We knew our path through the South would be a bit more aimless than previous legs of the trip. We had no contacts between Memphis and Maryland and we anticipated fewer events and less participation in the Obama campaign from this part of the country. I had tried really hard to find an event for us to shoot in Mississippi or Alabama, something that would surprise and reassure myself and others who have written off the “Deep South” as a battle ground for change. When the phone bank event in Birmingham, Alabama fell through (fortuitously leading us to stay in Memphis another day and stumble upon our public radio interview) Vineet, the organizer of the event had apologized that it hadn’t come together as I’d hoped, but said “It is what it is, Rachel. Don’t worry, we’re going to win this thing!” Everything becomes more Zen and plausible when said in an Indian accent!
So it was with this hopeful outlook that we headed to Decatur, Georgia, the following day to attend a phone bank and gathering to watch the vice presidential debate. I’d spoken with Bob, one of the organizers of the event, to find out what time we could arrive to set up. He told me that someone would be at the community auditorium at least a half hour before the event was scheduled to begin, but that we should still have plenty of time to settle in as “this is the South, people move a little slower here,” and usually arrive late. This condition must be contagious because, although we are given to slow departures on driving days, we left Memphis far later than we’d planed, and put in a full day of anxious driving to arrive just at the appointed start time of the event. Apparently someone forgot to tell those southerners in attendance that there is a precedent for fashionable lateness, because when we pulled up in front of the community center it was already buzzing with activity.
Needless to say we were a little stressed, rushing to set up amidst what turned out to be the monthly meeting of the Dekalb County Democrats. But by the time the minutes were read, all motions passed to contribute finances to local campaign races, and the meeting was adjourned, we were ready to begin. I scouted the packed auditorium for interesting and energetic looking folks as the crowd settled into dozens of hushed cell phone conversations by people who were determined to get through their phone bank lists before the debates began. And if the alternately rapt and riotous viewing of the debate is any indication, there’s plenty of dedication and enthusiasm to carry this pocket of the deep south at least.
When the broadcast ended I was relieved (Palin’s voice and “folksy” responses at auditorium volume were more than I could stand!) but we were suddenly faced with a line of people who wanted to have their portraits taken. As Rob scrambled to photograph these people I approached Danny, who I’d spotted earlier while scouting subjects having noted his “Veterans for Obama” button, and who was now sorting through the garbage looking for recyclables. “Democrats should know better,” he told me shaking his head. Just as I’d convinced Danny to be the last photographic subject of the evening, the security guard announced that he needed to lock up. We begged for a few more minutes and were answered with a casual nod. There was that laid back southern attitude we’d been expecting!
We broke down the set and loaded up the car in record time only to finally catch our breath and realize we had not ever gotten confirmation on housing for the night! I was completely devastated to have broken our streak once I realized we’d have to spend our first night in two months in a hotel. But as we turned in at the Motel 6 at 1AM I had to remind myself that “it is what it is.” And what it is isn’t our hotel record. We’d managed to find the exception to the rule in Georgia, and even here we just might “win this thing!”