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How I Got To Vote (November, 2012)

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When the storm started and the lights went out, I lighted the variety of scented, Yahrzeit, and votive candles I had purchased (hardware stores in Hoboken, NJ have never heard of utility candles.  I bet they won’t make that mistake again).  My five years of training in Florida kicked in.  I had twelve gallons of water delivered to the apartment.  I had an abundance of AA, D, and C batteries and the flashlights and battery-operated radios to go with them.  My KindleFire and Nook Tablet were charged, as was my phone.  And, just in case my batteries died before power was restored, I had that old fallback, real books.

So, when the power went out on Monday evening, I wasn’t terribly concerned.  In fact, I commented to my husband, off-handedly, that I hoped Hurricane Sandy would not negatively impact the upcoming election.

Little did I know.

The power went off on Sunday night, just as I was about to cook a tray of frozen chana masala for dinner (the goal was to eat as much out of the freezer before it all thawed and had to be thrown away).  Ah, well, it wasn’t as if we didn’t expect it.  The rain was blowing sideways and the trees were seriously whipping around.  At that point, our highly flood-prone street (sometimes known as Lake Madison) was still flood-free.

Not for long.

At 9 PM the tide came in and so did the 6 feet of water that roared down our urban street.  We’ve seen floods on this street float cars, but nothing like this.  The strength of the water pushed in the garage door of our apartment building and submerged all the cars.  Two days later, when I waded through the detritus of ours and other people’s lives stored in the garage, I found that the water hit our car with such force that the windows rolled down.  The car was a total loss.  Our lobby was submerged to six feet and later settled in at the four foot water mark that we saw on the walls.

Our apartment’s front window looks directly into the convenient Shoprite supermarket across the street.  I saw lots of merchandise piled in front of the window.  I figured it had been put there to prevent the window from collapsing.  I was wrong.  The store was totally flooded and two night shift employees were trapped inside.

We turned to WNYC on our battery operated radio and listened to the various announcers tell us that if we needed to be rescued, we should call 911.  Note to WNYC and all other radio stations:  when all the cell towers are out and your land line is dead, you cannot call 911 and it causes additional angst if people tell you to do what you can’t. We did need to be rescued.  My husband’s anti-rejection medicines were running out. (He’s a kidney transplant survivor).  Our food was reaching the danger stage of sitting in the dead refrigerator.  I had taken to screaming at the announcers on the radio as an outlet for my anger.  Our only communications to the outside world was my husband’s I-Pad and the power was running low.

On Wednesday, the water had receded sufficiently that I was able to go searching for a recharging station.  I had heard that there was one about five blocks from our apartment.  Searching for a mirage of electricity in the New Jersey version of “Waterworld”  (incidentally, if you are a fan of the new TV show, “Revolution,” boy, do they have it right.  Life without power is a whole different experience, and not for the faint of heart).  There I ran into a coworker who helped me find a police friend (“old Hoboken” residents are all connected by blood or long-standing community ties.  Many are the salt of the earth.  Tara is one of those).  He and his partner took me back to our apartment, loaded my husband, myself and our very small dog into their SUV, and started the round of shelters.  The first had no beds, the second took no dogs.  We went back to the dark, powerless apartment.

Meanwhile, my daughter who lives in New York City in gloriously untouched Queens (not the coastal part), was calling the National Guard to try to get us out.  An EMS ambulance from Berks County, PA, came to the door, packed us up (including the dog and his kennel) and took us to a nearby school for shelter.  That lasted for an hour because the dog had to sit by himself in the lobby.  The dog who was every bit as traumatized as we were, was consigned, exiled from us.  I sat on the floor next to his cage for about an hour, then told my husband it was time to go home.  So, back we went to the dark, now cold apartment.  It was also then that I realized that voting was going to be a BIG problem in Hoboken.  The shelter in the school was our polling place.  How would we vote amid the cots?  But the election was still several days away.  We had bigger fish to fry.  We needed to get out of Hoboken.

Third time was the charm.

My daughter’s S.O.S. messages on Facebook reached a friend or a friend of a friend in Jersey City with a truck.  Three lovely young strangers, one with a lovely British accent, came to our door, literally packed us up and put us in the truck, drove us to the ferry slip and bought us tickets to New York.  My son-in-law met us at the other side and we were finally safe.

And they didn’t even leave a silver bullet.

Walking into Manhattan was surreal.  Above 40th Street, life was very much as normal.  A few stores were taking cash only, but by and large people were going about their business as if the storm had not happened.

Fed, well-lit, and in my daughter’s bed (she and my son-in-law took the air mattress, bless them), I turned my attention to the election.  How was I going to vote?  We were miles from home.  Who knew if we could get back in time for voting and this was the one election in which I was determined to be heard.  I’m sure this determination applied to blue and red voters – we each had our hot button issues – but mine had to do with protecting the balance of the Supreme Court for decades to come.

I e-mailed the Hudson County Clerk.  She promptly returned by e-mail telling me that the day I wrote was the last day for absentee ballots, that she would not accept fax or e-mail, and basically I was out of luck unless I could walk into her office that afternoon.  She also chastised me for thinking that her staff hadn’t been impacted by the storm, and that they would not be working overtime to accommodate evacuees.

Uh, what was that you said?

My FB posse kicked in.  Prior to the election, I had pretty much “unfriended” everyone on Facebook with political opinions at odds with mine.  Please don’t lecture me on being closed-minded.  When I discovered that my former beloved hairdresser was a “birther,” it sealed the deal.  My women, about twenty to twenty five strong, joined me in e-mailing, calling, and tweeting governors, senators, congressmen, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, FEMA, the White House, and the Dept. of Justice/ Voter Suppression Division (my niece works there).  And my friends’ friends called, too.  And people on Huffington Post called.  And, guess what?  We made a difference.  Governor Christie issued an order that faxed and e-mailed ballots would be accepted in the vote.

Except for one thing.

The ballot applications that my husband and I received were not interactive.  To request a ballot (not vote; just get the damned ballot), we had to download the file to a thumb drive; I walked it to Kinkos (my daughter has no printer); printed two copies out; walked six blocks back so that my husband could fill in his request for ballot; walked back to Kinkos and faxed both applications.

Then we waited.

No ballot, no ballot, no ballot.  I resolved that if I had to, I would go back to Hoboken by any means to vote in place. I’m not a strong swimmer, but I decided that the Hudson River would not deter me. If I had to, I’d find water wings, or those noodle things that kids use.  We were glued to the power grid representation of power returning to Hoboken streets on my daughter’s laptop, praying for our street to light up.  No power, no power, no power.

Finally, late Sunday evening, the power in our street came on.  We packed our things, hired a car, and got to the ferry slip back to Hoboken.  Late Monday afternoon, we made it home.

Also, late Monday afternoon, my husband got his ballot by e-mail printed in microscopic, red print. Totally illegible.  I guess the County Clerk doesn’t have the updated equipment to print a legible ballot.  My ballot has yet to come.  Word has it that 1500 ballot requests came from Hoboken alone.  I guess the County Clerk and her staff must have had to put in a bit of overtime, after all.

On Tuesday morning at 5:45 AM, I left my apartment and was first in line at my polling place.  I was the first in my precinct to place my vote at 6 AM.  I expected a shower of red, white and blue balloons and a brass band to come down as I pressed the button and registered my vote.  It didn’t happen, but I have never been happier about registering a vote in my whole sixty-two years.  Do you want a bit of irony?  The County Clerk of Hudson County was running unopposed on the ballot.  If I had thought of it, I would have written in Stephen Colbert’s name in opposition to her.

We’re walking everywhere, right now.  Last night, the waterlogged fire alarm started ringing and has been going off periodically through the night.  It’s annoying.  It isn’t nearly as annoying as being denied your right to vote when everything is on the line.  The library where I work flooded and contractors are trying to repair the damage so that we can reopen.  Mothers keep writing to me about books they want to return.  It’s a new normal, but I guess it’s normal. 

On Saturday, an insurance adjuster will come and declare our car a total loss and we will take on a car payment we didn’t expect.  My husband’s anti-rejection medicines should be here today.  It’s all part of getting back to life as we sort of knew it.

However, at the bottom – the very bottom – I was driven by only one thing.  I wanted to vote.  I wanted to count I wanted to make my small difference to this big country and all the generations after.

AND I DID!

 

After Fifty Living™ was founded by Jo-Anne Lema, a genuine Boomer and member of the 50+ generation. As she likes to say, “Our enormous generation is charting new territory – we’re healthier, better educated, and more financially fit than any other generation at this time. And, as we march through history, 110 million strong – unique, new issues are developing. It’s exciting to be a part of the development and growth of AfterFiftyLiving.com. This is a historic solution for a historic generation.”

Jo-Anne spent many years in the financial and operations side of higher education after having received a doctorate in education management and administration from Harvard, and an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University. Launching out on her own, though, has been the fulfillment of a life dream. Jo-Anne believes that “AfterFiftyLiving™ will delight its visitors, catalyze its partners, and will significantly benefit those who engage it.”

Residing in New England along with her husband of 35+ years, she never ceases to brag about her two children and 4 grandkids!

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