I don't know exactly when I became a Democrat but, if there was such a
moment, it may have come early one morning when I was driving a cab in
Knoxville, Tennessee, in late May 1982.
I was standing outside a bus station shortly after midnight with three
other cabbies. Two were middle-aged guys who had probably been driving
cabs for years. The other was younger than me. He wore khakis and an
Izod shirt. He looked like he had taken a wrong turn at fraternity row.
At some point, a woman staggered out of a bar across the street and
began walking toward us. When I noticed her again, I was surprised how
little progress she'd made. I then saw why. She would take a step or two
forward and then one to the side, or maybe backward. I chuckled.
The four of us continued to wait quietly in the fog. The only thing
moving was the woman -- and she was barely moving.
As she crossed the street, she passed under a light, and I saw her face.
Her wild gray hair looked like it had never seen a brush and her
lifeless face was scrunched like an accordion. She had the thumb of her
right hand in her toothless mouth.
She kept coming toward us, two steps forward, one to the side. As she
approached, I became anxious -- not scared -- but a little anxious. I had
never seen anyone who looked so sad.
I thought she probably knew the older cab drivers and was on her way to
see them. But when she got within 15 or 20 feet, the older guys walked
away, leaving me and the frat guy to deal with her. She stopped about a
foot from us, stared, and then pulled away her hand from her face.
"I've never had a baby," she said quietly.
Those few words tingled my spine and extremities as if I'd just jumped
into an ice-cold lake. I tried to say something but I couldn't.
"I've never had a baby either," the guy in the khakis and Izod shirt
said with a chuckle. "But who needs them? They're nothing but trouble."
I wished I'd said that.
But she continued to stand there, staring. I wanted to walk away but I
couldn't move. Then she spoke again.
"I've always wanted a baby," she said.
This time her voice felt colder; it was even quieter and sadder. Again,
I couldn't say anything. I hoped the other guy would say something.
"Ma'am," he said, "I can't give you a baby. But I can buy you a cup of
He then gently took her by the arm and they walked into the bus station.
He bought her more than a cup of coffee; he gave her a cup of humanity.
Thirty years later, I still think about that moment. How can you see
something like that and not be changed?
It was then, I think, when I became a Democrat.
The Democratic Party, when it is at its best, provides a cup of humanity
to those who need it. It feeds those who are hungry. It protects those
who need protecting. It provides hope for those who have lost theirs.
And, by doing so, we are reminded that there, but for the grace of God,
any one of us could be that woman in the darkness.
Chris Lamb, author of The Sound and Fury of Sarah Palin, is a
communication professor at the College of Charleston. He can be reached