Eve of Destruction

Whoever said ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ did not reckon on the press’s hunger for publicity. My lunch was free today, courtesy of Sirius XM Radio, but let me first back up to the morning, since there’s supposed to be a little political content here along with the cultural ramblings.

I was up and out by 8:15 today, in beautiful cold bright sunshine and no wind, and off to Franklin, NH, about 30 minutes north. Nikki Haley is having a “meet & greet” there at 10 am, with doors opening at 9. I’m not sure how a meet & greet differs from a rally (smaller maybe) but it sounds like more fun than visiting Trump headquarters in downtown Manchester, especially as I had no valid reason to be at the latter.

I’m confident that Nikki is not as cruel, or ignorant, as Donald is when it comes to people waiting in line, but just in case, I’m wearing my long underwear.  (But no hat: fashion before comfort.)

Parking was more environmentally friendly than I would have liked. The VFW hall where Nikki will speak has a parking lot that is modest, and it’s adjoined by some unpaved fields, bordering the lovely Merrimack River.  In fact, Franklin is at the source of the Merrimack.  As I inched through the parking lot in a line of cars, it became apparent that there were no more spots in the lot itself – some turned around (and not easily) to search for grayer pastures but I headed for the open back corner of the lot, as a field beckoned beyond.  The field seemed to have been used before for such overflow; it was snowy but mostly ice-covered.  As I entered – slow, slow – I soon had the magical but unsettling feeling that I’d left the ground, and was grandly floating over the landscape, leaving behind such mundane concerns as tires and brakes.  And I saw the river sparkling ahead, just a gentle slope away, and thought it would be quite embarrassing to park in several feet of water.  Not to mention cold.  Fortunately I came back to earth with plenty of field still around me.  Never in doubt!

I know from hard experience that I’m no good at backing out of anywhere, so I started making a careful k-turn so I could park facing the escape route and also get out of the field entrance.  As I was executing this maneuver (with precision and patience) along comes a woman in a big vehicle of some sort and drives into the field at about 20 miles an hour, turns completely around me and glides into the spot on my right, lined up exactly parallel with me.  And hops out and walks off.  Not a backward glance. Damned show-off.

I got in line outside the hall, probably a hundred people ahead of me, which is not bad.  I’m chatting with an older (!) gentleman – he said he’s 82 – who looks kind of like Pete Seeger, and a young woman.  The man is definitely an anti-Trumper and has been driving and walking cross-country trying to save democracy.  (His words.)  I don’t quite get his specific goals, but he’s very much committed to the effort.  In fact he proudly shows us his caravan, parked right behind us, professionally painted with his message.

“Walking to Fix Democracy” Bus

As we wait, we’re approached by a crew from Spectrum TV (which they mention is not available here locally, but is in New York) and both the older gent and the young woman decline to talk, so I give them some dumb, absolutely commonplace comments about why I like Haley, why Trump’s bad, Biden’s a worry, and I’m not optimistic about the outcome. (Brilliant, original analysis flees like the morning dew when someone sticks a microphone in my face.) But they seem to like it, and afterwards the young woman says I sounded very logical and expressed myself well. (She’s now my favorite person in line!)

We get inside and it’s a low, not terrifically big, room. Press at the back and along one side, and everybody else cramming themselves in toward the front. We’re all standing. I give a resentful glance to two or three young men standing near me who all are north of six feet. My friend – we are chums now, and her name is Ashley – says she should have worn her heels. However, with a little squirming, we’re only a few feet from the front and can see between people’s heads, as we wait.

At this point, looking round at the crowd (because you never know) I actually see a familiar face, and asking Ashley to hold my space, I go over to check. It’s a young friend from Larchmont by way of Brown University, one Caitlyn Carpenter, here to see how these things work. I’m glad she’s here, as I say (again): I think everybody should do this.

I return to my spot and soon out comes a local commissioner of some sort to welcome us. He also – he reminds us – is the former five-term mayor of Franklin. Franklin, in case we don’t know, is the birthplace of Daniel Webster!! (my later checking shows Webster as coming from Salisbury, but that’s nearby and might be a division or offshoot of Franklin; I don’t want to deprive the mayor.) He’s followed by Gov. Chris Sununu who’s as charming and down to earth as ever.

I am interviewed once more, this time by Fox News for the Jesse Watters show. I’ve got my act slightly more together now (I think) and at least tell them some reasons why I could never vote for Trump – utter self-centeredness, lack of any historical knowledge, isolationism. I don’t mention the basics: the lies, the fraud, the urge for vengeance; they’re not going to use those anyway. Again I get plaudits from audience-neighbor Ashley, and as I bask briefly in the praise, I start worrying I’m not so different from DJT.

And here comes Nikki! She seems fresh, confident, composed. How many of these stops does she make? Don’t these candidates get tired? But she is animated and goes through most points of her stump speech with commitment. And a couple of lines I hadn’t heard before: more pointedly saying that everything that Donald Trump says is a lie; it’s what he does. And on the age issue, that ‘a vote for Biden is a vote for President Kamala Harris’ which gets a big moan from the crowd.

Afterwards we line up, raggedly, for a photo with Nikki and again I’m pleased with her graciousness, including with those who might screw up the finely-oiled photo process. An elderly man wants a picture but doesn’t have his cellphone – “I left it at home” – and arrangements are made so he gets a photo on the spot, and during the extra couple of minutes this takes, Nikki does not betray a hint of impatience. Maybe that’s just being a good politician, but I’d have at least made a face. Then it’s my turn.

At least I have my nice sweater on.

I am chatting with Ashley, who is going to vote for Haley tomorrow but doesn’t know what she’ll do in November if it’s Trump and Biden. She says she is pretty conservative (she should move to Larchmont! we need balance!). She has two very young daughters, one in daycare and one, I think, in kindergarten. Her background – her maiden name is Ashley Bussolari (used with her permission) – is Italian, but clearly Northern Italian as her skin and hair, indeed her looks, remind me more of a young Liv Ullmann (dating myself again) than a Loren type. She has taken today off to come to this event. She’s shy about interviews and such, but happy to get a photo with Nikki. And I get a quick shot as she’s leaving Nikki:

My audience-mate Ashley

We part outside and I go in search of my car. I manage to drive out and with the help of the nice lady inside the cellphone, only get lost once on my way back to the highway south. As I’m driving down I-93 to Manchester, my phone rings. My daughter always tells me not to answer the phone (even the home line when I’m home) as it will just be junk, but I am ever hopeful. So I answer and it’s a “fact checker” from the New Yorker, checking some quotes I gave to an interviewer – named more or less Eren Orban, it’s Turkish – following the Trump rally a few days ago. I confirm he got things right. And I thank her for checking, which I’m sure most but not all media do. I am not quoted by name, but I’ll recognize the lines if and when I see them.

Back at the Red Arrow around noon, I’m handed a special little menu in addition to their regular fairly massive one. The special menu has about five dishes on it, and they are courtesy of Sirius XM Radio, who is doing a show at one end of the place. I have the 2×2 combination of two scrambled eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausages, and two pancakes. And a cup of hot cocoa of course. My nice server Katie says it’s on the house, courtesy of Sirius. So there (sometimes) is a free lunch. I leave a big tip.

The fact checker for the New Yorker had told me that the story is for the online edition, not print. OK, that’s a vast disappointment – guess I didn’t make the big time after all – but it doesn’t dampen my mood. The sun was bright, traffic was light, I got to see Nikki again, I got to chat with a pretty young lady, I saw a friend, and I’ve enjoyed a free breakfast, or lunch.

And voting isn’t until tomorrow, so why be depressed today?

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