As the sun rose on this November 4, 2008, the most significant Election Day of my life, I pulled my bedroom shade up to see that a long line had formed across the street. This was the queue for my voting station. It stretched almost the length of two city blocks and remained that way for most of the morning.
By 11 a.m. the balloting had finally ebbed, so I left my apartment and got in line. To my left, the local state assemblyman, Micah Kellner, wore a red tie and passed out flyers. To my right, a man in an inflatable chicken suit danced in front of a barbecue joint.
I asked the person behind me, an old Italian guy in a pink shirt unbuttoned to reveal an expanse of white chest hair, if the wait on Election Day was always this long. “Nah,” he said, curling his upper lip. “Usually it’s this,” he added, and held his thumb and index finger half an inch apart.
All us voters wanted into the Lenox Hill Senior Center so we could do our historic duty and get on with the day already. A volunteer stood in front trying to direct traffic. She was an elderly black woman in a fuchsia coat shouting out instructions no one could understand. After an hour’s wait I finally got inside.
I always thought that “pulling the lever” for a candidate was just a turn of phrase. At San Francisco ballot stations you make your mark with a pen. Here in Manhattan you pull back the black curtain and find a big red lever positioned about waist height. You pull it to the right. Chunk. Then you depress other, tiny levers next to the names of your chosen candidates. You pull the big red lever back to the left. Chunk again. It is a satisfyingly physical experience, like clacking at a typewriter keyboard or slamming down a phone. You feel like you’ve really voted.