Special to Uptownflavor by Tonya Conrad
For the life of me I can’t understand Harlem Living.’ Please, someone, anyone, help me understand! Let me paint the picture for you:
I stumble out of bed eager to cast my vote for ‘Change.’ I am already mentally prepared that on this day, November 4, 2008, my patience will be challenged. Why? Because 1) an African American is on the Presidential ticket, and 2) I live in Harlem. Need I say more?
I enter the block where my polling site is located only to discover that my Harlem people ain’t playing around! It’s funny because everyone looks as if they’re on the ultimate mission for ‘Change.’ I laugh to myself and mumble under my breath, “Go ‘head my people.” I proudly take my place in line.
I’m standing behind two senior Harlemites colorfully discussing in thick southern dialect how “they ain’t neva’ seen da lines like dis befo.” Directly behind me is a white couple wearing expressions that seem to say, “I just moved to Harlem and I really hope these people don’t start trouble.”
A middle age, full figured black woman with a half braided and half curly hairdo storms down the sidewalk yelling out a string of numbers, “30, 60, 620, 630…” Everyone looks perplexed, except for a few people who answer “Yeah.” The full figured woman says “Come with me.” People then start asking what the numbers mean. Personally, I thought she was asking for the district numbers. I think to myself, “Dang, now where did I write that information?”
Uh oh, here she comes again. Let me ask…but of course before I could open my mouth the crowd had beat me to the punch. The numbers lady yells, “Yo’ number!” The crowd is still confused so the numbers lady asked, “Do you know yo’ number?” We still don’t understand. Then the numbers lady gets an attitude and yells,“Yo’ building numbers!” Well hell, why didn’t she just say that in the first place? Communication is truly an art.
As I finally make my way off the sidewalk and into the doorway of the building, I hear an argument brewing. An elderly man walking on a cane, dressed in African attire, and wearing a voter volunteer name tag repeatedly yells, “How you gonna set the cops on me?” He is being escorted out of the building by three NYPD officers who tell him, “Sir, just calm down.” I then see another elderly male volunteer exiting behind them saying, “Roy, calm down.” I think he said Roy, so let’s call him ‘Roy’. So Roy continues to yell, ‘How you gonna set the cops on me? Your name is dirt in Harlem!” The other elderly volunteer pleads “It’s not like that, you know that. Come back inside.”
Two additional NYPD Officers arrive on the scene. So now we have five uniformed officers surrounding two elderly Harlemites. I think to myself, ‘Are they really serious?’
I finally gain sight of the building lobby which leads to the polling site. I am utterly amazed–the line circles the entire lobby.
Yet, another voter volunteer enters the lobby yelling out a different set of numbers. Now that everyone knows that they are building numbers, we are listening intently. She doesn’t call my building, so I continue to listen to Ne-Yo on my iPod.
I make my way from the lobby to a narrow hallway with a single doorway at the end. People are lined up along both sides of the wall and I think to myself, “Isn’t this a fire hazard?” Oh well it’s all in the name of ‘Change.’
I can now see what’s at the end of the hallway-an estimated 700 square foot space packed beyond legal capacity with even more yelling volunteers. A middle age women manning the door politely calls, “A or M?” What? Did she just add a new rule to the non-rule handbook we missed getting on the way in? Once again, people are confused.
I’m now nestled inside the hallway with what feels like hundreds of others. ‘Change’ is so close I can smell it! I am now standing on one of two lines. Oh wait. I look up to see handwritten signs on the wall. One of the signs reads A-L the other M-Z. I say to myself, ‘Now how hard would it have been to explain that to people?’ I then realize that I’m in the wrong line so I jump over to the A-L line.
I hear a voice that sounds like my granny’s yelling, “No, no that’s not where you suppose to be. If you stand there then can’t nobody, who need to go in this booth get in. So you gonna’ have to move!” I silently say a prayer, “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
I realize that one of the six voting booths is broken. An elderly female voter yells,“The light ain’t on! If the light ain’t on, it don’t count!” Out from behind the crowd comes the same elderly voter volunteer who had the dispute with Roy earlier. He goes into the booth, strong-arms the machine a few times and the booth light illuminates. A voter enters the booth but quickly complains, “It’s still broke.” The elderly volunteer re-enters the booth with the voter. I think to myself, ‘Can you do that?’
Finally it is my turn! I hand my ID to a older volunteer sitting behind a poker table. Her head remains buried in her stack of papers while she looks for my name. I finally point to it in the book after she overlooks it — twice. She softly says, “Go to booth 1.”
I’m waiting at booth 1 behind a young brotha’. I overhear him asking a volunteer, “So I just pull the thing, right?” I think to myself ‘Change’ would be very proud of him.
I am now staring ‘Change’ in the face. I almost get emotional because I see ‘Change’ on the ticket. Wow!!! I then look over to my right at the bottom of the ticket and see that there is some sort of veteran’s proposal on the ballot? I wonder again, ‘Dang, did anyone know about that?’
I sit at my desk at work wondering, ‘Why is Harlem living so difficult?’