After spending years in the political closet (one of the dangers of a politically mixed marriage) I have emerged with a flourish, and a job as Press Person for a Michigan candidate for the United States House of Representatives. I have been working for Bob Alexander, a Democrat running in Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, against Mike Rogers, a four-term Republican incumbent. Bob is the kind of Democrat my parents are - a Joan Baez, “if you want peace, work for justice” kind of guy who spent years circulating petitions and working crowds “cold” to promote the value of a living wage for working people, and eventually persuaded the Michigan legislature to raise the minimum wage by 29 percent. He was not holding office at the time, mind you; it was just the right thing to do.
In a statement of dedication to his energy policies and his home state of Michigan, Candidate Alexander handed his aging Ford Escort to a young campaign staffer bought a Chevy Malibu hybrid, and spontaneously decided to drive to drive to Denver to see if he could raise some money and make some connections at the Democratic National Convention. We are thrilled that the national Democratic Party has been generous with the Dems challenging Republican incumbents in Michigan’s 7th and 9th Districts, but we have, as of this moment, raised only $100,000.00 compared to Mike Rogers million dollar campaign chest. As he often does, Bob decided to make a quirky, but brave move. We assembled a road crew that included The Candidate himself, a 30-year old law student and field organizer named Eboney, a 23-year old videographer named Ryan, the campaign’s Operations Manager, Michael, and me. That’s a crowd in a Chevy Malibu hybrid, particularly for purposes of a 38-hour round trip. That is, however, why they make Xanax.
Sunday, August 24
In the little silver Malibu, hurtling west, we discussed things political and things spiritual. A meeting had been arranged between Bob and Marianne Williamson, and we considered
what might appeal to peacenik, New Age, spiritual people. (People, actually, a lot like Bob and Michael). At 2:10, we entered Iowa, crossing the Mississippi River. We saw signs for the Herbert Hoover Memorial Museum, and although we decided not to stop, Michael said that some presidential museums seemed interesting, like maybe the Ronald Reagan Museum. “Ronald Reagan,” Bob replied with an audible snort, “you mean that union busting, Dem destroying, class B actor?”
Shortly afterwards, we began to see the trucks carrying big blades. They were really long, and looked kind of like anorexic whales, or really small, experimental airplanes with no wings. Driving past Pella, Iowa we saw windmills on billboard signs, and then we actually saw a real, live windmill, and figured out that the trucks were carrying parts for the assembly of the windmills. I was not sure whether to interpret the windmills and windmill blades as a metaphor for the fact that we were “tilting at windmills,” or as the forces of the universe endorsing Bob’s strong support of alternative energy sources.
My philosophical musings were interrupted by a serious crisis when Michael announced from the front seat that he couldn’t find an NPR station on the radio. “It’s there,” Bob said as Michael frantically pushed the “Seek” button, “did you go through them all?”
“Almost. There probably isn’t anything, we’re in the middle of Iowa, between Des Moines and Council Bluffs. No…I take it back,” Michael said with a sigh of relief. “90.9. Close call.”
Later, we drove past a Tom Harkin bumper sticker. Tom is a friend of Bob’s, and has a farm in Ottumwa, Iowa. As we left the prairie farmland and started to see trees again, Bob explained to us that Harkin invites several thousand people to his farm before each Iowa caucus. We’d been on the road ten hours, including stops, and reached Council Bluffs, our destination for the night. Our campaign manager’s son lives there, and had generously agreed to put up our motley crew.
Monday, August 25th
On Monday morning we all got up on time after a good night’s sleep. We had good coffee, talked with our hosts, and got ready to hit the road and drive through Omaha and into Denver. During breakfast at a truck stop outside Council Bluffs, Bob noticed that people were looking at us “funny.” Michael pointed out that we were an odd group; a 60-something year old white guy, a 47 year old white guy with a ponytail, a 46-year old white mom with librarian glasses, a beautiful young African-American woman and a fresh-faced, 23-year old white boy. A religious cult? A band? A family with a mom, a dad, two kids and…an extra dad?
On the way out of Iowa and across Nebraska, Bob talked about farming and crops, things which he knows a great deal about after working with agriculture in the Peace Corps. Chicken farms in India to be specific. (Michael asked “what the red stuff was,” and Bob explained that it was sorghum). As we began to see large, corporate farming operations, Eboney told us about her fierceness in front of a judge, and Ryan explained that he had been making movies since he was in high school. Michael and Ryan bet on whether Michael Moore would answer our e-mail asking him to meet with us in Denver. Getting a little punchy, Michael held his tape recorder to the floor of car to hear what Bob calls the “sounds of the whales” because of the pitch variations caused by the grooves in the pavement.
We stopped for lunch before going in to Colorado, at a Flying J truck stop with a full-on lunch buffet. The waitress seemed nervous about the fact that Michael was talking into a voice recorder, and eventually gathered the nerve to ask if we were ”secret shoppers” hired to pose as customers and evaluate the service. Bob told her who he was, and that we were on our way to the convention, and she sat down and joined us for coffee.
Michael and Ryan decided to film our entry into the Colorful State of Colorado, the end of the trip and the beginning of the convention adventure.
Ann Graham Nichols cooks and writes the Forest Street Kitchen blog in East Lansing, Michigan where she lives in a 1912 house with her husband, her son and an improbable number of animals.