I pull up to the first address, checking the street number. The building towers 10 stories above me, and residents stream out of the heavy glass doors, headed for the subway. A notification appears on my phone: “You’ve arrived! Swipe to tell your passenger you’re here.”
This new app has made it effortless for anyone with a car and an iPhone to drive people to the polls—all I had to do was sign up as a volunteer. The twenty extra people who will vote because of me probably won’t swing the election, but it still feels good to do something.
I hop on Twitter as I wait, and see a reminder about new voter ID requirements; a warning about what another term of Trump could look like; a report that ICE agents are asking for documentation at the City Hall subway stop. I pause with a pang of fear for Elena and her daughter. It’s okay, I reassure myself. They know not to answer the door to anyone. They’ll be there waiting for me when I get home.
I look up to see a young woman hobbling out of the building on crutches. She has a boot on one foot and a Nike sneaker on the other, both of which clash with her carefully chosen outfit. As she navigates the busy sidewalk, I hurry to open the passenger door for her. She extends her hand.
“You’re Elizabeth, right?” she asks, a huge smile on her face. “I’m Nora, it’s so nice to meet you!”
She gives off a hopeful energy, and as we’re chatting on our way to the next house, I forget about the nagging feeling that today could end the same way as it did four years ago.
“If you don’t mind my asking, what happened to your foot?”
“That’s a great story actually,” she responds with a laugh. “I went to the Democratic convention this year, and I had aisle seats that were close to the stage. After Kamala Harris finished her nomination acceptance speech, she came into the crowd to talk to people, and her photographer was taking pictures while walking backwards, in heels, and she stepped on my foot.”
I look over at her, eyes wide in disbelief, and it takes everything in me not to swerve off the road. “You were—I mean—I’m so sorry about your foot, that sounds incredibly painful, but you were that close to her?”
“Yup,” she says, with a modest smile and a slow nod. “The boot sucks, but at least it came with a cool story.”
“Wow. Did you volunteer with the campaign?”
“I did, actually. I was knocking on doors almost every weekend for the early summer, and then once I got the boot on, I was stuck inside, phone banking.”
“Every little bit helps,” I reassure her.
We continue talking about the campaign and debate whether Trump was more or less disgraceful this year, or in 2016. When my next pick-up, a petite woman in her fifties who introduces herself as Marion, gets in the backseat, we invite her into the conversation, but to no avail. On my third or fourth try, I ask her opinion on a recent Anderson Cooper segment that made the rounds on the internet.
She hesitates to respond. “I’m sorry, I haven’t seen it. I’m more of a Fox News person myself.”
There’s an awkward pause. I can feel Nora staring at me, but I intentionally keep my eyes on the road, figuring out how the hell to continue this conversation.
“That’s nice,” I comment, in an effort to fill the void. As soon as I say it, I can hear how fake it sounds. I internally slap myself. My parents raised me better than this.
“Your social media feed must be pretty different than ours then,” Nora says with a forced laugh.
“Oh, I’m not on all those apps and things that you kids use. Too confusing for an elder like me.”
I smile at her little joke, then feel a twinge of guilt for laughing with a woman who probably doesn’t care that the six-year-old in my house hasn’t been outside in months. Then there’s overwhelming shame when I realize I’ve assumed Marion’s entire worldview based on her news preferences. And then embarrassment when I still don’t know what to say.
The rest of the ride is filled with quiet small talk, but luckily, we’re only a few blocks away. I drive into the drop-off area and accept the women’s “thank yous” and “nice to meet yous” as they climb out. Another person will be driving them home, so I probably won’t ever see them again.
The awkwardness in the car retreats with them, but as I’m about to leave for my next pick-ups, I quickly decide that I need some sort of closure to the conversation. I put the car in park and jump out to find Marion in line.
“Did I forget something in the car?” she asks, surprised to see me.
“No, um, I—I just wanted to apologize,” I admit. “I’m sorry if you felt alienated during that ride, and I don’t really have an excuse, I just didn’t want you to leave thinking that I regret driving you or anything.”
I expect a stern response about respecting elders or something, so I’m surprised when her response is warm and sincere.
“It’s not your fault. Everyone is so entrenched in their own beliefs that they never leave their echo chambers. I’m guilty of it too—I’m surrounded by people who disagree with me, but I don’t remember the last time I had a conversation about my beliefs with someone outside my family.”
“You’re not mad?”
“No, not at all. The only thing that frustrates me is that old idea that it’s rude to discuss politics with people you’re not close with. It’s created a world where we don’t know how to listen to each other, and that car ride was a perfect example. I’m glad you at least know it’s a problem. Most people these days don’t.”
“Well, thank you. I hope we’ll see each other around soon.”
I walk away slowly and think about the conversation for a little while, but soon enough I drift off, and don’t think about it again until I get home.
“How is it out there?” Elena asks, as I dump my purse and our Chinese takeout on the kitchen table.
“People are exhausted.”
“They were exhausted last time too, and look where that got us.”
“It’s a different kind of exhausted. More like ‘I hope the work we’ve done is going to pay off.’” I remember my conversation with Marion. “But you’re right, one little city doesn’t speak for the whole country.”
A pair of tiny feet run down the hallway. “I smell food, is there food?”
“Yes there is,” her mother responds. “Why don’t you thank Elizabeth for bringing dinner tonight?”
“Thank you Elizabeth!” She squeezes her arms around my waist, then looks up at me. “Is there gonna be a girl president?”
“We won’t know ‘til after you go to sleep,” I say, trying to hide my worry. “Can you get the plates for me so we can eat?”
She walks away pleased with the task she’s been given, but Elena gives me a pained look. “Last time she was only two years old. She was young enough that I didn’t have to explain it to her. What if I have to do it this time?”
“We’ll do it together.”