I started the coffee, got dressed, and then took an umbrella and a travel mug over to the Albert H. Hill Middle School on Patterson Avenue where I found nearly twenty people already waiting in line. By the time the doors opened at six the line stretched out to the sidewalk and down the street, with people clumped together under big umbrellas in the light drizzle that was falling.
The school itself was something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and even though some of the people who were lined up with me didn’t look very Rockwellian, the volunteers did, especially the woman who offered to demonstrate the voting machine. I took her up on the offer just because she seemed so eager to show off her skills, and then had to console her when the machine didn’t work (not a good omen).
The person who took my name was a member of First Baptist Church, although he said he wasn’t supposed to acknowledge that he knew me. A good volunteer wouldn’t want to show any favoritism to his friends and neighbors, not at the polling place. But then, when I moved on through the line, there was another First Baptist member waiting to show me to my voting machine. They were everywhere! He, too, downplayed our acquaintance and only pointed (with authority) to machine number five.
This machine was working, and I quickly got down to the serious business of voting. I liked the way the boxes lit up when I touched them, and that big, flashing yellow box at the end that said, “Cast your vote!” I double-checked, just to make sure the machine and I agreed on who I was voting for, and then I touched the big, yellow box.
And that was it.
Someone handed me an “I voted” sticker. I stuck it on the front of my shirt and walked out the back door into the rain. When I looked toward the street I saw that the line had only gotten longer, and now stretched all the way down to the corner. A bunch of Americans, standing in the rain, waiting to vote. Doesn’t that do something for you?
My daughter Catherine turns eighteen next month, and so she just missed voting in this election. When she saw the sticker on the front of my shirt at breakfast she confessed that she was jealous. She wished she had gotten to vote. That’s the feeling I picked up from the crowd at Starbucks later when I went by to get my free “I voted” cup of coffee—that voting was a privilege, and that we had been privileged to participate in something that will go down in history. I saw it in the way we recognized each other’s stickers, the way we nodded and smiled knowingly. I’m not sure what it did for them, but I’m sure what it did for me.
It made me proud to be an American.