"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yes We Can.....eat at Olive Garden

Ms. Cake and I decided this was the year we could no longer sit on our asses and watch the election unfold around us, so we signed up with the volunteer lawyers' arm of the Obama campaign to do voter protection in a swing state on Election Day. We were assigned to the southeastern Ohio operation, and so the day before the election we got up at the crack of dawn and flew to Columbus, OH, rented a car, and drove to Athens, the home of Ohio University, for training. In honor of my respect for Barack Obama and my love of fatty foods, I wore my "Donuts and Bacon: Taste We Can Believe In" t-shirt, a gift from my friend Jeffrey. Fortunately, my fellow travelers found it as amusing as I did (I was a little afraid the overly-earnest might find it offensive, but not that afraid).

Having arrived at the Holiday Inn Express for the training session a bit early, we had time to kill and needed lunch. Off the same parking lot was an Applebee's, which Ms. Cake had never patronized. I assured her that you can get a perfectly respectable lunch at Applebee's, and in fact I happen to enjoy their "Oriental" chicken salad with crispy chicken quite a bit. So we had that. Could not get a cup of coffee because the Athens area was under a "boil water" order due to a water system problem, so we made up for it with extra Diet Coke.

Following training we needed to head to Zanesville, the location of our assigned polling place, but first we needed to lay in sustenance supplies for the remainder of our time. We were expected to staff our polling places from opening to closing, and could not be assured we would have access to meals, so we went to Wal*Mart, also a first for Ms. Cake. Of course we went into a major fugue state and found ourselves loading our cart with necessaries such as cute notebooks, candy, and so forth. But we also bought relatively healthy snacks to last us through the election, like nuts, apples, dried apricots, carrots, Clif bars, Luna bars, juice boxes, water, etc. We also bought a small stool in case there was no other place to sit.

We drove from there to Zanesville, a very attractive drive on a winding county route, and arrived at the Comfort Inn just as night was falling. We were very pleased with the Comfort Inn, which was well appointed and clean, and discovered that our room was equipped with a refrigerator and microwave. We were also pleased to discover that our polling location was 5 minutes away, which would make getting there by 5:45am that much easier.

We were exhausted, but had enough energy left to want to sit and have a decent dinner. Within walking distance of the hotel was an Olive Garden. Neither of us had ever eaten in an Olive Garden, and we'd encountered enough New Yorkers sneering about the middle-American mediocrity of it to be dubious. But it was right nearby, and we weren't feeling picky anyway.

To our quiet delight, our dinner at Olive Garden was more than adequate and in fact quite pleasant. The only chain restaurant feeling to it was the presence on the tables of photo-illustrated dessert menus, overpraising the "decadence" of the chocolate desserts. But the lighting was soft, the tables large and well-spaced, and though the menu had some overly fatty and too-complicated combinations, we each found dishes that were appealing. Ms. Cake had a nice pasta with garlicky tomato sauce and shrimp, and I had steak simply grilled with olive oil and rosemary and served with roasted potatoes and vegetables. Certain it was going to come too well-done, I ordered it medium rare and had to send it back for a little more fire. We each had a perfectly decent glass of wine. One of the widely advertised offerings is the "unlimited salad and breadsticks." The breadsticks were a hit with Ms. Cake, and we were both happy to see a large, chilled bowl of tossed salad served family style, with chilled plates, and a nice vinaigrette. The salad was mostly romaine lettuce, and had the type of fixings you'd add when you make a salad in your own home. The waitstaff were incredibly friendly, and as an added bonus, we both got carded. The portions were, naturally, too large, but we had them wrapped and took them back to our room to eat as leftovers the next day.

We slept like the dead, then got ourselves to our assigned polling place before dawn, at a local Methodist church. We weren't entirely sure what to expect, but I can say that it was an honor and privilege to spend such an important day with the people of Zanesville, Ohio, who regardless of political affiliation were almost all to a person friendly, enthusiastic, and polite to these New York lawyers in their midst, and it was very gratifying to help ensure that anyone who was entitled to vote, who wanted to vote, was able to do it in our little corner of Ohio. We met old people and young people, Republicans and Democrats, country and cosmopolitan, international election watchers (who brought us hot tea), Vets for Obama, a gentleman from the VFW who was aiding the Obama GOTV effort, children with their parents, church members (who kindly let us use the facilities all day), a group of gay men who were seeking signatures on a petition supporting gay rights legislation, and all manner of good folks who showed up before early morning shifts or on their way home from school or with their entire families in tow to step up and vote.

At the end of the day we were wiped out, and a little apprehensive about the results. As we counted up the final tallies posted at our precincts, and took in the fact that Obama had solidly taken three of the four, we thought about the people we'd met, and realized that our narrow New York prejudices hadn't adequately prepared us to understand that guys in trucker hats with gun racks on their pickups and church ladies with seasonal sweaters would be just as likely as Williamsburg hipsters or San Francisco computer programmers or Vermont hippies to vote for change.

After that, we went back to our room and all but collapsed. We ate our leftovers and munched our snacks and watched the returns just long enough to hear that Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida were called for Obama before we fell asleep. Later, brief text messages and a call from Mr. Cake informed us that McCain had conceded. So no parties, no tearful embraces -- in fact, it took us a few days to really take in the magnitude of what had happened -- but my best friend and I did our small part together to help this happen, and got a chance to broaden our perspectives of our fellow Americans. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Yes We Can. And Yes We Did.