As a kid, music influenced how I thought about politics — songs such as Alice Cooper’s “Elected” or Cream’s “Politician,” wherein the politico talks a woman into his “big, black car.”
As a teenager, I watched in amusement as adults on my street came close to blows when discussing politics. Reagan was in office, and I’d just sort of laughed off the system because a cheesy actor was president. I laughed when the Reagan administration wanted to cut school lunches, saying that ketchup and relish were vegetables. And I enjoyed the impersonations on Letterman and Saturday Night Live. I considered the president a vehicle for everyone to poke fun at.
When you become an adult and are faced with issues that mean a lot to you, elections become more important. On the Reader website, a few people suggested that I be downtown at Golden Hall (“Election Central”) when the results came in.
My girlfriend and I walked into the hall at about 7:00 p.m. on election night. I noticed several people in red, white, and blue outfits. Some of them were sequined.
One group of youngsters called themselves “The Heritage Kids.” They were from a Christian school and wore red-sequined vests. They’d periodically stop while circulating through the hall and sing. I talked to one of the students, who told me about their trip to Washington, D.C., last Christmas.
I saw a guy in his 70s who was dressed in a three-piece suit adorned with an Obama button. I said, “Now that’s a guy who needs an Obama button; otherwise, he’d be pegged a Republican.” I motioned to a group of African-American women who had Obama shirts and buttons and said, “They don’t need the buttons. We could’ve guessed who they’d be supporting.”
My girlfriend said that was racist and mean of me to say, but I think the statistics showed that over 95 percent of African Americans voted for Obama. A senior citizen walked by with a button that read, “I’m too liberal for being this old.”
A couple in their early 50s came over to talk to us. My girlfriend was wearing an “I Voted” sticker written in Vietnamese, and the woman said, “Oh, you voted in Vietnamese. So did I.” After seeing a CNN projection on the big screen that Obama would be the next president, the couple went over and took a photo next to a young black guy in a do-rag, gold chains, and sunglasses.
We decided to go to the Hard Rock Café for dinner. As we walked out, I saw a group of people holding 9/11 signs. They said things about finding out “the truth.” As I walked over, my girlfriend said, “Oh, God, what are you doing?” I said, “I just want to see what these idiots have to say.” As we started talking, they said, “Are you an architect? If you aren’t, then you don’t understand that a building wouldn’t fall for no reason.” I argued with them for a few minutes but got nowhere. They handed me a CD and pamphlet, and I put them in the trash and walked away, saying, “You guys are so idiotic, and it’s insulting to the victims that died in that tragedy.” One woman was screaming at me for throwing their materials away: “Those cost 26 cents each!” An older lady who didn’t get into the argument said, “It was two of the victims’ family members who started this organization.” As I turned around to look at her, I saw the other girl fishing the papers I threw away out of the trash.
When we got to the Hard Rock, all of the TVs were on election coverage. Every waitress was hooting and hollering at the prospect of Obama becoming president. I asked if we could turn the music down and the TVs up so that we could hear what was being said. They told us they weren’t allowed to and that others had asked them the same thing.
We watched as the announcement was made that Obama would be our new president, TVs silent and Green Day blasting in our ears. We saw McCain give a concession speech but didn’t hear a word of it.
We walked back to Golden Hall after finishing our meal. Two groups were arguing toe to toe: “Yes on 8!” “No on 8!” A tall cop with a mustache was smiling. I asked him what it would take to get him involved the fracas. “Oh, nothing’s going to happen. People are just shouting. It always gets like that.”
All of the local news stations were set up. During a few of the live feeds, you could see a bunch of yahoos jumping up and down, trying to get on camera. A little later, we saw people with signs trying to get them on camera.
I felt bad for the female newscasters. While sitting there looking at their notes off-air, guys were yelling to them. One from KUSI came over and hugged a guy and took a photo with him. He said, “I’m such a big fan of yours.”
Channel 8 was gone by 10 p.m., but the crowd wasn’t. In fact, it was growing more crowded, and I wondered about the capacity of the place.
I saw a few people I knew, including an artist I had met at an art party a few years back. I wanted to tell him how much I liked his paintings, but he was hurriedly trying to get out of there. Someone said, “Maybe he’s a McCain supporter.”
One of the guys I knew told me that Madonna, who had a concert in town that night, was having her after-party at the W hotel. He has a friend who was doing the catering who told him about it.
As we were heading over to crash it, I ran into an older African American in a blazer and T-shirt that read, “No More Excuses.” I tried to talk to him about his shirt, but he handed me a flyer and said, “Come to this. It will explain everything.” As he walked away, my friend said, “I think that’s Clarence Pendleton. He worked in the Reagan administration and upset a lot of blacks when he talked about how we shouldn’t bus students or do those integration programs.” But Pendleton died 20 years ago.