I love America.
I love America so much that I stood in line, bobbing back and forth on my toes to keep my circulation going, at 7 a.m. to cast my very first vote for president in last month's presidential election. I had skipped coffee just to make sure I’d be there at an hour that is unholy for college students. Pink-cheeked with excitement and wind burn, I tried to forget the cold by going over the pros and cons of each candidate one last time. Voting for the next president only happens once every four years, and I wanted to get it right. Ladies and gentlemen, I love America.
But my brave venture out into the world before noon is not why I love this country. Believe me I have never been more proud of an election. The turnout for Decision 2008 was phenomenal; several people got parking tickets that day because there weren’t enough spaces for everyone. The reason why I am so proud of our country, however, has much more to do with awe at my nation’s spirit when things go wrong.
I knew my early start would be worth my while when, on that bright frigid morning, the guy next to me in line muttered, “What is that guy doing?”
I shrugged. What was anyone doing at this hour? I was more impressed that he managed the words in between chattering his teeth with the control of a jackhammer. Nevertheless, I squinted blearily at the row of houses across from my polling location. They weren’t anything special — tiny, single-story houses that were utilized best by poor college students and retired couples who were tired of the upkeep associated with larger homes.
In the yard my neighbor was referring to, it just looked like some guy was taking down his campaign sign now that he’d finished voting. At least, that’s what it looked like until he moved on to the next house and yanked the political sign from their lawn too.
Now I was awake. This man had decided to commit property theft in plain view of a gaggle of wide-eyed voters. For some reason, he did not want anyone to see the sign bearing a local politician's name. Despite the fact that he did not own these houses, he felt he needed to rid the public of the opportunity of seeing the sign and agreeing that the candidate was worthy of office. There had to be some sort of double penalty for theft and trying to influence our opinion.
My line neighbor and I exchanged wary glances. We needed to tell someone but moving an inch meant we’d lose our hard-earned spots at the front. I surveyed my options: the motherly types selling baked goods and coffee for stressed and fatigued voters, an elderly pastor overseeing the vote-counting machine or the tiny tots zooming in between people’s legs to entertain themselves during the boring voting process.
As it turned out, we had no reason to fret. While I continued to bounce around my square of the sidewalk, frost-bitten and nervous, a champion lurked on the dark porch of the next house.
He was older but he stared down the thief from behind his Buddy Holly glasses. His voice protested softly at first. He politely asked what the hell the thief was doing taking someone else’s sign. No response came save for the labored grunts of the thief ripping out the sign stakes. The longer the homeowner was ignored, the louder he got until he was shouting and making threatening hand gestures. The man soon addressed the line, all of us openly ogling the spectacle.
“This man is stealing my sign! Don’t get out of line, vote!” he yelled. “VOTE!”
The crowd was ecstatic. Cheers rose from the sleepy civilians and cries for a citizen’s arrest were rampant. To the delight of the crowd, the man pretended to lunge at the thief and laughed when the sign-stealer jumped back. He never attempted to replace the sign but he backed quickly out of the yard and farther down the street.
We thought the older man was finished when he went back into his house. It was rather amazing how fast the whole incident had passed. Just as quickly as the line had rallied for justice on this auspicious occasion, we now settled back into the monotony of waiting to vote: ear buds firmly reinserted, eyes slowly glazing over once more. I was almost finished with my newest Sudoku puzzle when I was nudged sharply in the ribs by Neighbor Boy.
Our hero in Buddy Holly glasses had re-emerged toting a camera with a noticeably large lens. He was surprisingly agile for a man his age. He leapt off the porch with the grace of youth and began sprinting after his sign, still clutched by the retreating thief. The thief walked calmly the entire time but mysteriously gained speed every time the older man got too close. The chase lasted only a few houses, ending when they were both stopped by police at the nearby convenience store. We were all craning our necks in the hopes of an arrest or more righteous action on the part of Buddy Holly. Sadly, nothing other than strong words were exchanged.
The sight of the homeowner chasing after the man with the signs, snapping candid photos and shouting unintelligibly what he was going to do with those photos was priceless. No one was going to take his freedom of speech and get away with it. Justice was going to be served one way or another.
I cannot think of a better way for Election Day 2008 to have started. Later, as I was filling out my ballot I couldn’t help believing that the older man had missed his calling as a civil liberties activist. I’d never seen someone so ready to protect his rights before. It is a pity that men and women like him aren’t seen as often as their offending counterparts. If he had been an option, I definitely would’ve voted for him.