Last year, when the early election coverage threatened to take over all other news, I promised myself I wouldn’t bother with any of it until January at the earliest. Around March or so I started watching in earnest and became engrossed in the process, checking Sadly, No and Balloon Juice all day, as well as a whole network of sites like Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan, Daily Kos and the essential FiveThirtyEight on a frequent basis — plus humorous blogs like PunditKitchen and all the various incredibly creative YouTube offerings, as well as the political discussions cropping up on my standard haunts like Whatever and various Livejournal accounts and feeds.
So when November 4th finally rolled around I was a nervous wreck. As is my habit I voted on the way to work in the morning, waiting no longer than I usually do but noticing somewhat higher attendance. One of my co-workers had been equally obsessed as I, analyzing every bit of data, gossip and scandal and trolling the web for lulz during the past months. We had both requested Wednesday off, figuring that win or lose, we were likely to be in no shape to work the next day — I would be either hung over, still drunk or possibly in jail. As my coworker added, “or in Canada.”
There were tons of watching parties organized throughout the city, but most of my friends were either esconced in their own caves or across the bay for the night so I checked my options and decided on the Edinburgh Castle. However, as the afternoon wore on and I found myself obsessively reloading FiveThirtyEight and the CNN electoral vote map, I realized that being at a bar waiting for the cautious updates from the news anchor, unable to change the channel, I would go completely insane.
As luck would have it, Borderlands Books was having a reading that evening. Apparently they decided they felt similarly to the way I did. The reading was for the Steampunk anthology and featured the editors, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, and Richard Bottoms, CEO of the recent Steam Powered convention. I had bought the anthology in the dealer’s room at Denvention and only just begun reading it a few days previously so it was providentially in my bag, clearly a sign from the geek gods.
I arrived at the bookstore shortly before the reading started, which gave me a chance to visit with the new store kitty, Ash. Last time I was there he was hiding in the back so this was my first glimpse of him. It turns out he is incredibly playful to the point of frenzy — running around all over the place and gleefully attacking toys and hands.
I enjoyed myself with that for a bit, thenit anymore. Since I’d be getting my own copy of the anthology signed, I figured I should find something to buy — not usually much of a problem. Using the employee recommendation shelf talkers as a guide I soon found Mortal Engines, by Phillip Reeve, which looks just ripping and has wonderfully classic looking cover art by David Frankland.
The reading started about then and was mostly an enjoyable back and forth with the panelists interviewing each other, and testing the audience to see if we could identify the excerpts provided from the book’s contents. Jude rewarded correct answers with leftover Halloween candy and everyone seem to enjoy themselves.
The stories in the book appear to have quite a range of styles and there was quite a bit of enthusiasm for Steampunk in general from both sides of the room. At around 7:45 the panelists started wrapping it up with some final Q & A.
During the evening a large open-top bus full of supporters for some Supervisor up for election had been driving around the neighborhood, honking and playing music and so on, so when we heard some honking and hollering start up as the panel wound down most of us glanced at our watches and figured it was just them again. Soon there was more honking and noise from outside. I looked behind me and saw people running down the street and saw Jude wander over to the computer at the counter and start typing. I tried to focus on what the panelists were saying, but as it got louder and I finally couldn’t resist, I snuck over to Jude to ask her if Obama had won.
“CNN just called it with 284 electoral votes,” she said.
I sat back down with a huge grin on my face and a few minutes later everyone was talking about the news coming in. Someone mentioned that they were planning to close off Castro for a party. After getting my copy of the anthology signed I left and wandered down Valencia and over to Castro to check it out and find someplace to watch Obama’s victory speech.
As I walked down Valencia and then Dolores Streets, people were hollering, banging pots and pans together, waving flags, honking their car horns and just generally rejoicing. At the corner of Church and Market there were small crowds gathering, and up at Castro the crowds were large.
The bars were all packed with their TV screens tuned to election coverage, the city was closing off the street between Market and 18th to traffic, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were milling about with a mix of people, including an amused looking couple walking their dog. I wandered a bit savoring the atmosphere and then saw on the TV in the Cove, which was just closing down for the evening, that Obama’s speech was starting shortly.
I lucked out by finding that the Marcello’s Pizza had a TV and only a handful of people so I bought a slice and a beer and got a place at the front as the speech started. After some grumping, the woman at the counter cranked the volume on full and the place was soon packed with the kitchen staff watching as well.
It was a great experience watching the speech with a bunch of strangers who really weren’t, for that moment in time. There was a lot of clapping, cheering and a little crying. When it was over everyone dropped something in the tip jar before heading out to the party outside.
I decided to leave before things got too crowded. As I waited for my train a bunch of folks disembarked from a downtown train and hollered OBAMA! I laughed as did the young redheaded girl sitting beside me. She mentioned that Proposition 8 was looking to win, unfortunately, but at least we got Obama. We both agreed that the marriage battle will get won eventually and it was hard to stop grinning even with that news.
For that night at least there was dancing in the streets of San Francisco.
SF/SF Issue #77, December 2008