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I’ve just spent several minutes searching the Internet for Obama’s infomercial. I was stuck in traffic this evening while it aired, and by the time I got home it was already over. So instead of plunking myself in front of the TV to watch even more political banter, I got to go outside and play with my dog.
I’ve never paid so much to politics. I’ve only voted in a few elections and I’ve never really thought much about who I was voting for. Yes, I’ve always voted democrat (except that one time when I voted for Perot, but I was young, I didn’t know better). This year, though, I’ve been paying attention. I watched the debates. I watched the conventions. I’ve read new articles, engaged in political conversation with friends and co-workers.
But at some point you just have to say enough, I suppose. I’ve gotten to that point where I know enough. I never really had to pay attention in the first place. There’s no way I would have voted Republican. There was no decision to be made. Many of the things I believe in are more aligned with the Green Party, but I know they don’t have a chance of winning, and that a vote for them is a vote that’s taken away from the Democrats. That’s all I need to know, really. I know that the way to make things better is to get Obama in office. I don’t really need to watch his infomercial.
Until this election, I never really thought about what those things that could make things better might be. I never cared much about economics, but I’ve lived on minimum wage. I’ve been unemployed and broke. I’ve paid ridiculous amounts of money for food and gas. A couple weeks ago I began a food drive for my department and I helped load a car with boxes of food that would be taken to a local food bank that has been running out of food a lot lately.
I never cared much about military issues, but I know that war is wrong, and I know that the war in Iraq is senseless. And now my nephew is in the Army. He just graduated from boot camp a few weeks ago. I never wanted him to think that joining the military could be a good thing. I talked to him at length about my time in the Navy, and why I didn’t think he should join. I tried to help him figure out what else he could do after he graduated from high school. And now I spend a lot of time hoping that he will not have to go to war.
There are other issues I have begun to feel strongly about. Or what I should say is that I’ve felt strongly about those issues in the past in the past but never did anything about it—there’s nothing about this election that’s changed my attitudes about any issues that are on the table. I remain a little left of Obama. But the thing is, I’ve begun to see this election as a larger landscape, rather than just a piece at a time.
It’s all coming together for me. I suppose that’s the trite way of saying it. I can see now how it all matters, how it is all, in one way or another, affecting me.
I told you yesterday that I took a drive to Mt Vernon on Monday. It was a work-related trip and, instead of using the campus car, I drove my own car. I could have driven the campus Prius. I could have saved my own gas—I could have saved a lot of gas, really. But I feel more comfortable driving my car, much for the same reason I carry my keys everywhere I go. If I need to make a quick escape I don’t have to rely on anyone else. I can just go.
I don’t take the bus, either. I could do it; the bus stop is three blocks from my house, and the bus would drop me off very close to where I work. But the commute would be 90 minutes each way, compared to 30 minutes if I drive myself. And I can’t read on the bus; I get motion sickness. So all that time would be wasted. Three hours a day spent on the bus, doing nothing but watching out the window, scooting over so that someone could sit next to me, not wanting to talk to anyone, not wanting to do anything but get there.
I feel bad sometimes for the amount of money I spend on gas. I feel bad about what I am doing to the environment by driving alone every day. But that’s just how it has to be.
When I am driving, I am in control. I don’t get distracted by others. I can choose my route. I can stop anywhere along the way. I can speed a little if I want to get somewhere sooner. And if someone gets in my way, I can show them my middle finger.
There’s a lot of satisfaction in all of that.
I don’t have to listen to others babbling on their cell phones, talking with each other, or asking the driver inane questions. I don’t have to listen to the bus driver announce each stop. Instead I can listen to the radio—and I do, pretty much all the time.
Over the past several months I’ve been listening to NPR. I’m not sure when or why I started doing it. I don’t remember programming the station into my stereo’s preset buttons. I don’t remember when I stopped listening to KEXP in the mornings. Somewhere I made the transition, and it’s been working out pretty well for me.
So during my commute I get a good dose of world and national news. I hear exposés and cool interviews. I time my commute so that I get to hear BirdNote, a quick little show about the lives and habitats of birds.
I’m learning all sorts of things. I feel smarter just telling you that I listen to NPR. Sometimes I feel like a bit of an elitist, I suppose. And sometimes I feel like I have this air of privilege around me just because I am listening to NPR. I know this especially when I am at the corner of Aurora and 105th. There’s a homeless man who stands on the southwest corner every morning. He’s in poor health; he limps; his speech is slurred; his hands and arms are swollen and covered with sores.
I don’t know his story, but I wish I did. I give him a dollar every now and then, when I’m in the far right lane and traffic stops long enough for me to turn down the radio and roll down my window and get his attention, which isn’t hard, as he moves slowly yet steadily from car to car. Every day he asks:
Can you help me, please?
That’s his only line. He asks it again and again, once for each car he stands near. When I give him my dollar he thanks me, and tells me God bless.
I wish him luck, and I roll up my window and I turn the volume back up and I try to figure out what I missed when I wasn’t listening to NPR.
I likely missed something about the economy, about the unemployment rate or the rising cost of food.
I probably missed an overly intellectualized message from the privileged elite. I probably missed someone on the radio telling me the same thing the homeless man on Aurora and 105th is telling me.
Some people are really in need. And it aches to need so much.
I like to think that I do what I can to help. I like to think that the dollar I give that man actually does him some good. I like to think that when I send in my ballot this week, I will be helping to enact some change.
There’ve been a couple elections when I chose not to vote, when I really didn’t think it mattered. I suppose I thought someone else would take care of it, that the majority would locate the problems, define the issues and care enough to do something about it all. I suppose I thought that I was either being taken care of by others who shared my beliefs.
There’ve been times, too, when I chose not to give money to the homeless guy on the corner, when I saw someone in the car in front of me hand him a bill or a palmful of coins.
Like everything else I’ve been writing about lately, all this thinking has brought me back to the notion of writing. I never really thought I’d write something with any sort of political bent to it at all. I never really wanted to. Even now, having written a couple pages about voting and social change, I’m not quite satisfied. It all feels too big, and like I said earlier, there comes a point when I have to turn away from it all, when I feel like I have taken in enough. I switch from NPR to another station. Sometimes I find a way to move a conversation from political topics to something else. Sometimes I look away from the southwest corner of Aurora and 105th and pretend to watch something else as the homeless man walks by.
Sometimes I have to stop writing about writing and just plunge in to whatever comes to mind first.