06/27/2014 03:07 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2014

America: How We Look Now

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The Fourth of July, the day we celebrate American independence, always makes me remember the old Saturday Evening Post magazine with its cover paintings of idyllic American life. Last month -- on June 3, to be precise -- I believe I actually lived one of those covers.

It was primary day here in California, and I had volunteered my services as a poll worker in my Irvine neighborhood. It sounded simple enough: Go to a three-hour training session, show up the evening before primary day to help set up the e-booths for the actual voting and follow all the instructions in our training manual -- a very big book.

My polling place was in a local elementary school -- that is, a small part of it, the backstage portion of their auditorium. After my supervisor (a sweet, young undergraduate) and I (not sweet, not young) wrestled with the collapsed booths, hauled them up on stage, decided where to appropriately place them between two electrical outlets without totally blocking the handicap elevator and determined where registration tables should be placed, we went about assembling the booths. When I pulled the curtains, separating us from the auditorium the space seemed to shrink and grow dark, despite the weak backstage lights.

At 6 a.m. the next morning, I was back at the school. I parked in a cordoned-off area and went in to meet my co-workers. There were three new people: one male, a 20-something Asian-American who just graduated from college; one 40-something Chinese-American mom (who speaks Chinese); and one petite, Iraqi-American grandmother. With our young supervisor (who is African-American) and me, a very much older (75+) white woman, we were quite the Saturday Evening Post portrait, just slightly updated. When the school band came in to practice and started to play "Three Blind Mice," discordantly but enthusiastically, we all rolled our eyes, smiled at the voters and hoped no one needed to use the handicap elevator.

Only in America.

Jessie is a volunteer with The Osher LifeLong Learning Institute at UCI.