I sat between two shining examples of you guys at the 500 Club on the corner of 17th and Guerrero the night of the election. To my left was a young, bleeding heart female attorney who worked with death row inmates at San Quentin, and to my right sat a theology grad student at Cal who wasn't studying God and His works, as one might assume, but the "spirituality of art and dance." What a homo.
Then there was the bartender. His stage name was Vlad the Impaler in some satanic heavy metal band. He didn't approve of the candidates because he was a "Marxist." He actually had the audacity to turn down the jukebox when someone -- a Hispanic lesbian with a drinking problem -- decided to play oldies like the Archies' "Sugar Sugar" and "Build Me Up Buttercup."
There I sat in the middle of all of it, surrounded by my people. Yes friends, I too am the cultural elite. At one point in my life I actually understood critical theory. I have always owned a Japanese car. I follow the work of Iranian film directors.
Somehow we all ended up in this one bar on election night, all of us rooting for Kerry, in perhaps the only politically homogeneous city in America. When Kerry won, and I was pretty confident he would, this town was where I wanted to celebrate. It would be like New Orleans, which is basically one big party separated by architecture. Everywhere I went in S.F. that night, I assumed, there would be fealty, revelry, and joy.
I got to the 500 Club good 'n' early at 3 p.m., in time to start seeing the early returns from the East Coast. There was only one other person there with me besides the bartender, the aforementioned Hispanic lesbian whose name was Francis, but call her Frankie. She was loud, tiny, and wearing a weathered 49ers jersey, looking a bit like Tatum O'Neil in The Bad News Bears.
Without stopping for breath, Frankie launched into a friendly rant. "I'm 41 and I have never voted ever in my life but I told myself that this is it, this is the year I have to vote because if you don't vote you can't bitch and I want to bitch. Man, I hate Bush. I hate Bush!" Then she paused, smirked a little as if she was about to make a dirty joke, then thought better of it.
I was absorbed with the television but managed a few "You go girl" type interjections. She moved closer and insisted on buying me a drink. We chit-chatted a bit more, which meant she talked and I smiled politely, then she finally laid out what she was looking for: She needed someone to give her a pep talk before she went to vote. She was scared because she had never done it before. And she really was scared, shaking like a person with stage fright. She wanted me to describe everything that happens when you vote, who would be there, how long it took. Here she was beside me, a person that so many get-out-the-vote organizers had targeted -- female, lower income, minority, non-cultural elite -- and she had been trying to get enough courage to do it all day. Many people talk about voter apathy, but there seem to be people who are operating under something much more disturbing: They don't feel entitled to vote.
"Frankie," I said, "There are people at the polls waiting, just waiting, for someone like you to show up and ask for their help. They have fantasized that thousands of people like you would show up. You'll feel fine once you get there." She tried to take in what I said, and I suppose if I truly was part of the do-gooder, educated, liberal machine I would have walked her over there myself. Lucky for me a white guy with lots of cologne and a Jheri curl offered to do it for me.
Slowly the bar began to fill up. A booth behind me was full of young women with vintage glasses on; underfed male hipsters with shaggy do's and Small Faces were at the pool table; bike messengers ordered Budweisers; and folks who looked like Republicans got a good sizing up from the rest of us. The night unfolded like a ten-cent blowup doll straight outta the box. As liberal academic fave Jon Bon Jovi plucked his guitar in the rain in front of a more and more despondent Kerry crowd on the TV, we too let the cold sink in. Were we really going to lose this thing?
Frankie hadn't voted yet and she had 30 minutes to do so. She had run back and forth past me looking for the Jheri curl guy, alternately playing rounds of pool. Her anxiety had turned to excitement, helped along by a few more Coronas. I didn't have the heart to tell her that California was sure to go to Kerry anyway, or that the fact that she would be voting out of her precinct with a provisional ballot would probably render her vote null and void. Finally, she said, she was leaving to go do it. She wanted a hug and one more dose of encouragement for the road.
Earlier in the day Rush Limbaugh had been yammering on and on about how certain people just shouldn't be allowed to vote, that they were too stupid and it was good that they stayed away from the polls. He was of course referring to poor people, blacks, guys named Vlad the Impaler, and Latinos. So the Democrats are not simply made up of the cultural elite. Yep, we got our Frankies, and we have that last scattering of union guys, aspiring rappers, and we have social servants ... let's see, who else ... oh yeah! We have freakin' Jon Bon Jovi!
On the television, Tom Brokaw announced that Bush had captured Florida and was ahead in Ohio. It was as good as over. Frankie was paying no attention to the election results, thankfully, and I gave her a good luck squeeze and told her to come right back and tell me how it went. In about 30 minutes, while the rest of us were choking back tears, she rushed up beaming and exclaimed breathlessly, "It was like an orgasm! Just like an orgasm!"