I arrived at my polling place at 7am this morning. It was exactly 32f according to my car’s thermometer and the line outside looked to be at least an hour long. I waited, tapped my feet, jumped around a little and inched towards the warmth. The line finally reached the door, and streams of lukewarm air started to wrap their wisps around me. I started to thaw. Seated next to the line was an elderly gentleman holding what looked like how someone from the 1960s might envision a tablet computer - huge, wires dangling, with four large buttons and no touch interface. The polling worker was trying to help this guy vote. Clearly he wasn’t understanding, so she did what most people do when someone doesn’t understand - she repeated herself, only louder.
“You push the red button! OK?!?”
He finished voting and with a satisfied look, asked if he could sit there a while longer. He motioned to his cane and said “I live a few blocks from here and it’s pretty cold out - can I sit here a while longer?”
The polling worker obliged with a smile and handed him an I voted sticker.
I stood in line, got a number and hit the booth. Turns out the 1960s tablet is actually the de facto modern voting appliance. (This is when I learned the screen was not touch sensitive.)
When I finished, the gentleman was still sitting patiently. So, I asked him if he wanted a ride. He accepted and we hit the road.
I offered my hand, “If I’m giving you a ride, I should introduce myself, I’m Nick.”
“I’m Sven. Yep, that’s a real name. S. V. E. N.” He spelled it to make sure I understood. “That’s what the doctor named me - he was Norwegian or something - and my mom liked it. My dad didn’t care much either way.” He looked Norwegian and had a striking resemblance to C. Everett Koop.
He explained he was quite hard of hearing. The scabs on his face and several hospital bracelets suggested he also had some health issues. It turned out he lived about a mile from the polling place.
“Yep, this is an interesting city… I’ve only been her for a little while,” he offered.
“Oh yeah? Us too, we moved about 8 months ago. How long have you been here?”
“Oh, then I’ve been here a lot longer than you I guess.”
“Yeah? How’d you come to live in Charlottesville?”
“Well, I was born in New York and was a woodworker all my life. I ended up in Europe - England really, I was a stone mason there and then did some work in Europe proper for a while….”
My car does that annoying thing where, after a short distance, it beeps incessantly if someone doesn’t buckle their seatbelt. It started clamoring and he fumbled for the belt.
“I used to know about modern things…I guess this is a good example… I flew jet planes in the Navy. There was a time when I knew all about modern things…but not any more…”
By this point we had reached his apartment building. I would like to have heard more of Sven’s story. He seemed like a neat guy with a neat history. He thanked me for the ride and I drove off. I don’t know who he voted for, and don’t really care. I’m just thankful I live in a country where we are free to walk to the polls, free to offer a stranger a ride home, free to hear their story and free to vote for whomever we want.