Returns of the natives

Returns of the natives

It’s Tuesday night, November 7. The polls have closed and the parties’ parties are just getting going. The Dems are above the Downtown ice rink in a large glassed-in room where the floors are half-and-half wood and carpet. They’re stocked with two cases of wine and a cooler full of beer, plus a picnic table with chips and salsa, a cheese platter, a fruit platter, vegetables and dip, and an array of large cookies.

Motown blaring, the room is packed with a couple hundred people of all colors, if not creeds. And kids. Lots of kids. Seventeen-year-old wunderkind Brian Bills is in attendance with his posse of Young Liberals, all high schoolers. They have spent the day canvassing in the rain and are now hanging precinct charts on the wall. Made from Post-its, the charts are far too complicated for me to understand. Must be the new math.

But for the rink ever in view, this could well be a New Year’s Eve party out in, say, Crozet. Kids are running in and out as the adults stand around, eating cheese and socializing. The Zamboni makes its tired rounds, while hockey players wait in the wings. Micah Nadler, in baggy cargo pants and an Al Weed shirt pulled over his black hoodie, is on the benches above the ice, discussing stimulants with other Young Libs: “I’ve had a venti coffee, two Red Bulls and five sodas, and I’m still dragging.”

Back inside, it’s pretty much over for Al Weed. He is clearly exhausted, his face drawn and hollow. As the screen behind him shows incumbent Virgil Goode winning the Fifth District by a large margin, his campaign coordinator weeps. Weed prepares to concede. Lloyd Snook, former head of the city Democrats, is manning the laptop that projects the results. In a Weed t-shirt pulled over a blue oxford (obviously the requisite look here), he sips red wine, munches a cookie and clicks on Refresh. By 9 o’clock there’s still not the big victory for Senate candidate Jim Webb that many had hoped for, and as the one-tenth of a percentile moves back and forth, I decide on a change of scene. I leave and head to…

…the Republican Party already in progress! I enter Club Rio behind Wolfie’s on Rio Road, where I’m hit with a totally different kind of shindig. Inside the dance club—an array of overhead disco lights, a sign by the door instructing me to “dress to impress”—it’s like a funeral where nobody has died. Forty or so people, white and older, stand around quietly. The food consists of a tiny plate of Ritz crackers, pepperoni and cheddar, and a vat of mini-meat floating in brown goo. Oh well, who’s hungry, anyway? I head to the bar only to discover that you have to pay for drinks! No wonder nobody’s laughing. It’s just a lot of navy blazers and rocking back on heels with hands in pockets. “…It’s about whether or not gay and lesbianism should be pushed on our children…” “…I’m from a town that voted 95 percent for Bush…”

O.K., that’s a soundly journalistic 30 minutes. Time to leave! On the way out, I corner Amber VerValin. The tiny, well-put-together chair of the College Republicans looks nervous when I tell her I have only one question for her: What does she, as a college student, have to say about the fact that the Democrats have free alcohol at their party? She pauses in her tasteful pearls and wooden elephant pin. “We’re definitely going to be having our own celebrations over the next days. Right now we’re running on caffeine and adrenaline. But,” she adds, “the Wolfie’s meatballs make up for the cash bar!”

Back at the ice rink, the crowd has thinned but the scene is still loud and relatively upbeat. The food is long gone, but people have been bringing beer and wine from home. Webb and Allen are still trading the lead and the emotions of the Young Libs swing wildly as the percentage points swing minutely. These kids are too young to understand the slow, sick, trench warfare that is American politics in The Age of the Recount. They have yet to understand the Chinese water torture of numbers dripping onto your forehead all night.

The party is heading into the wee small hours. Kendall Bills, younger sister of Brian, is hugging a friend and wiping tears from her eyes. Her arm is decorated with “I Heart Webb” written in blue ballpoint pen, and from a distance, she looks like any other 14-year-old, at any other party, dealing with a recurring broken heart.

Welcome to politics, kids. Rock the vote, beware of the meatballs.

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