and in the faux privacy of a small, shaky voter’s booth, I carefully filled in the bubbles; round and round and round with the pen until there’s no speck of white. The scanner hummed when it sucked the ballot in. My civic duty is accomplished, and it’s embarrassingly easy.
And in the morning? I call the victors and I call the losers and I find the juxtaposition strange. Tuesday we vote. Wednesday we report on the people we helped elect.
It’s like quoting a family member, or chatting with the police officer’s wife at church while hoping he doesn’t remember how you hounded him all Monday morning. Those lines, the ones you’re not supposed to cross, sometimes they intersect. And then what?
I pick up the phone and I push it all back – my political affiliations, memberships, the gratification or disappointment that rises as I scan vote tallies. I try to forget it while I’m here.
And at the end of the day, I’ll walk the eight short blocks home, wish I’d saved that beer yesterday so I could drink it today instead. Then I’ll celebrate the success and wonder how others couldn’t see it the way I do; there I’ll let those affiliations and memberships crowd back in. But I’ll be quiet about it.
I won’t put signs in my yard, or bumper stickers on my car. I won’t like causes or groups on Facebook. I won’t take brochures from poll workers. And I’ll watch what I say when I talk about the stories I cover to new friends over coffees.
Because tomorrow morning, early, I have to push it all back again. And it’s easier to push it back when I haven’t been shouting it from the roof tops.
Sometimes it’s a strange life here.