C. was at school yesterday, Tuesday classes running well into the evening, and when he called at 8 p.m. it was to say he was going over to a friend's house to watch the results come in. So I was on my own, toggling back and forth between the CNN website and nytimes, watching the east coast hover between red and blue.
When Indiana and Florida got stuck too close to call, I went out and bought a bottle of cheap red wine at the big Eastside grocery store where all the checkers speak Spanish. I voted there, early, last week. I voted there in the last two elections, too, and voting there always gives me hope because the people in the line with me are people from my neighborhood, people who look like me. I can stand in the line and think, this is going somewhere.
I bike home with my bottle of red wine. I check the computer. Indiana and Florida still deadlocked, but CNN has just called Pennsylvania for Obama, and screaming and cheering errupts from backyards all around the block. Here and there, a bottle rocket goes off, pow.
Texas has been Bush country since 1994, you remember. For fourteen years we've seen whole swathes of citizenry edged closer and closer to the margins. Children dumped from the public insurance roles. Emergency rooms over-flowing night and day with sick people who can't afford to see a doctor until they are more or less dead. Kids whose sex education classes don't teach them about birth control, and if they get knocked up the doctors show them government-mandated bloody flashcards and tell them abortion could make them infertile, could give them cancer. No money for special education, no money for mental healthcare, and the jails and prisons overflowing with the illiterate, the sick, and the desperate.
I pour myself a glass of wine, and a second. In summer of 2000, my friends and I laughed at the idea that our governor would be elected president. "People are too smart," we said, and standing in line at the grocery store with my neighbors, I really thought that. But it turned out that a lot of the country, maybe half, didn't agree with us. I remember writing in my journal after the election, "This country is going to swing the the right so hard and fast we aren't even going to recognize it in a few years." I remember saying to friends that the best thing that could happen now would be if Bush fucked things up so hard five ways from Friday that it brought about a great populist revival. And in 2004 we tried again, but it didn't happen.
Tonight something is happening. I hear the yelling go up all around me and I hit "refresh" again and again to see the map turn blue. I am not an Obama fanatic. I don't even really like to call myself a Democrat or a liberal. I just want a president who might care about me and people like me. What everybody wants. But it feels like it's been somebody else's turn for a long time now. I want it to be our turn.
More wine. CNN calls Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, sweeping towards the coast, and then all of a sudden it's over and everybody is saying Obama is the next president, it's popping up on every screen and the yelling outside is ecstatic, more fireworks. I don't want to be alone. I don't want to be inside. I hit the last slug of wine from the bottle, go outside and get on my bike. I head downtown, toward the bar district. It's dark and cloudy and then a pack of bikers swoop past me, going the other way, yelling. I yell back and then cars start honking. People are leaning out the windows of apartment buildings, shaking the Obama/Biden signs torn out of front lawns.
Then more bikes join me and as we turn onto Sixth Street it's a little parade of us, all hollering and throwing kisses. It's a regular Tuesday night down there, more or less. Drunks talking into their fists and a few packs of lonely dressed-up girls buying pizza from the street carts. They look startled, but some of them yell back and the bars open up their doors so the music can spill out into the street. We swoop west down the street, picking up up speed and sound, till there is yelling and honking all around us and then the corner outside the five-star Driscoll Hotel is packed with people screaming, running into the street to high-five people leaning out of cars. I pull my bike over and join the crowd on the sidewalk, waving at the cars like all of us are one big parade. Yelling from the balconies and yelling from the street and yelling from the cars, new cars, beat-up junkers, taxis, delivery vans, and these are all my neighbors, these people yelling. People who look like me.
About the time the police get there to control the scene, I push off. I am screamed hoarse. I don't even know if I feel happy. I think I might feel hopeful, but I don't want to be let down. I don't want us to let ourselves down. I want this to mean something. I've been in the streets before, but always to protest, never to celebrate.
On the corner at a red-light, a black woman in a heavy flannel waves and gives me the power fist. I wave back. She walks over and I see she is missing an eye, the lid pulled down smooth and stitched to the cheek. "Right on," she says, and I agree, "Right on." She asks me if I have a dollar. I have three quarters. I give them to her.
A block or two away from Sixth Street, it is just a regular Tuesday night, bone-quiet and a little cold. I realize how hard I'm sweating, how wet my shirt is. I pass the homeless shelter, people outside coughing and sorting through their stuff. I pass the corner with the crack dealers and the crack heads and the people hanging out for no reason, and they don't even look up as I go past. I want to whoop at them and tell them everything around us is changing and thing that were never possible before are possible now, for us, for our children, forever. I want to say something, but I don't. I know it's harder than that. I want to think that something is happening, but we don't know yet if anything will happen, if the yelling in the streets tonight will go anywhere, or mean anything or if it's just more yelling because people like to yell.
I don't know. We won't know for a long time. We just have to keep trying. The hardest part is now.