November 2, 2004
On Election Day, 1968, our local paper in Michigan ran a photo of my parents. They were in line at the polls when they opened, my dad frowning atop a skinny necktie. And my mom, right behind him, beneath a well-coiffed beehive.
It’s a clipping that flops out of family albums occasionally. "There’s me getting ready to vote," my dad would say, "and there’s your mother, ready to cancel me out."
Guys aren’t much for photo album nostalgia. One reason is fashion. Women change hair and dress styles seasonally; guys stick with a look ’til it rots. Memory Lane has photographic evidence of our fashion crimes. There are too many plaid pants and cheesy mustaches on that street.
Guys get nostalgic by repeating past behavior. "This is the way my father taught me to drive," or "This is how I learned algebra." Imitation is more than flattery: It’s honoring those who brought you along. That’s why, like my parents, I get to the polls early.
Voting is one of the few Norman Rockwell moments life has left. When I step into a polling place, I expect to see a bunch of working-class folks standing solemnly in line to do their civic duty. What you get in the morning is a blend of early risers, zealots and folks who look like they’re killing time ’til the liquor store opens.
Most of them are guys. Some come early because they’ll forget otherwise. ("OK, dropped off the dry cleaning, gassed up the car, anything else? — Shoot! Democracy!") Some are true believers who, because of the secret ballot, won’t tell you what they believe.
"I had to get here, first thing," a guy told me one year.
"Well, sure," I replied.
"It’s outrageous, isn’t it? "
"Terrible," I said.
"The guy has got to be stopped."
"Tell me!" I said.
To this day I don’t know whom we were talking about. As voters, guys are more diverse than pundits give us credit for. I get tired of hearing: "Women are concerned with health care and education issues, while men want free cable and pie." If guys really are that thick, Paris Hilton will carry three states tonight, and Hickory Farms will win Ohio.
One thing I know guys miss are those big, tanklike voting machines with the wall full of switches and a big red lever that closes the curtain ("pfft!"). Now, at most places, you pick up a stylus and poke your way to freedom.
So it’s strange that I still get a civic buzz from voting. I’ll look around and be thankful I didn’t have to shoot my way here. I’ll see both sexes and different races. I’ll remember this wasn’t always the case, and that these and other changes came courtesy of this process. When I leave, I always think of that photo of my dad, waiting calmly to vote in ’68, and feel that, in some way, I honored him.
He won’t like whom I’m voting for, but that’s another issue.