O, America . . .

Reflections on Election Day, 2004


Mazatlan, Mexico, 6 p.m.

Paul and Joyce Petti spent Election Night some 1,500 miles south of the Huntington Beach precinct where they are registered to vote, scrunched into a corner of a tiny bar up a back alley in a tarnished section of Mazatlan's so-called Golden Zone. It would be hard to imagine a place farther removed from one of the most-intense presidential campaigns in U.S. history . . . if not for that ballot box sitting just a few feet away. "There has been so much interest in this election among our customers," says owner Maricha de Veselik, a Mexican woman who has turned the Saloon into a homey watering-hole-in-the-wall away from home for Mazatlan's community of American expatriates—including her husband. "So we decided to have a little election, too." When the waiter shows up at the Pettis' table, he brings a ballot. "Well, we already voted absentee," announces Joyce, a cinnamon blonde in her 60s with a personality as indefatigable as her sun-blasted skin. "But don't mind voting again," adds Paul, cutting short a gulp from a schooner of beer that glistened on his unruly moustache as he spoke. "We're enthusiastic about this election—can't you tell?" The Pettis are dressed in bright red, the better to show their political colors. Their fellow Republican friends showed up that way, too, although most of them weren't nearly as convivial. "We voted for Bush, of course—well, my husband Ted voted for both of us," says Nancy Rogers, a chatty Minnesotan who keeps chatting despite Ted's obvious disdain of reporters. "That doesn't make you too popular down here, where most people—Mexicans and Americans—just hate Bush, although Ted says that's because the Mexicans are non-confrontational and the Americans don't know what they are talking about." At this point, Ted grabs her arm and leans his mouth to her ear. "Shut up!" he says. And she does. Meanwhile, the bartender ignites a couple of TVs at each end of the room—FOX News on the left, of all places, and CNN on the right—and the election returns dribble in to cheers and groans and exuberant toasts and sullen pulls. Everybody came here from somewhere. Mike Smith sailed in from San Diego a few years ago on a boat that's since been impounded. Bob Howe staggered in from Idaho on a drunken bender that took seven years to subside. A former Mississippi riverboat pilot called Captain Moe came because he was tired of Kentucky and living in the Caribbean was too rich for his pension. "In some ways, being down here makes you feel separate from the craziness up in the States," says Captain Moe, "but the election makes a big difference when things like Social Security and Medicare are at stake. And then the war, of course. That makes me sick." But the Pettis sometimes feel as though they've never left Huntington Beach. "Heck, we've got DirectTV, so we can get all the Southern California channels—5, 9, 11, 13," says Joyce. "And I don't feel any less like an American, politically—I've always been a conservative," adds Paul, kind of chuckling as he continues, "I'm the kind of guy who thinks that after we finish in Iraq, well, we oughta go in and clean up Iran and Syria and North Korea, too. And then France!" The election at the Saloon mirrored pretty closely the real thing up north: Bush 49, Kerry 42, various others 15. (Dave Wielenga)


Anaheim, 7:27 p.m.

As I arrived at my polling place, the sweet old lady behind the table saw my shirt, grinned hugely and said, "Oh, I see you're wearing a President Bush shirt." She winked her approval. I leaned in, slightly opened my sweater and revealed the writing to the side of Bush's picture. "Actually," I pointed out, "it's a 'Not My President' shirt." You could almost hear the tinkle of her little heart breaking. Her grin turned into a grimace. "You must zip up that sweater. You can't wear that in here. It's against the rules." I asked her what rule forbids a T-shirt. "Tell her it's against the rules," she said to a fellow poll worker. "Tell her it's against the rules to advertise in here." She waved my ballot in a way that indicated I'd better zip up my sweater. I took my sweater off, took my ballot and voted. I won a battle but lost the war for free speech. (Nadia Afghani)


Placentia, 8 p.m.

Ryan Kenny walks into the Placentia City Council chambers, sits in the front row and promptly elbows city treasurer candidate Greg Sowards in the ribs. Kenny, son-in-law of Placentia Mayor Judy Dickinson, has already earned the enmity of Sowards since Kenny spent the majority of this fall illegally defacing Sowards' signs. But tonight, with his mother-in-law in danger of being booted out of office, the burly Kenny is itching for a fight with the fiftysomething man whose diligent research had exposed Dickinson's role in burdening Placentia with a $31 million debt. After a testy exchange, Sowards gets up and sits toward the back of the chambers; Kenny follows. When Sowards tries to leave his seat, Kenny rakes his sneakers against Sowards' shin. He nearly falls. I sit in the same row as the two. I ask Kenny to calm down. His nostrils flare as he cocks his black-cap-bedecked head toward me. "You shut up," he snarls. "Why should I?" I shoot back. "Shut your face," he repeats. "Come and make me." "You don't even want to try, man," Kenny sputters. "I'm twice your size." He quickly leaves the chambers and does not return. As for Dickinson? She spent most of the council meeting yelling at a mom whose son was run over by a car. (Gustavo Arellano)

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