When I thought I’d spend a small portion of my evening helping out Eric Schneiderman’s campaign for NY Attorney General, I did not expect loading up into the soon-to-be christened “boom boom van” at 9 o’clock at night in order to spend the next 5 hours rolling through the Bronx putting up signs.
I got there for a couple of reasons: 1) Schneiderman is a hardcore progressive, a supporter of same-sex marriage (and all LGBTQ rights), the individual largely responsible for reforming the Draconian Rockefeller drug laws, and he is also one of the most pro-environment politicians out there: a man diametrically opposed to allowing our public water to be threatened and poisoned by a hydro-fracking industry in NY. 2) I’m an idiot, managed to miscount the election deadline, and missed it by a day. This was my way of fulfilling my civic duty, while at the same time feeling ashamed for allowing myself to be disenfranchised.
Anyway, boom boom van. With the van (the sort of van with a tv, curtains, and pillows in it) packed full of posters and 7 foot tall cardboard signs, 5 guys who had been hired on for the night, and a “The Boondocks” dvd on repeat. One dude was a crane operator, another a hat salesman who worked out of a store and on the street when the hats were cheap enough, one guy was in a juvenile halfway house, waiting for an open court case to close so he could sign a marine contract.
The only thing we had to talk about was hip hop. This is not to say we didn’t have anything in common, but hip hop was or jumping off point, a topic that serves “first conversation” purposes in both being open to endless discussion and opinions, and not being overly personal. Although dismayed that I did not like Asher Roth (proof if there ever was that affirmative action works for white people, too), I was able to hold my own until I realized that they actually knew/grew up with a lot of the rappers we were talking about.
Our deadline was only the curfew at Eric’s halfway house at 3, and so we spent the better part of five hours jumping in and out of the van, throwing up posters, and hustling as quick as we could back to the van to warm up an start another Boondocks episode. The hat salesman got increasingly annoyed that the van driver would stop, let us all jump out, and then make us all run back instead of rolling up the block to pick us up. Eric kept borrowing everyone’s phone so he could call his girl, who was evidently and inexplicably furious at him. After the fifth call, a consensus was reached that a) Eric was owned, and b) the next time he called her, either he or the piece of paper he had her number written on was going out the window.
We were in some grimy neighborhoods. Being one of only two who did not live in the Bronx, I spent a good deal of time simply listening to the various histories of each block, who got shot, who got robbed, where one guy got locked up and another’s car was set on fire. This was coupled with an impressively detailed knowledge of how to get to each building, an impressive feat in these windy, hilly and frequently one way streets that lacked Manhattan’s helpful but frankly boring grid.
I was dropped somewhere near Yankee stadium with the other Brooklyn man at around 2 in the morning, and we wandered around the stadium trying to get people to give us directions (most of whom crossed the street or refused to roll down their car windows because they thought we were trying to mug them). On the ride all the way down to the Brooklyn bridge stop (and back up over the Williamsburg to Bushwick). He alternately: showed me pictures of his kids, lectured me about safe sex, invited me to church, and asked me if I wanted to smoke weed. We talked about jobs and women and reverted back to getting on Eric for his puppy dog behavior with his girl. We exchanged numbers, and he invited me for thanksgiving if I had nowhere to go.
It would have been easier just to vote, but way less interesting. Next year I plan to do both.