Yesterday’s most interesting robo-call: The voice of a young African American woman tells me Jennifer Granholm “takes our money and gives it to the suburbs.” She doesn’t care about “us.” “We” can’t trust her.
It’s like the old punchline of the Lone Ranger joke: What do you mean “we,” white man?
This is interesting on several levels, starting with the assumption that, because I live in the 313 area code, I’m black. If you saw “8 Mile,” you remember that last rap battle scene, where Rabbit asks everyone in the crowd to th’ow it up for the 313. Like everything here, it’s a racial code, as well as telephonic. Wayne County, where Detroit is located, is the 313. Oakland and Macomb Counties, where most of the suburban communities known as “metro Detroit” are located, are the 248 and 586, respectively, although there may be some 734s over there in western Oakland. However, Grosse Pointe, overwhelmingly white, is in Wayne County, too, so if I’d been at that rap battle in a pink cashmere cardigan, pearls and a cute madras headband, I’d have been entitled to th’ow my hands in the air for the 313, too. (I’ve always found this image amusing, yo.)
However, if you robo-bomb 313 phone numbers with a coded message aimed at African Americans, chances are you’ll get more hits than misses. Detroit is something like 82 percent black, after all.
The other level upon which this is interesting? Um, consider the alternative.
Ah, but it all ends today. Election Day. I was a newspaper reporter long enough that I feel like its rhythms are part of me. Reporters get to sleep in on Election Day; traditionally, if you’re covering a race, you don’t come to work until polls close. So it’s a day to catch up on your errands and watch “The View” or whatever. If you’re not covering the race, your job is to vote on your way in to work and ask the poll workers how early turnout looks, then report it to the city desk when you arrive. Either way, the long stretch of voting is, shall we say, down time.
If you’re a copy editor, at least for a p.m. newspaper — and I may be the last journalist left in American who never worked for an a.m., and how the hell did that happen — you come to work extra early on Wednesday. Frequently you greet the reporters leaving in the wee small hours of the morning.
The reward for both shifts is food, which the company springs for. Reporters get pizza, editors get donuts. If you like salty things for breakfast, there’s usually a cold pizza left to chew on.
(If this sounds pathetic, it is. Small-market journalism is a study in self-debasement. Hey, free pizza!)
In between, though, my but it’s fun. You go to campaign headquarters, where someone writes the incoming results on a blackboard. There’s liquor, which means some of your interviews will be with people half in the bag, which means you have half a chance of getting a quote that doesn’t sound like it came from a robot. Although don’t count on it, because there’s always spinning galore.
I was never a political writer, but I did my share. Two vivid memories:
In 1984, shortly after I’d been hired in Fort Wayne but before my column started, I was drafted to cover the election-night festivities of the third parties — at the time the Libertarians and a weird splinter called (I think) the American Party. Both were wan, cheerless affairs, but the American Party vigil was the Island of Misfit Toys. I think they were meeting in an Eagles hall or something, with a few 2-liter bottles of pop and potluck snacks. The folks were right out of Diane Arbus, and the official spokesman was turned out in a vivid polyester leisure suit with contrasting topstitching, the sort of thing that Herb Tarlek used to wear on “WKRP in Cincinnati.” I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I remember that evening as my first exposure to the can’t-catch-a-break, pissed-off, paranoid demographic that would fuel the crazier frequencies on talk radio. And that leisure suit. It belonged in a museum.
The other was one night in Columbus. The publisher’s dad liked to go over to GOP headquarters and tip a few, then come back to the newsroom to soak up the atmosphere. What the hell, he owned the place. One election night, late, he was trying to leave the parking lot, only couldn’t get out of his parking space. He would pull forward and tap the bumper of the car ahead, then back up and tap the bumper of the car behind, up and back, up and back, tap tap tap, never making any progress. A reporter was leaving work at the same time and saw this, and said, “Sir, why don’t you let me help you? Step out a minute and I’ll get you out of this spot.” So he did, and the reporter had his car out in half a minute, and even though the old man was probably too drunk to drive, the reporter let him get back behind the wheel.
As he climbed back in, the ex-publisher pressed a fiver into his hand. The reporter still believes, I’m sure, that the old man thought he was the parking attendant.
Go vote if you haven’t. I’m headed for the showers and the polls, in that order.