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From Iowa to Inauguration (Vol. 4): A Retrospective on the Precariousness of Primary Politics

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This post is the fourth in a week-long series. In an effort to remind people of the absurdity that dictates who makes the most important decisions on planet earth, this week I am publishing my private emails from the time I spent in Iowa last winter while making a video about the caucus process. I went as a concerned citizen who felt marginalized by the process looking for answers. What I discovered was quite complicated: a struggle to preserve grassroots political discourse in a humongous nation versus an inherently exclusive and precarious system. Please enjoy my stories from the road, where antics and adventure were certainly abound for my posse of newly-mobilized millennials. You can read previous posts here, here, and here.


DISPATCH FROM IOWA (Vol. 4) January 2, 2008

Some people put a lot of emphasis on polling data, but I knew it was going to be a phenomenal day when I woke up this morning and the LaQuinta Inn Omaha West belgian waffle maker was working. Like any sign from God, I felt reassured that things are going our way, and that tomorrow Barack is going to kill it.

BO always quotes Dr. King in his speeches, defending his choice to run after only two years in the senate by responding to "the fierce urgency of now." That's what it was like in Council Bluffs headquarters today. A timid buzz brewing beneath the surface of all the HOPE-mongering volunteers. Megan and Jill represented us in the field, putting in some grueling hours of door knocking and phone banking into the home stretch, while Brett, Jessica and I hit the roads with the camera taping the introductory segment and gathering B-roll footage for the video series. (Good job, girls. Megs: You are a born activist.)

We will go to Des Moines tomorrow for a whirlwind day of interviews and, if all goes well, celebration. As a virgin video blogger, it's definitely difficult ramping up the storytelling process. I've absorbed so much and right now I'm trying to make sure I'm telling that narrative visually. Brett has been a great help in this area, and I want to give him the official shout out for being such a rad friend to pack his bags and help me make this happen.

ESPECIALLY in the freezing cold at yesterday's notorious Cow Shoot, which turned out to be one of those rare life experiences I'll always treasure. For those of you out of the loop: I left California hell-bent on interviewing a cow in my New Year's Eve dress to illustrate the video's "displaced Californian" theme and give us the editing option of using absurdity to underscore the problems of apathy and unfairness in the voting process. For the record: Many people doubted that I could pull this off, but I'd just like to remind the Haters that you're dealing with an ex RedEye reporter. I was once asked to find people hooking up in steam rooms in Chicago's gyms. This was nothing.


It all started a few weeks ago during a chain of email banter with my friend Dave Cirilli. I joked that I was going to have a miserable New Year's Eve and that I'd probably be wearing my gold dress and 4-inch heels on the side of the road with a bunch of cows. He said, "Maybe you should interview them." And I said, "Absolutely! Maybe I'll bring Pat Buchanan."

The concept steamrolled at a lunch with Miles Beckett, who was shocked by the haphazard nature of the caucus process and suggested that if I wanted to reach the young professional internet crowd with my message that I should do something funny.

Well, whether the footage reflects it or not, it was a pretty damn funny scene at Mike Christensen's farm yesterday. In fact, passersby were staring intently out their car windows trying to figure out what in the world was going on.

We hooked up with Mike last weekend when we had dinner at Farmer Brown's in Omaha, the old school steak-house-duos-jour in town. We told the server, a sweet little old lady, that I was looking to interview a cow and at first she didn't believe us.

"I'm not going to fall for that," she said. "I'm no silly little small town waitress."

But after I zealously reassured her of my interest, she was a woman on a mission. ("Why, sweetie, everyone in this place has a cow!") She enlisted the hostess, a lovely woman named - no joke - Bonnie Bull, to help solicit the patrons. The owners of Farmer Brown's, delighted that I wanted their advice, proceeded to take me on a tour of their kitchen. (I waved to the cooks as they hacked, seasoned and massaged large slabs of beef.) The best part was: It was no longer a question of IF I could secure a cow, but who in the county would have the BEST LOOKING cows for my video.

Enter Mike, my new personal hero and father of one of the coolest households I've ever met. When I called Mike (post-hugs galore from the Farmer Brown's staff and posing for a picture with Bonnie Bull after she introduced me to her daughter and granddaughter) he was amusedly suspicious and game for an adventure.

ME: Hi, Mike. This is Maegan Carberry. Steve from Farmer Brown's said he'd told you I'd be calling with a bit of a bizarre request.
MIKE: Yeah?
ME: Well, I'm doing an online video that's going to be on the Huffington Post later this year. Do you know the Huffington Post?
MIKE: Huff-a-who?
ME: It's a big political web site. Millions of readers.
ME: See, I'm trying to show people that the voting process for the primaries is kind of absurd, and I want to have a funny skit where I interview a cow for New Year's Eve.
MIKE: You want to interview a cow?
ME: Yes.
MIKE: You realize these are live animals? They're not just going to stand there.
ME: Sure. Yes. Of course.
MIKE: OK. You're bringing the booze, right?
ME: I like your style, Mike. What should we bring?
MIKE: We farmer hicks drink anything we can get our hands on. See you tomorrow.

So, armed with a fake microphone and large bottle of Wild Turkey, we ventured out into the great unknown farmlands. Jessica brought her GPS system, the TomTom (which we imagine is really a lovely British woman who looks like Helen Mirren), and we were trying futilely to use it to find the place. After three desperate phone calls (in which Mike actually said to Megan, "This isn't technology land, it's farm country, darlin'), Mike finally hopped in his pick-up truck and drove around the roads to find us. Our initial meeting was hilarious. The five of us piled like sardines in the Mazda 6 with Brett at the wheel, me in my trench coat and New Year's Eve tiara with my notepad and the girls bundled up in the back seat. Mike leaning out the window, the smoke billowing from his cigar masking his bright red whiskers.

We immediately hit the barn when he handed me a beer. (Busch Light; "We only drink the cheapest stuff here.") After a detailed explanation, in which it was established that none of us had ever been near a cow but that we'd watched "Brokeback Mountain," I ducked out for a wardrobe change.

When I came in, clad in my bronze slip dress and cowboy boots, Mike barreled over in laughter.

"Girl, you're literally going to freeze to death. Are you sure you can do this?"

"My dad is a football coach, Mike. He didn't raise me to be a wimp. I can tough it out."

No one seemed to believe me. One by one, Mike's family members (wife Sue, son Ted) filed into the barn to observe my costume and shake their heads in flabbergasted disbelief. We all piled into the pickup (the girls actually went with Ted, and spent the whole time giggling over how ridiculously hot he was). "You'll sit right here next to the shotgun!" Mike proclaimed. And indeed it was there, right next to my feet near a pile of beer cans.

As we approached the cattle range, I noticed spots everywhere. Yup. Cow shit. Mike and Ted sprinkled feed all over the ground, while Brett set up the shot and I hovered in my jacket in the car. At gametime, I downed the whiskey and disrobed.

By all reports it was about 6 degrees outside. It all happened so fast, like a scene straight out of "Drop Dead Gorgeous." Cows mooing, trying to deliver my lines unphased while becoming a human ice cube, barking at Jessica to pass me my various props (champagne glass, streamers, etc.), Megan circling about taking pictures, etc.

It wasn't actually that bad. I did think my limbs might be petrified for a split second when I hopped back in the car and the heater was on. (Like jumping from the jacuzzi to the pool or vice versa.) But I drained some more whiskey and my chest immediately warmed up.

We all had so much fun that we actually hung out tonight, too. Mike and Sue invited us to dinner in this awesome little nook of Omaha where their friends were having a party. All five of us went, and Sue, like the Nebraskan Yenta, proferred up yet another gorgeous son for us. This time a 21-year-old football player at the University of New Mexico. (Megan's and my New Year's Resolution: Marry into this family.)

It was all so silly, but we seriously bonded with these people. We were so different, but both groups had a great sense of humor and open spirit. I know Mike will be telling this story forever about the crazy girls from Los Angeles, and so will we.

It's interesting when you think about Red State/Blue States. There really is a way to connect and share our experiences.

I'm hoping this purple, kumbaya message will ride into tomorrow. I predict: Belgian waffles and Barack by 5 points.