At the age of 20, I lost my voting virginity on November 6, 2012, between 10:30 am and 12:30 pm in a defunct Washington Mutual bank sandwiched between an H-E-B and a Massage Envy in Austin. I drove to the voting site feeling a strange mix of apprehension: What if I voted for someone I would regret, someone that I would be ashamed to tell my grandchildren I voted for?
With the shaky confidence of a rube in a big city, I got out of my car and, before I took two steps toward the polling station, was approached at my car by a fellow voter.
“Ma’am, are you a racist?”
I assured him that I was not.
He proceeded. “I need some gas for my car, and I’ve already been turned down by two people. If you’re going to vote for Obama then you’ll give me gas money so I can get my car started.”
I informed him that, although I was not a racist in any way, I did not have any spare change with me. He abruptly moved on towards another unsuspecting voter exiting his car.
The bizarre turn of events, as it happened, settled my voting nerves, and I approached the line for the polling station with a new confidence.
I then waited in line for two hours.
You could tell which people were newbies like myself. Every voting alumnus had a book with him or her to pass the time, while the rest of us resorted to staring at cracks in the cement. The guy behind me, who was wearing a neon green Ron Paul shirt and an “I LOVE RON PAUL!” wristband, got in an argument with an election official for his political attire. The man stubbornly refused to discard his Ron Paul gear for five minutes until, in an act of dramatic defiance, he stripped his shirt and continued, bare-chested, to wait in line. I had forgotten about the rule against campaigning at the actual voting site (I was fondly reminded of an oft told family story, in which my older brother, still in a stroller, excitedly yelled “Dukakis, Dukakis, Dukakis!” at a 1988 voting site while my mother and election officials frantically tried to shush him).
After two hours, the line finally came to an end – I had successfully jumped through the various hoops of confirming my address and my name, and, finally, was next in line to vote.
My turn came, and I courageously marched up to my assigned voting booth. I punched my access number. And then, the ballot itself.
I progressed carefully, double-triple-quadruple checking that I did indeed select the candidates that I desired to win. That final moment came: “Cast ballot?” I hesitated for a final second before clicking “Yes”.
That was it. I walked from the voting site to my car feeling light. I had just joined the elite in the world who could and would vote for the next leaders. I wanted to eat a burger and watch a football game in front of a TV that cost as much as my small car – I was an American.
I got into my car and buckled my seatbelt, ready to return to work. So what if the whole process was a touch anticlimactic, and I might have built up the event itself to be much more exciting than it actually was.
I still got my sticker.