Election Morning 2008

12/06/2008 04:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

"You want to get there before 7 a.m.; the lines will be huge." "Be sure to get your receipt for your ballot." "Take snacks and something to read."
Who could sleep on November 3rd? Coming home from working in Obama's Santa Monica office, "You will not watch CNN. You will absolutely not turn on the TV."
At 10:30, Mike from Obama's Century Plaza office called, "Can you come over and make phone calls tomorrow?"
"All day. I'll vote and be there."
I'd promised to bring something for supper at my friends house on election night.
"Something simple."
"Sure." Cooking. Ideal distraction. Make something new. Chop many things. I bring the chopping board, the veggies I'd picked-up at while canvassing the Farmer's Market for Obama, and I sit in from of the TV. Caramelize some pecans, throw in some chile for the wild rice salad. Sleep.
I wake up at 5 a.m., an hour before the alarm.
I walk up Sepulveda along the vast plain of Los Angeles county land plonked with a giant range of government buildings. When I was a child here - this was where soldiers were trained to go off to fight overseas in places like Guam and Bataan.
The air is gorgeous this morning. A bolt of early morning rain has stopped. A young man crosses the street, joins me, "Are you voting?"
"Sure!" I say.
"It's right on the other side of that building." he says, "I'm voting too. It's exciting. I figured I'd better get here early." We don't even have to ask who we're voting for. You see in the eyes. Like a light's on.
"Me too," I say, "even though everyone said it was better to wait until people had gone to work. Less lines."
"I didn't want to wait anymore. Everyone's so excited."
When we round the big cement haunch of this huge recreation center, we saw the people waiting; calmly organized in three lines, ones for each precinct voting here. A few people had kids with them. Maybe, they figured, those kids will remember the day they got to see the voting. We all smile at each other. People are accommodating, courteous. You feel the pleasure of being here to do the right thing; the rush Americans get from showing up, all Americans, such an easily mixed crowd - Asians, Latin Americans, Blacks; old young, gay, straight. We are all here, all grinning at each other the way you do coming in to a great premiere, when you've heard this is really a winner, and you've got here early.
I started talking to one woman about my age, she'd been living here a long time. "I've never seen anything like this."
We're in a hall now and something about the light, the feel of the waiting, the steadfast, quiet exhilaration reminds of when I was a kid and you'd wait for President Roosevelt when he'd deliver his Sunday Fireside Chat, when he'd talk to America.
We'd all sit so quietly waiting for the reassuring way he'd tell us about our troops and how our war was going: Reassurance. Maybe this is the great gift of Obama's character. The reassurance of someone who has transformed the despair of a culture snatched from its laud into a study for powerful character.
We were in Palm Springs on December 7, 1945, when Pearl Harbor was bombed. My grandmother had a friend named Pearl and I thought she'd been killed. I could see her lying n the floor of her apartment with her silk print dress pulled up, showing her pink panties.
But I remember the sound of President Roosevelt's voice that day and I knew he'd lead us well, like a camp guide through a tough trail. There was a brilliant feeling about being an American during that time - to a child it felt like forever. It was a very few, but very fervent years. We sang, "Oh Say Can You See (The Star Spangled Banner)" at every opportunity and when you said the Pledge of Allegiance with your hand on your chest, you could feel your heart beating with the urgent glory of being there for the world when the world was in trouble. We'd look at each other and believe how lucky we were and we loved our President for his steady presence, through the nights when we'd hide during air raid drills in the cellar. Sometimes my father would read a bit from one of the President's speeches or from one of his own speeches he was working on to reassure the groups he was supporting: refugees, Democrats and Japanese Americans who were being held in detention camps right down the road from where I'm voting now.
My father, Dore Schary, kept writing speeches like that all through his life, through the blacklisting years, then the Joe McCarthy years and on and on, whenever there was a cause, he was there!
He was grief-stricken during the antiwar years, devastated by his America. His generation felt America was very much their own. Their parents had come as refugees, even as the first English had come to invent this new government in this grand sparsely populated land. My father's generation told its stories and entertained it with films of its legends, spellbinding it with its myths and creating a panoramic legacy of its heroic battles, the victories it shared with Britain or France during the Second World War. I remember watching the fields of white crosses rising across the acres just north of where I'm waiting to vote.
By the time our line has reached its voting room, I'm surprised by how friendly the people behind the voting tables are. They look as if they're in on it too. I'd guessed somehow, from my edgy Sixties sensibility, that like all "officials" they'd be tough and chilly. Today they are warm, organized and accessible. I'm asked if I wanted to use this machine with headphones. I tried it. Hated it.
"No," I said. Maybe I looked puzzled or something (i.e., 'old')
"No problem, there's another box right there."
It's like the first time you drive, swim, make love or fly a plane. You have to get it right. Why is Obama marked "8"? Right here, it's explained, so the presidential office doesn't get full of itself (that's what they mean) and expect to be Number One on the ballot all the time. Right on.
What a great gift. I hand in the ballot. Got my sticker: I Voted. I walked back outside past the long line of beaming people. All through the hour or so I wanted, everyone was easy-going, pleased to be here. I'd been prepared to wait longer. Wouldn't have minded. Like most of the best times in your life, voting speeds by. I'll remember this vote like the first kiss; holding the baby when it's all drenched and new, holding a published book, or an armful of roses my son has grown.. The memory's fleeting as the flick of the camera. But being pleased to make this vote, this connection with my land again will stay with me for as long as what forever might be.

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