Wed 5 Nov 2008
It’s been an emotional day, this day after the election.
I’ve been the tiniest bit tired even through my happiness. Maybe it’s because I drank two glasses of wine and stayed up too late watching everything I could about the election numbers, just wanting to stay there and bask in it longer and longer. Some of us admitted today that we were afraid to go to bed, afraid that when we awoke in the morning that somehow the election would have turned the other way. (It did sort of happen that way in 2000, you know.)
My friend Mary Rose called, and we huddled together on the phone through the tense time before Ohio came to save us. She is the only Democrat among her circle of friends, and a person couldn’t talk only to Republicans last night. It wasn’t possible.
Then I called my 20-year-old daughter, Stephanie, who is at school at NYU. She had to be in a rehearsal last night until nearly 11 p.m. ("The show must go on!") She’d been so disappointed to miss the whole evening’s news reports, the suspense we all were immersed in. When she got out of rehearsal, she said the streets of Manhattan were like a party, filled with people dancing and yelling. The first person she saw was a guy talking into a cell phone, saying, "What? And did he even win Florida? Really? He DID, but he didn’t even NEED IT?" And that’s when, she said, she knew it had been BIG. We held onto the phone last night and listened to Obama’s speech together.
Today, everywhere I went, people were exhausted but exhilarated. At Starbucks, we all went out of our way to be gentle with the worried-looking Republicans, who looked baffled by what they’d seen on television last night: the weeping and laughing, the surging crowds, the dancing in the streets. By the time I left my Starbucks office (the arm chair in the corner), I felt like somebody who needed to go right home to bed. All that talk. All that spent relief. As I drove home, a caller on NPR was arguing that yes, it was amazing, but it really wasn’t going to cure anything. It was just symbolic, not based on anything that would change the real world, or racism. People called in and argued or agreed with this position.
I went to get my oil changed.
The man behind the counter–I’ve seen him before, but we’ve never talked–was an African American guy, who is always nice in that business-friendly kind of way, commenting on the weather and the selection of candy bars in the machine there. But today–in the gray drizzle of November, and with no one else in the place–he was simply beaming.
He was 37 years old, he told me, and he had voted for the first time in this election. He took all his five children with him to the polls and let the littlest one fill in the bubble. He was from Louisiana, where in his childhood it was simply unthinkable that this could ever happen.
"I thought blacks could only go so far," he said. "And I was sure my vote would never count. I wasn’t part of the system. I just worked in this country and lived here, but the way it was running never had anything to do with me. How could it?"
But throughout this election, he said, the hairs have stood up on his neck whenever Barack Obama spoke. For nearly two years, he’s watched every speech, every television clip. He’s talked to his children about this amazing man. He’s made other people pay attention, too.
Last night, he said, he jumped up out of bed and rummaged through his house looking for a blank videotape so he could record Obama’s speech. "I just want to always have that," he said. "I may need to watch it over and over again."
His eyes filled up with tears as he described watching Jesse Jackson and Colin Powell watch that momentous night, when he saw all those people–black and white and Asian and Latino–standing together, all of them outside waiting and cheering in cities all over the world, erupting in joy when the election was called for Barack. "And did you see Kenya?" he said. "They’ve declared a two-day holiday for Barack Obama!" He shook his head in wonder. "The whole world is cheering for us," he said. "They believe in us again."
We both just stood there, nodding and smiling and shedding tears.
"You know what I love the most?" he said. "It’s that it was for YOU and ME. That we can have this conversation today, that we come from different backgrounds, but now we can reach across those differences. You know something? It is going to change EVERYTHING. And you know who we have to thank? It’s the kids. They got involved, and they changed the whole election."
My oil was changed by then. We shook hands and then we hugged.
"It’s a GREAT day!" he said, and he was right.