Saturday, November 15, 2008

Phillies, election.... and now?

A Red and Blue Post--

Ed. note: I would add "white" to the title above, but this blog doesn't offer highlight colors so as to make the white readable (a reminder, by the way that nothing is entirely white). But since white is our background color, I suppose in that respect it could be included in the mix: it is the blank canvas on which we write our future.

1. CONGRATULATIONS, PHILLIES! End of a 28-year World Championship drought! Not that I expect you all to read my blog, as you have more pressing things to do, but as a Philadelphia area resident, I believe it's only right to recognize your achievement. One player, I can't remember who, referred to Phillies fans as "frontrunners," meaning that we were fair weather fans. I have to confess I probably fit that description.

When I was younger, living in the Pittsburgh area, I was an avid Pirates fan starting with their appearance in the World Series in 1960. You might, from this, draw the conclusion that my front running career started early in life--I was 9 going on 10 at the time--except that I had no particular interest in baseball at all until my mom explained what the excitement was all about. Following that year, I was very much invested in rooting for the Pirates for the next several years, even after my family moved to the Philly area. But while they had some fairly successful seasons during the 1960s, they did not finally win another World Series until I turned my attentions elsewhere, which made me wonder if my rooting for them actually hurt their chances of winning. (Oh I know, I know, you'll dismiss this as superstition, and no doubt it is, but bear with me.)

Eventually, I cautiously became a Phillies fan--although I can't remember rooting for them in 1980, except ... cautiously. When they won, naturally, it was an exciting time for the city, and I ... cautiously... celebrated. This was not due to lack of confidence in the Phillies, but in my ability to help them by rooting for them. In fact, I felt I might help them more by not rooting for them, given my history with the Pirates. ;)

So with this year, I half-listened in, but ... cautiously. I followed the results from a safe distance--safe for the Phillies, I reasoned. Give them room, I reasoned. And although I occasionally tuned into a game here and there, I retreated if the other team tied the score or went ahead. As the excitement built and the Phillies entered and came closer to winning the World Series, I ... cautiously ... dug up an old Phillies cap that I got free from some race or another--a gray/white cap with a blue "P," not even the bright red caps that I saw on others, caps that were a beacon from the distance. All the better, I thought... something too bright would attract too much notice that I was entering the fray, throwing caution to the winds... a possibly unwise surrender of prudence.

It was hard to resist the quilt of brightly colored t-shirts and sweatshirts arrayed in store windows and street corners, but flying under the radar remained crucial. Let no one say that I lost my nerve here. I whispered sotto voce my intent to buy some sort of Phillies souvenir after the World Series was over, remembering all too well that after I'd bought an Eagles' coffee mug, the Eagles lost the Superbowl. Live and learn. [Ed. note: I know that this is the "post hoc" fallacy that I'd mark on student papers. But it seems that when we become sports fans, logic tends to suffer.]

Finally, the magic day arrived, and the Phillies were World Champions (or as Chase Utley so eloquently put it, "World f---ing Champions"). It was time at last to celebrate this feat with some kind of Phillies souvenir--although of course the demand for these souvenirs had mushroomed along with prices. Even so, the day after the parade for which I wore my aged and quite plain Phillies cap, I hustled off to Modell's and bought... cautiously... a gray t-shirt with the Phillies logo. (I don't look good in red, truth to tell, probably a good thing I lack talent for baseball, as some teams, not only the Phillies, call upon players to wear red.) I then grabbed a blue sharpie and red glitter pen, and decorated my aged, plain cap with stars and the words, written in red glitter, "the stars came out to play." This cap I wore in the Franklin Bridge Run and beat my Stone Harbor 10k time by about two minutes.

Sometimes it pays to throw caution to the winds.

2. The election. Here, I teetered on the edge of sheer bravado, perhaps encouraged by the Phillies' success, and bought two Obama buttons and a lawn sign. Thankfully, these wildly indiscreet purchases didn't hurt his chances, and so....


I may be able to retire from my career as a "front runner." :)

Some more serious reflections on this election:

One night, as I was walking down a street in Center City, I passed a group of people sitting at a table outside a restaurant talking about the election. One comment stood out: a young man said, "If Obama doesn't win, there is no hope."

This touched me for many reasons. It's not that I think we should surrender hope--it's what keeps us going in difficult times. But our economy has taken many blows lately. A war is going on that was started based on false justification and with minimal public support. Our society is becoming increasingly polarized, with too much hatred, too much division, too many voices raised with no one willing to listen, too much either/or thinking.

McCain's campaign and that of many Republicans seemed too willing to tap into fear rather than hope, and this too often generated racial and religious fears: the rumors spread that Barack Obama was a Muslim. Although not true, the rumors touched on something else disturbing: that somehow simply being a Muslim made a person untrustworthy. It perpetuated the stereotype of all Muslims being terrorists. This is no more true than that all Christians are right wing extremists.

While Sarah Palin accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists" and said nothing when people shouted "kill him!" Obama admonished a crowd when boos erupted for McCain. That spoke volumes about his class.

On election day, I was working at the polls, as a clerk taking down names of people as they came in to vote. I have done this almost every election, and as a result, I see many of the regulars, the people who are there every election, and so have come to recognize the names right away. But this time, they were joined by many newcomers. My precinct's turn-out will sometimes be fewer than a hundred. On election day this year, the ranks swelled to 599. In the early morning hours, the line stretched around the block. (Later in the day, the crowds thinned out, but that early morning rush definitely raised the numbers higher than they'd been for a while.)

Some were casting their first vote ever, even though were obviously older than first-time voting age. There were, as a result, questions that to experienced voters might seem obvious, but I was happy to be able to answer these questions. It's easy to dismiss newcomers' questions as silly, but to do so is to forget that all of us were newcomers at one time and perhaps had questions that someone could have laughed at. Their presence to me was indicative of people daring to hope that maybe this time their vote would count, that they could make something happen with their vote.

Many voters brought their children sometimes even into the voting booth. We'd sometimes play or chat briefly with the children... the "are you helping mommy vote?" kinds of questions. To one little girl, we were explaining what people were doing, choosing a new president. And I found myself saying to her, "maybe someday you'll get to be president."

When I was her age, people didn't say that to girls, or they said it very, very rarely. They said it even more rarely to African American girls, as this girl was. But it seemed to me an entirely normal thing to say, an entirely possible event, especially with Barack Obama being the Democratic nominee and Hillary Clinton a strong contender for the nomination, with Sarah Palin being a vice presidential candidate (not that I agreed with her positions), and, in a past election, with Carol Mosely Braun seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. We have increasingly dared to hope.

And now with Barack Obama winning the election, I think back to that young man at the restaurant. And I think "you have your hope. Run with it!"