Each morning I am reading a couple of biographies from Wayward Women. It’s my travel devotional in these COVID days providing inspiration to adventure. My local indie bookstore, Time Tested Books, found this paperback 2001 reissue for me. I feel lucky as it is out of print with few copies in circulation. (I hesitate to highlight it for this reason.)
The author Jane Robinson had the opportunity whilst working at an antiquarian bookstore, to read piles of travel memoirs and books written by women–especially in the period of 1850-1930. No one would read them today for tips on where to stay; however, they still inspire to push a little further from our comfort zone and relish our ability to travel without a chaperone!
Here’s a taste from The Honorable Mrs. Victor (Mildred Mary) Bruce [b. 1895]:
“The amazing Mrs. Bruce first started breaking records at the age of fifteen, when the police caught her doing 67 m.p.h. on her brother’s motor cycle and she became the first ever woman to be charged for speeding. From then on she never looked back.”
The writing is lively and the women are diverse, though I can’t help but notice that most of the women of Victorian era to WWII were women of title (i.e. means). For many reasons I am glad I am a traveller in this century. As soon as the vaccine is available to me, I will take it and pack my Away case to go!
Long before sunrise on election day, I got up at 5:00 a.m. and drank a cup of coffee in my room and was ready to go if needed at 5:30 a.m. I had my Poll Observer t-shirt on with a long sleeve shirt to cover it up in case I was asked to go inside the polling place. I went downstairs at 6:15 to scope out the polling place in the hotel and make sure it opened on time. That is when I realized how much I underestimated the seriousness of the entire election operation. Not only were they open but there was a surplus of Democratic poll observers.
I met a lot of Californian volunteers, and some of them had been there all week. I was assigned as a rover, and at 10:00 a.m. I still had not received a call to action. I decided to head to the Democratic headquarters in Phoenix to volunteer to get-out-the-vote. On my way to my car, I saw a couple of volunteers from the Bay Area who said their sister was all alone at the polling place in Peoria and needed a break. We sent the relevant texts to people in Voter Protection AZ and I drove 30 minutes north to a senior living community. The voting center was in their community center. My fellow observer Jill was glad to take a lunch break when I got there a little before eleven because she’d been going since 5 a.m. without a pause.
The voting center was set up to accommodate about 15 voters at a time. Masks were required but they didn’t refuse anyone who didn’t wear a mask (I only saw one person without a mask inside the polling center). All of the poll workers and observers wore both a face mask and plastic face shield to provide extra protection. They had already been working 6 days at this center and this was their final day. They are paid a nominal amount of money—a little better than jury duty—so their dedication seemed even more heroic considering the risk of COVID.
People checked in at the bank of computers to establish that they were registered to vote in Maricopa County. A couple of computer savvy workers were stationed there to troubleshoot with people who moved but hadn’t updated their driver’s license, or had their wallet stolen or one of the other dozen or so situations. Most people were quickly identified in the system and their ballot was printed. Since they can live anywhere in the County and vote here, the ballot had to be printed for each individual. Ballots in 2020 had the Presidential and Senate races but they also had a myriad of local elections and measures. Not everyone in the County has the same special district boundaries. It is vital that each voter receive the right ballot. One of the printers sometimes stopped working and this slowed the line, but the County Voter Registrar’s office was quick to troubleshoot by phone or come out. They also periodically delivered new blank ballots.
[No photos are allowed in a polling place both as a privacy and security measure.]
Once a voter received their ballot, they moved to a small booth with privacy screens to fill in their ballot. They were provided sanitized Sharpie pens to better fill the bubbles. Sometimes the black ink bled through to the other side. I heard the question a dozen times, “The pen ink bled through, will the machine still county my ballot?” The answer was always the same, “The ballots are designed so there is no confusion. Your ballot will be counted just as you marked it.”
I’ve been voting by absentee for so long that I didn’t know about this next step. Then the voter walked their ballot over to the tabulator. This machine looked like a small copier. They inserted their ballot into the machine. It read both sides and either responded with a green check letting the voter know there are no issues, or a red x with an accompanying message about an issue they could still resolve. If they pressed the x the tabulator spat their ballot back out. For example, they could vote for a judge in a race they might have skipped or trade their ballot for a new one and mark it differently if they inadvertently voted for two candidates for the same office. Or they could also override the x and submit the ballot anyway. As you might imagine, a poll worker had to help people with the tabulator as people didn’t know how to use it. They did this with the utmost discretion.
People could then collect their “I voted” sticker and be on their way. Around 2 p.m. our voting center ran out of stickers. People were genuinely upset! Americans are definitely conditioned to expect a gold star when we do something good. We didn’t know at the time that the stickers ran out because this election was turning into a record breaker for turnout. I was volunteering outside when a first-time voter who voted somewhere else asked if there were any stickers at this center. I congratulated her but said, sorry no. Then I pulled off my sticker from my t-shirt and gave it to her. She was all smiles.
Actually, almost everyone was excited to vote. Peoria is in northern Maricopa County which is known for being conservative. And yet because it was a voting center people who work in the area or were in the area that day, could drop in and vote or leave their PEVL ballot. This made for a much more diverse electorate than if it was just the seniors who lived in this “Sun City” type community.
In June and July, I volunteered to write postcards to northern Arizonans who were registered Democrats and not registered for the Permanent Early Voting Registry (PEVL). The key to using PEVL is to make sure you mail it in time to be received by election day, or to drop it off at one of the voting centers. The other hitch is to make sure you sign the envelope and seal it. One older poll worker who struggled to stay awake in the afternoon, roused himself every time someone approached the drop box to deposit their PEVL ballot. He would ask them if they’d signed it and about one in ten would pause and then move over to a table to sign their ballot and seal it. I believe they received about 1000 ballots or more this way.
For about an hour or so I got to sit outside and be available on the far side of the 75-foot boundary to answer voter questions. I loved it because I could encourage people and say “good on you” to the people who waited up to an hour to vote. There is not supposed to be any politicking inside the 75-foot marker. And as poll observers we were not to wear anything that indicated our party or preference within the polling place or inside the boundary. Voters could wear whatever they liked. I did not see any Biden t-shirts but I saw a lot of Trump and MAGA gear. An occasionally a jeep or truck would pull into the parking lot with Trump flags. I also saw a young black man wearing a Trump-Pence t-shirt that helped to remind me that we should not assume anything on election day.
I interacted with a lot of good-hearted people. None more so than the poll workers. The team of six were captained by an Inspector. She had a Marshall (ironically the sleepy man), and two assistants. There were two other workers who mainly worked the printers and who did not have as much responsibility for securing the vote at the end of the evening. They faced many physical challenges including advanced age and overall health, but none of them complained or shirked their work. I was so impressed. I wanted to applaud at the end of the day.
As the day drew to a close, the Marshall began proclaiming loudly outside that the polling center would be closing in 15 minutes, or 10 minutes, etc. Just before 7 p.m. one or two people entered. They were given all the time they needed to vote. No one is allowed in after 7 p.m. unless they were already in line. One of my jobs was to ensure that whoever was in line at 7 p.m. was still allowed to vote, but we had no line. As soon as the last voter was finished, observers were asked to step to the doorway so as to not be in the way as they began the breakdown and securing the vote. We could still see what was going on.
The team took this job very seriously. The inspector consulted her binder of instructions every step of the way. There are special bins for the tabulator tape, the actual ballots, the PEVL ballots and the computer thumb drives. Several people had to sign to affirm that steps were followed and bins secured. My contact in the Democratic Party voter security boiler room had said “Be sure that two people take the secured ballots to the County headquarters, even if you have to lie in front of the truck to stop them.” This also turned out to a non-issue as the Inspector asked for volunteers—one Democrat and one Republican—to drive the ballots to the County office.
I walked out of the voting center to follow the ballots and witness them leaving with two people. It was almost 8:30 p.m. I came away with a new respect for voting security while the Republican observer said, “Boy, you can see how easy it would be to commit fraud.” I didn’t let her go unchallenged. Everyone would have to be in cahoots, and they can’t tell who anyone voted for so they’d have to disenfranchise everyone. She replied, “Still, you can see how it could happen.” No, I don’t see. But I don’t go on Facebook and I don’t watch Fox News.
I drove back to my hotel a little hungry for dinner and buzzing from the day. I was tired but so, so happy that I’d witnessed something amazing: a record voter turnout successfully served during a pandemic. This is what democracy looks like.
Stay as safe as you can if you are traveling this holiday weekend for any reason. I have not been traveling much since March, but I noticed that Chick-fil-A restaurants have redesigned their drive thru experience to decrease COVID risk for their customers AND employees. Same great food, slightly different drive thru procedures.
When I was serving as a poll observer in Maricopa County, AZ, I found a Chick-fil-A. They got even more creative than my local restaurant in Sacramento with a winding drive thru line that served more people relatively quickly.
The employees were masked of course. Remember to don your mask too to protect them in case you are asymptomatic. And enjoy that yummy chicken!
I’m sure Justice Ginsberg’s family is honored to have their beloved mother and grandmother enjoying the distinction of being the first woman and first Jewish person to lie in state in the US Capitol. It doesn’t remove death’s sting, but hopefully it lessens it.
In my lifetime, my everyday life has been enhanced by the cases Ruth Bader Ginsberg fought and won in Court. Thanks to RBG, as a single woman in the United States, I can get a checking account or credit card, buy a house, and much more. People like to credit popular movements like the sexual revolution in the 1970s for these changes, but so many movements can be just a fad if they are not backed up with changes in laws based on a firm legal foundation. Look how many times we’ve “discovered” sexual harassment.
If you’d like to be reminded of her contribution to our betterment, there are two films that are enjoyable and educational: On the Basis of Sex and RBG. I saw them both in the movie theater (remember that experience?) and just watching the trailers made me tear up. You can rent or buy these films. As a girl who grew up being called “smartypants” a lot, I can’t help but cheer for this petite woman who valued her intellect and never let other diminish her (for long).
Her Supreme Court dissents earned her more acclaim than some of the cases she won as an ACLU litigator. She earned the moniker of Notorious RBG (named after a famous fellow-Brooklynite rapper). There are also memes like “No truth without Ruth” that went viral after she read her dissenting opinions from the bench. Perhaps the most famous is her retort to the shameful dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, “what was once the subject of a dream, the equal citizenship stature of all in our polity, a voice to every voter in our democracy undiluted by race…”
The beautiful thing about a life such as Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the torch is not passed to just her two children, or her 100+ judicial clerks, but to all of us who share her values. We are legion. And we will not give up on equality for all.
Like many people, I thought of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg as a superhero–amazing and indestructible. This Friday we were reminded that she was a mortal human being. She is a hero who did her best until the end of her assigned days. Now we must do what we can to honor her.
I am on the West Coast and COVID prevents me–and lots of other mourning her loss–from hopping on a plane to pay my respects in person. My friend Gary who lives in Washington, DC was able to go. Here is a brief interview:
Why did you decide to go to the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC to pay your respects to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg? I went for all the obvious reasons – great woman, great life story, I agreed with her on all her court rulings, poignant timing of her death in light of Rosh Hashanah, and personal connection as a fellow Jewish Brooklynite.
How did you feel in the midst of the crowd? What was the mood of the crowd? The experience was very moving. Needless-to-say, the crowd was subdued. It was a beautiful DC day – sunny and in the 70’s – which made the wait quite pleasant.
What is one special memory of Ruth Bader Ginsberg that endears her to you? She was one, tough broad which, as a New Yorker, is high praise.
What was your experience around the Supreme Court steps? Excellent social distancing, everyone was wearing a mask. The wait was about 1:40 minutes from getting on the line to arriving at the base of the Court steps. I’d guess there was about 1,000 people on line when I arrived and the crowd was equally large when I left. Based on my observation, 75-80 percent of those there were young girls and women.
For people who might be coming from outside DC, any travel tips? Metro is running. I believe the closest stop is Capitol South, but Union Station is not the much further. Parking? It’s DC!! Street parking is challenging. Some roads near the Court were blocked off.
We may honor the life of Congressman John Lewis in a multitude of ways. First and foremost, we shall register to vote and then vote (early, by mail, or in person). There are many other ways as well. I learned about John Lewis when I was in Selma and Birmingham on my Civil Rights Crawl. I have since leaned in to learn more. Now there is new material that is worth taking the time to enjoy–and seldom has a man been more full of joy than John Lewis.
Do you have 15 minutes? Read his call to action that was written towards the end of his life and published posthumously in the New York Times.
Do you have 2.5 hours? Buy a $12 ticket at Crooked.com (Crooked Media/Pod Save America) for a special viewing of the movie John Lewis: Good Trouble with a on-line discussion panel afterward on Thursday August 7, 2020 at 4 p.m. PST/7 p.m. EST. The ticket unlocks the film to view for 72 hours. Five dollars from each ticket will go to PowerPac to support their work.
Do you have 4 hours? Admit it, in this time of COVID you probably do. Then I strongly encourage you to watch John Lewis’ funeral at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve linked to the PBS full coverage on YouTube.com that is without commentary. I found the funeral service uplifting. It was as if I came out of Wonderland and things were right side up again. A good man was called out for being good. A hero was honored for true unselfish heroism. Of course you can get a Readers Digest condensed version by watching just President Obama’s eulogy.
Then go for a walk and ask yourself “What can I do for my democracy?”
Finding COVID-safe adventures for my grandson has been a challenge. For the first 8 weeks of lockdown we only talked by video/phone. Then we carefully expanded our bubbles to include our two families. This allowed me to resume our adventures in consultation with his parents. We have explored more of the trails at Effie Yeaw Nature Area and walked round and round the duck pond at Land Park. There is always my own neighborhood and “work” in my garden.
We were on our way to the lily pad duck pond across the road from the Sacramento Zoo entrance. As we drove by, Cal saw the open sign and people walking in and I was anxious to distract him. The zoo is welcoming visitors with a reservation, yet we don’t feel an active boy of 3 and three-quarters will be able to keep from touching surfaces and staying a safe distance from other kids his age, so we are waiting. I quickly turned to park and lo and behold we were right next to the WPA Rock Park. What a delightful discovery!
It’s been here since 1940 and yet I never noticed it before, so we explored it together. Although I was definitely the support player in the imaginative play inspired by the landscape. Once we explored all of the trails and dodged some of the “muddles” created by the sprinklers, he began imagining he was a mama wolverine and he began looking for the perfect place for his wolverine family den. I was grandma wolverine. We spent over an hour exploring the garden and rock hardscapes. We didn’t make it to the duck pond today (although the huge lily pads are something!) and boy did we have fun.
In this time of Corona, spending this much time at home is a revelation. I love my home and garden and neighbors and neighborhood. I feel so blessed to have landed here. It is possible that all of my travels informed my choices subconsciously. I am so happy to be at home. I just read this in The Little Bookshop at Big Stone Gap, and it resonated.
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by–
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
Nor hurl the cynic’s ban–
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
and be a friend to man.
-Sam Foss “The House by the Side of the Road,” from Dreams in Homespun.
From my front porch I watch the world go by and interact with my neighbors from a safe physical distance. We can care for one another, check in daily, and I know that I am also seen. The energy that I use to interact with strangers when I travel, I am now spending to get to know my neighbors at a deeper level. It feels good and we enjoy a stronger community as we all expand our circle of caring.
Wellington the Rockhopper penguin made me a fan of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois. I’ve not visited yet and they are officially closed until April 30, 2020. Let’s face it. None of us know when they might be able to reopen and when we might be able to travel to Chicago to visit. Nevertheless, I’ve started following them on Instagram @shedd_aquarium. And my favorite posts feature their penguins going on outings into the aquarium interiors and outside on the steps. When I do finally make it to Shedd I am going to buy a ticket to enjoy the Penguin Experience.
There are other penguin cams available around the world. Celebrate World Penguin Day by checking out one or more of these. Then do something to reduce your use of plastic. Eat only fish approved by Seafood Watch.
Sometimes this Corona season seems like a weird tear in the time space continuum. Then something happens that makes it feel so much more real. Like when the NBA cancelled the season. So when I read this morning’s sports headline, “Tour de France cancelled” I again felt “this shit is real.” Because when the greedy managers of the Tour de France who faithfully put profit before cyclist safety decide to cancel for 2020, the pandemic must be super serious.
And of course it is super serious. Not that we have to lose our sense of humor. There are plenty of people making YouTube videos that provide the lighter side. Britain is ahead on this front. They may not be exemplary on their COVID response but who would not smile at The Sound of a Pandemic? They need some cheer: the Royal Horticulture Society’s Chelsea Flower Show normally scheduled for mid-May has officially been cancelled (but may be going virtual–watch this space.)
For all of us who live through this, we will immediately remember this COVID experience when we see the *asterisk on lists of event winners in the competitions we love to participate in or watch. Hopefully it will help us appreciate a new normal one day and not take the things we love for granted.
Meanwhile I am traveling in my imagination through fiction and memoir. Or creating my own urban garden oasis while binging on the Britbox Chelsea Flower Show coverage of 2019. Maybe you will be racing your own Tour de Peloton. Those of us lucky to have a secure home and some income, we can plan adventures for beyond Corona. And open our pocketbooks to give something to those hurting from the economic downturn or who are on the front lines of the fight against COVID now.