Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Granite Dreams

Fueled by an inadvertent late afternoon nap and an 8pm French Press of coffee I can't sleep tonight, and all my thoughts return to last summer which, now that I think about it, may have been the final destination for the biggest dream I have ever had.

I was living in an idyllic setting, had a comfy paycheck, and nearly everything to do with writing about politics and the New Hampshire Primary was new to me. My experience with hands-on primary events did exist, but in all honesty could be counted on one hand.

In 2000 I went to a single Bill Bradley campaign event in Tacoma. In 2003 I saw John Edwards in Manchester in August while I was staying at Harrington Lodge in North Woodstock for cross country training camp living alongside such steely compatriots as Dan Lazarek and Weston Fuhrman. I drove up from Franklin Park in October to hear John Kerry share his wealth of knowledge across the issue spectrum at a pub in Portsmouth.

Then on a January night in 2004, at the zenith of his intrigue, I saw Wes Clark in a high school cafeteria in Litchfield then on the way home to Connecticut, I took the long way through Boston to be closer to the ocean and it snowed nearly a foot in three hours. I pulled over in Westerly, RI to find a Bess Eaton and wound up driving off of a curb because I couldn't tell where the driveway ended and the sidewalk began. At 11 o'clock on a snowy Tuesday in Westerly at a closed donut shop it was as quiet, let me tell you.

That night was when it really set in, the idea of the New Hampshire primary that I had only watched on television as a high school senior four years earlier. It was then that I fell in love with the mountain hotels and their lobby fireplaces, the snowy sidewalks full of sign-wavers (visibility, I would learn to call it), and the cramped town hall meetings. At the Alvirne High cafeteria that night there were maybe 200 people. This time around a late-January event with a third-place polling candidate, 200 attendees would get you laughed off the pages of the blogs at MSNBC and The Atlantic and Time. But that year it felt like something big.

"Why on earth," I wondered, "would two hundred people show up on a cold ass Tuesday night to hear a politician from a state halfway across the country?"

As I pondered this on my way home, having had my first taste of a cold-weather rally, I knew that this was different. Besides, as with most things in life, you don't truly experience it until you do it in cold weather.

It was also the first time, at age 22, that I had ever driven in snow.

Four years later I've worked on a general campaign, written full-time about politics for two thirds of a year, and become a near professional at driving in the snow having lived, among other places, in West Brattleboro, Vermont for a winter where it made sense from a spiritual and fuel economy level to take dirt roads nearly all the way to my job at Mount Snow some twenty miles away.

Here in Washington I can only try my best to remember the snow, and visualize my hands turning red with searing pain as I brushed it off my car with inadequate equipment and clothing on my way to work last December. I can also only imagine what it would be like to see candidates caravaning around the Evergreen State.

When Clinton and Obama came to Seattle, thousands were there to greet them. When John McCain came there were maybe 150. Then again, he spoke at the Westin Hotel ballroom. If I wasn't an absolute presidential junkie, I wouldn't have gone there, either.

But four months earlier I had seen McCain in someone's front yard with forty people around, and at VFW hall with a hundred. And I had seen Clinton with 1,000 and 2,000 and 3,5000. I had seen Obama at Manchester's largest venue with Oprah and, very early on, in Laconia with 500. I knew where the expectations were set, and how much they had grown in less than a year.

In 2000 and 2004, there were no expectations. All I knew was the idea of the New Hampshire primary and how it wasn't unheard of, or irrational, for a presidential aspirant to talk to a general store full of twelve people in an out-of-the-way Lakes region town.

Tonight, when Obama won North Carolina by 15 and Clinton won Indiana by two, the conventional wisdom said that this 2008 batch of the primary season that began in New Hampshire more than a year ago, is finally over. I have been anxiously waiting for Clinton to ceded the nomination since the middle of February. But now that reality has set in and I see it slipping away from me, even though I had paid it the attention of a red headed stepchild for the past two months, I find myself begging for just one more primary. Just one more batch of returns.

I know this dream is over, that for one more person it has become a reality.

But back then, in the summer of 2007, all I could do was sit in the warm weather, drink my coffee, look out at the silhouette of the Holyoke Range and dream. Back then, the dream was still alive and well.

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