In the mid-70’s when my cash flow was running light, I signed up to work on election day. The precinct they assigned me was way out in the Sunset.
Not only was it a Herculean effort to be somewhere at 6 a.m., but I was taking public transportation almost to the ocean. The bus left at 5. The hour commute afforded an opportunity to reflect on the previous night’s closing of the Midnight Sun at 2 a.m..
In a neighborhood of working class retirees, it was a boring 13 hours of long waits for some member of the greatest generation to show up and vote.
At 6 p.m. a sudden rush produced a three minute line to cast ballots. A 6’4″, gray flat top veteran stood seething, waiting for his turn to approach my station. He exuded the “white is right” attitude that still enchants the Republican Party today.
Before giving me his name to check off the roster, he asked sharply, “why should I be penalized for speaking English?” It was the first year for bilingual instructional posters in California elections. Being the model of discretion, it was not my place to answer.
The incident has stayed in my memory mainly because I’ve never figured out what penalty he was paying. Maybe he used phonics to read and two-thirds of the way through the instructions realized not all the words were in USofA American. Wasting time and effort like that can be annoying.
I vowed never to work elections again after that day. But this year, in an attempt to pad my portfolio of personal investments, I gave it another shot. The life’s lessons learned in the intervening 40 years made me feel I could bring something new to the experience. Like poll dancing, which didn’t even exist in the 1970’s.
Yesterday’s precinct was less than a mile away and nowhere near the ocean. What it lacked in distance, however, it made up for in height. The 21st Street hill has the steepest grade in the city. By the time I reached the summit, I was huffing, puffing and looking every bit my age. I had to fend off the roving van from the Death’s Shore Retirement Center which was targeting me for fast-track admission.
I knew this neighborhood well. In the early 80’s Barbara lived a block away on 20th. We gathered there on Wednesdays to watch Dynasty and eat pizza. Between cackles, the conversation ran the gamut from “can you believe Alexis did that?” to “can you believe we’re watching this shit?” Questions that remain unanswered to this day.
Two blocks in the other direction on Fair Oaks is where Gary (aka A-Hole) had his hillbilly wig party. A couple of doors down from where my friend John Acmoody once resided. Today Acmoody’s mansion is owned by a certain M. Zuckerberg. I looked for Marky-Mark’s name on my roster but to no avail. He’s probably bought his own precinct somewhere, population one.
To share the personal voting information I’ve learned is a violation of the sacred Poll Dancer’s Oath I took. But there was one minor celebrity sighting, former Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg.
Bertie to her friends, Roberta was the first lesbian candidate for San Francisco mayor, a HUD Under Secretary in the Clinton Administration, and a confirmation hearing adversary of Jesse Helms. Always alpha driven, her interest in voting Tuesday seemed a distant second to the breakfast muffin she was multi-tasking on.
Walking in, I had admired her black and white checked pants. Then I looked up to see her wildly gaping mouth chomping away on this banana-walnut concoction. Possessed, she tried to force even more cake into her mouth while she chewed. Her look was one of complete unawareness, to people and to her surroundings. Finally she spoke. It was a garbled mess.
The idea was to engage voters to verify their name and address. But I knew who she was and just wanted her away from the table. I handed her a ballot then watched her spittle a trail of crumbs to the voting booth.
It was an interesting day that, in the end, had yet one more sad reminder of my advanced age. I’ve never worked a poll for 13 hours and come away with no tips.
After leaving the polling place I treated myself to a burger at 10:30 p.m. Utterly exhausted I vented my fried mind to the stone cold, millennial chick cashier. Within seconds she was calling me honey, mothering me and throwing in extra fries as she packed me on my way.
My heart was filled with civic pride as I boogalooed down Broadway all the way home. Watch me now, HEY!