"No, I have a job.” A Tahoe approached and I shook my sign at it as it whipped past, urban humidity hitting me in the face.
"Lucky," he said, as if I told him I had won a trip to the Bahamas, then turned to wave his sign at a bus rolling past us. "Reggg-ister to VOTE!" He'd developed a chant and was yelling it at sealed-up cars without a hint of irony.
My left arm was sore from pointing wildly in the direction of the Thundercloud Subs, with the registration table out front manned by two other volunteers. I had jumped around all of Austin trying to find a table that needed another volunteer. Frustrated, I had called one of the volunteer coordinators at eight and told her that the South Lamar sandwich shop was way overstaffed for the trickle of cars rolling by. Surely there was somewhere else that needed me more. "Increase street visibility and wait for the 10 o'clock rush," she said briskly. Over and out.
And so it was that I found myself in the backyard of my youth, across from the Sonic and Kerbey Lane Café I knew so well, haranguing cars with my sign and jumping around on the curb, nearly getting hit by the occasional CapMetro bus. Every time a car turned in to the Thundercloud parking lot, we cheered and shook our fists – even though sometimes all the person really wanted was a sub sandwich.
But as midnight approached, the cars driving by became scarce and the indigent staggering by became more frequent. I stood under the glow of the 7-Eleven sign, watching as people entered the gas station to feed their addictions. Cigarettes. Gas. Booze.
A voice from the darkness: “What are you doing?” I turned and saw a black man, cradling what appeared to be a crack pipe in his left hand, cigarette hanging off his lip.
“Registering voters…are you registered to vote?” I asked. He shook his head violently, dropped the object in his hand, and walked away with such a purpose that I didn’t pursue him. I took a few steps to inspect his drug paraphernalia. It looked like something I’d seen in a glass store in Venice – millefiori, as my mom would say – a tiny kaleidoscope of oranges and blues and whites. I wondered if he knew he’d dropped such a beautiful object. I wondered if he knew who Barack Obama was. For both, impossible that he couldn’t.
At two minutes until midnight, I began to abandon my street corner and walk back across the street as a coupe rolled into the parking lot and a man stepped out. I took my posterboard sign and gave it to Brandon, and we hesitated for a moment as the final person registered.
Long, dark hair and tattoos up his arms, it was a man not much older than me filling out his form painstakingly, grease stains on his hands. “And I sign here?” The woman manning the table nodded, smiling and handing him his receipt. “And here are some places where you can vote early. Be sure to take this and a photo ID with you to the polls.” The man folded the slip of paper carefully and put it in his wallet, then let it fall to his side and dangle from the chain clipped to his belt. He lingered there for a moment and an expectant pause held in the air as all four of the volunteers – myself included – stared at him, the final registrant in the final seconds of the final day. I looked up. At any minute the sky could open and balloons and confetti might shower down upon him.
“Yeah,” he said, sounding relieved. “Like, last time, man. My whole family, parents, uncles –they, they were like, all about Bush, y’know? And like, man. Now. This time. I wasn’t going to like, you know, let that happen.”
Now. This time. Yeah. I know.