In my work in progress, the seventh Mae Martin mystery, Mae’s ex mother-in-law is running for office again, and Mae, on a visit to North Carolina, is going to end up knocking on doors for her as part of trying to solve the mystery. I didn’t become a campaign volunteer to do research, especially since I’m door-knocking in New Mexico, but I’ve gathered a few good stories which just may have a future in the book. FYI: Though this post does involve a political campaign, it’s non-partisan. If you suffer from political burnout, relax. I don’t even mention names or parties.
In a pleasant neighborhood of one-story stucco and adobe houses with a view of the open desert beyond, I walked up to the second-to-last house on my canvassing list. On the street where the incumbent representative in our NM house district lives, I was volunteering for the opposing candidate. I’ll call them Incumbent and Challenger. Incumbent’s neighbors tended to support her, even if they were members of my party and not hers, and even though Challenger might better represent their views. They like Incumbent. That’s local politics. In another neighborhood a few weeks earlier, I met a woman who had never heard of Challenger, but said, “Is she running against Incumbent?” I said yes. The woman replied vehemently, “Then she’s got my vote.” It was obviously personal. She added, “Am I awful?” I smiled and said we were happy to have her vote.
Back to today’s second-to-last house. I’d been through a thunderstorm earlier, was now walking in heat and sun, and was ready to wrap things up. A black pick-up truck with Harley-Davidson bumper stickers pulled into the driveway just as I approached. A man with a long shaggy white beard sat at the wheel.
“Hi,” I began my perky canvasser bit. “Are you Mr. X?”
He was. And my list of voters to contact said he was a member of my party. I went on with my introduction, telling him who I was and that I was volunteering for Challenger. I asked, as I always do, if he had heard of her. People are often unfamiliar with a new name at the bottom of the ticket.
“I don’t vote. All politicians are liars.” Still sitting in his truck with the door open, he nodded meaningfully toward Incumbent’s house. The politician her other neighbors liked so much they’d vote for her even when they generally disagreed with her party.
Not sure how to handle his blanket aversion, I offered him Challenger’s flyer. “In case you should decide to vote, you can read about what she stands for.”
He actually read it, right then and there. “Hm. Social work.” He’d noticed her career field. “I studied social work in Colorado.” He told me what jobs he’d had, working with youth and then with drug users, and then informed me that “My wife, who is not a citizen, made me vote in 2016. But that’s the only time I’ve voted in decades.”
“That’s a powerful woman, if she could get you to vote when you’re so turned off by it.”
“She is. A powerful woman.” But, he told me, he’d moved to New Mexico alone because his wife didn’t understand why he had to have his motorcycle.
His way of getting involved in the community wasn’t political, he continued, but rather volunteering at the new animal shelter. “I don’t have any animals.” With a half-smile, he inclined his head toward the pair of dogs barking behind his fence.
“We all have our ways of trying to make the world a better place. You’ll take care of the animals, and I’ll knock on doors for Challenger.”
I was about to say goodbye and wish him a good day when he got out of his truck, revealing long skinny legs in shorts and knee-high black socks. “Let me show the motorcycle. So you’ll understand.”
There was a black Harley in the driveway. Apparently this was not The Motorcycle. He opened the garage and revealed a bigger bike with ivory fenders. It looked like a vintage machine, and I sincerely admired it. He said, “That’s Rocinante,” then paused. “You know who that is?”
“Don Quixote’s horse.”
Mr. X beamed. “Not many people know that. I’m gonna vote for Challenger. She’s got good people working for her.”
I felt as if I’d just won Jeopardy as well as Incumbent’s neighbor’s vote.