This is a story about random paths crossing.
My roommate and I grew up in Alabama and met in our 20’s. We were there long enough to feel it evolve into a very Red state. Being a progressive in the buckle of the Bible belt wasn’t much fun as a young adult.
After going our own ways for a few years, we both ended up relocating to Los Angeles at about the same time. This was 6 years ago. We are both in our early 40’s and white.
Over the past 3 weeks, my roommate, Laura, has been dealing with an ailing mother back home in Alabama. Laura’s mother is in the early stages of Alzheimers. After her mother was admitted to the hospital a few weeks ago, Laura flew back on a moment’s notice to tend to her needs. Laura has a brother that still lives in the area, but he’s not much help when it comes to these moments. Ok, I’ll say it – he’s a selfish butthead.
With pressing responsibilities in LA, Laura decided to fly her mom out to California for a visit while we worked to get her health stable. Her mom is still very able-bodied, but it has become clear that she needs someone around to make sure she takes her meds and eats well.
A little over a month ago, we were introduced to a nice woman who was cleaning offices and homes to scratch out a living. Her name is Pamela, she is in her early 60’s, and is black. Pamela ended up in Los Angeles by way of losing her house in hurricane Katrina. To add insult to injury, Pamela was moved into one of those toxic FEMA trailers in Mississippi close to where her home used to be. She spent a long time recovering from the illness brought on by that experience, but she’s back to full health now.
Sensing a kindred southern spirit, we hired Pamela to clean both my company office as well as our apartment. Since all I could do during Katrina was to sit on my couch feeling helpless, I felt this was finally something I could do to that was a positive and direct contribution to someone who really needed it.
Pamela lives on a government voucher system, where they decide where you live. She has to check in twice a day with councilors or she loses her room. I’m sure there’s a reason, but this makes it really hard for Pamela to hold down any kind of regular job. Her voucher only becomes permanent if she stays in LA until 2010. Then, and only then, could she apply for relocation (she really wants to move back to the south to be closer to a man she used to date).
As Laura was settling her mom in for a “vacation” in LA, Pamela heard about the story. Basically, Laura was at the point of choosing between having 24/7 in-home care for her mother, or selling her mother’s house to pay for an assisted living facility. The anguish of moving her mother out of the home she has lived in for over 50 years was just too painful to imagine, but Laura was having a hell of a time figuring out how to afford any of the choices in front of her.
Little did we know, Pamela has a background in nursing. Since she really missed living in the south, we all had a thought; would Pamela be interested in moving to Alabama and serving as the mother’s caretaker? After hundred’s of discussions about faith and family (Pamela has children who actually live out here in LA), it was decided that Pamela would take the offer – no rent or utilities to pay, a car to use for free, and wages to make up the difference.
The decision was made for Laura, Pamela, and Laura’s mom to all fly home this weekend, on November 1.
Everyone was caught up in all of the details of the move – flights, bank accounts, going to Pamela’s storage to get her possessions, Pamela moving out of the shelter and in with us for a couple of days, etc. Then it dawned on us - the timing was going to mess with their ability to vote.
Laura has never missed a vote. Ever. Pamela felt her heart breaking thinking that she would miss out on this historic moment.
Many of you may already know, but there is only one location for early voting in all of Los Angeles County. The city of Norwalk. Joy. We live on the west side, so this meant about a 45 minute drive each way. But as I was looking around the lavote.net site this week, they announced extended hours. While we still had tons of work to do to prep for the ladies to make their trip, we decided to sacrifice the time and make the journey to Norwalk. This would also happen to take place on Halloween…thankfully without any tricks.
After rolling out of bed and gathering everyone up, we zipped across town and found the location. It’s easy to find, and there is a ton of parking. As we approached, there was a line wrapped around the sidewalk that looked to be several hundred people deep. “That’s ok,” we said, “this is important enough to wait.”
While in line, we chatted with Tom. Tom is another transplant from the south. He went to school at FSU, which is in Tallahassee, Florida. The year 2000 was Tom’s first year to vote, so you can imagine the history he feels at election time.
To give you a bit more of the scene: After roughly an hour in line, you arrive at a table of poll workers and get assigned a number. Then you sit and wait for the number to be called. Thankfully, they had erected a huge tent with plenty of chairs. About every five minutes, a lady at the front of the room would bark out a set of numbers through a bullhorn. There was a great sense of excitement as people would yell out “bingo!” or simply “yeah” and the rest of the folks would clap for them. It was like everyone was winning the lottery.
Once we were called, the process was very easy. There were great poll workers giving aid to anyone who was confused or nervous. We all slid our completed ballots into the bins and walked out feeling great. All told, it was about three hours in total at the poll, plus the hour or so of driving. Laura’s mom was a real trooper and now knows what to do when she goes to vote next Tuesday after she gets back home to Alabama.
I can now enjoy Tuesday by simply watching the returns. Or maybe I’ll volunteer to help out in my precinct.
And so tonight, the three ladies are all packed, pre-checked in, and ready to travel.
But there is a slight tragedy to the story. Pamela was not with us. She could not get away long enough to make the drive. Part of me feels horrible about this, but I told her, “don’t worry, there are enough of us voting for your man here in California that he’ll have no problem winning this state.” That was enough to fill her with s sense of belonging and pride.
But I’m sure I have no idea how deep this moment in time resonates for this woman. I wouldn’t even pretend to fathom it. That she is sacrificing her vote to help care for an ailing person she’s just met and give up her government voucher speaks volumes about her character. But she truly feels empowered by this choice.
As I complete this at 3am, I can hear Laura and Pamela still up in the next room telling stories. Maybe they’ll get some sleep on the plane.
Every day is a journey. Every day offers something new. Everyday you can take a chance and make things better for those around you.
Pick any of the next 4 days and make the journey.