It’s an election year, it’s campaign season and I am a *political fundraiser. I’ve worked as the body person (sucker), the advance lead (warrior) and the consultant (a rare and mature combo of the aforementioned). I’ve traveled on the road, visited with voters door to door and I’ve sat at a desk dialing for dollars and begging for votes. The jobs are not glamorous but they allow me to pack my bags and discover the vast countryside. Places I never dreamed of seeing like Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
In 2004, I signed up for an advance job with the Kerry Edwards presidential campaign. Oh I thought to myself, “I’ve made it, I get to travel with Senator John Kerry by private plane.” I was wrong. Instead of attending shindigs at Radio City Music Hall or the Staples Center in Los Angles to listen to Bon Jovi, I landed in Green Bay, Wisconsin on a Sunday during Packer season and Nashua, New Hampshire in October when the skies are gloomy, the temperatures falling and the multitude of emotions high. My room at the Holiday Inn in Nashua leaked and I quiver to this day when I remember my time spent in Nashua, which years later I fumble pronouncing. The air was cold and damp– Brrr– and locals in dive bars wore hair mullets with fierce pride.
The campaign directed me to plan rallies around the theme of the week which often focused on jobs, universal healthcare, the environment or the War in Iraq. I stayed in small towns like Brownsville, Pennsylvania where the “best restaurant in town” served up healthy iceberg lettuce salads with mounds of greasy French fries in the center of the plate. The Hampton Inn became my hotel of choice because the chain provided free breakfast cereal in the lobby and sometimes eggs on weekends. My mode of transportation provided by the campaign featured a minivan courtesy of Avis Rental, a company I won’t use today. I bounced from Sioux City, Iowa to Waterville, Maine where I tasted lobster for the first time and purchased clogs because it felt like the right thing to do in Maine.
It was not tough work but it was extremely stressful and demanding. Professionalism often went out the door and it became imperative to “make shit happen” quickly and inexpensively. My team consisted of college interns or newly graduated eager beavers. Every few days we moved to a new city, with different principals and we were expected to create 50-500 person public events in a matter of days. I shared rooms with campaign staffers who were hooking up or out all night drinking and I ran ridiculous errands to Target for supplies but my favorite part of the job was removing the “evidence” of the principal or senior staff’s existence. Mainly, I shredded confidential briefing memos and discarded empty bottles of wine.
Being on the campaign trail grows old with time. Mistakes are made. People are weary and temperamental. One time I played the song, “the Facts of Life“ at the end of a rally with Elizabeth Edwards. It was an accident since I cued up the wrong CD but upon hearing the lyrics, she scowled at me from across the room with a face of extreme disapproval. A pang of panic filled my body and then I giggled. A child of the 80s, I loved Mrs. Garrett who quite frankly reminded me of Mrs. Edwards. I hope to never forget that moment of laughter through the insanity.
You take the good, you take the bad,
you take them both and there you have
The facts of life, the facts of life.There’s a time you got to go and show
You’re growin’ now you know about
The facts of life, the facts of life.When the world never seems
to be livin up to your dreams
And suddenly you’re finding out
the facts of life are all about you, you.
Campaign life is not for everyone and I contend it’s mostly for the young and foolish. I vaguely recall earning $60 dollars on preparation days and $100 on game day (the day the principal arrives) and even less on travel days. Eating at strip malls, sleeping in sparse accommodations, flying with several connections to ensure the cheapest flight and being berated by angry voters eventually takes its toll but I can admit, I enjoyed every minute of it. When it was over and John Kerry lost, I found myself at the Westin Hotel in the Back Bay of Boston in the rain. I can still picture the faces on my friends, true supporters—sullen and disappointed. I went to bed.
The next morning, I called United Airlines to see how many miles I accumulated from my campaign work. I was on a train to New York City making my way to DC for a wedding.
“Hi, my mileage plus number is xxxx. I want to know how far I can travel on my miles.”
United: “You can go to Hong Kong, Hanoi, Bangkok and Sydney.”
Me: “I can go to Sydney?”
United: “Yes and you can even go First Class.”
Me: “What is the soonest date I can leave?”
United: “We have flights starting November 15.”
Me: “Great! I will book a one-way First Class trip from Chicago to Sydney departing November 15.”
And so began my life of solo travel around the globe. I thank John Kerry and the American people for that privilege. If the JK/JRE/THK/EE team delivered a victory in 2004, it’s possible my life would be very different. I often think about the lingo, my friends, the people I met in the cities I visited, the game day adrenaline and the hottie Secret Service Agents, “Wheels Up, Rings Off” and I share fond memories of my experience.
Elections matter –even this one– and I encourage everyone to participate in some capacity. Go vote!
*Disclaimer: I do not work for any of the Presidential Campaigns this cycle.