It is nearly midnight, the day after the U.S. elections.
The results were not, in my opinion at least, very shocking. Nate Silver correctly predicted how each state would vote – even the swing states. The rest went as they always did: much of the middle and the south were red; the entire left coast went blue, as did the Northeast.
Sometimes, life in this big, industrious land-of-opportunity can be quite predictable. It leaves you few suprises. And you find yourself feeling just a little bit like a caricature.
We are presently in the wee town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I have no photos yet, but it is lovely. We arrived just before a nor’easter; outside my hotel room window, the wind is whipping through empty streets, and snow is falling.
Earlier, as I drove Rand’s colleagues through the winding roads of the city center, past brick buildings and tiny shops with signs out front lettered in gold, someone noted that the northeast looked exactly as they had imagined.
Indeed, New England does not disappoint. It delivers on the promises made to us in movies and on TV. There are lighthouses and fishing boats, cobblestone streets and old churches with tall, white steeples. There are foggy harbors and chilly winds, and warm cafes selling lobster rolls.
There are people here who sound just like the Kennedys. Hell, there are people here who are the Kennedys.
And there is something that, as a Pacific Northwesterner – is unfamiliar to me. It’s a kind of formality – a sort of strange regality – that hangs in the air. As crazy as it sounds, I think this part of the country feels this way because it’s older. It’s established and proper. I’ve seen men wearing dinner jackets.
My beloved hometown, by comparison, feels a bit like the long-haired, guitar-playing stoner. Which reminds me – yesterday in addition to going for Obama, Washington state also voted to legalize marijuana.
I’m sure you’re thinking that’s no big deal – lots of states have legalized medical marijuana, right? And you’d be absolutely right. But I’m not talking about medical marijuana. No. Last night, my home state voted to legalize recreational marijuana.
Oh, and gay marriage, too. Apparently the liberal little neighborhood in which we live became a dance party.
It makes me wonder; does our damp little corner of America, with its mild winters and scores of hipsters dancing in the streets, meet our tourists’ expectations, just as New Hampshire met ours? Do they see us walking down the street in our plaid shirts, warming our hands on our coffee cups, occasionally pushing our rain-streaked glasses further up on our noses? Do they hear us prattling on about local, sustainable, organicly-grown food as though there is no other topic on the planet more interesting?
And when they undoubtedly catch us living up to all those cliches, are they not at all suprised?
I know we’re complex – every single one of us. I know we aren’t all walking cliches. No one can predict our actions – we can’t even predict how we’re going to behave. When I was a teenager, I certainly couldn’t have imagined that I’d pick the lifelong running mate that I did.
But once every four years, the vast majority of us tend to live up to our stereotypes. Most of us fall into one box or the other, and even if we don’t, the people around us do. Our street or our neighborhood will go one way or the other. And if I’m to be really honest, I have to acknowledge that all the pains I take to get our absentee ballots in before our next trip doesn’t make a lick of difference.
That one ballot I put in the mail doesn’t change the outcome of things. It won’t make or break an election, and never has. Things do not come down to one vote. Not in my town. Not anywhere, really.
But I still keep doing it. Because it makes me feel like I’m a part of everything. It makes me feel like I’m part of the joy, or part of the disappoint, or even part of the indifference.
It makes me feel like I’m out on the street, dancing with my neighbors*, even when I’m on the other side of the country.
*Or I might just be yelling at them to keep it down. But you get my point.