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11/4/2004

Happytown > Happytown

Our Election Day Diary

 

After months of fighting with your wife and stealing your neighbor's lawn signs, election day is finally over. Lucky for you, Happytown™ was on the scene to chronicle each shouted profanity and angry glare. Read our Election Day Diary and learn how we were almost murdered in the process. (No, seriously.)

6:45 a.m. Rise and shine! After a quick breakfast bar, we're ready to beat the pavement and exercise our constitutional right to snap photos of weirdos (see page 14). We are not wearing any colors, because we're journalists, you see, and exactingly objective. As we climb into our car, we hear someone shouting "Fuck Kerry!" at us. This is gonna be fun.

7:02 a.m. Just in time to greet the first round of early-morning voters at the National Guard Armory on Ferncreek Avenue in Orlando.

"Hey, be sure to vote no on Amendment Three," a woman says quietly as she passes out light-blue informational pamphlets.

A quiet tension spreads like chicken pox on a 6-year-old. A man in a straw hat approaches the line, spots the woman, walks up to her, looks her in the eye, smiles, takes a pamphlet and immediately rips it up in her face.

"Vote yes on Amendment Three," he says with a proud smile.

The people standing in line roll their eyes and switch their focus back to the front of the line.

"Sheesh," says an old woman standing at the back of the line. "It's too early for this."

8:15 a.m. On the move. We pull the Happytown™ Mobile News Information Center into an abandoned parking lot off Division Avenue. A fenced-in walkway that leads pedestrians over and across Interstate 4 near downtown is covered with Bush and Kerry signs. We notice a barrage of sign-holders shouting and waving to the traffic below.

As we make our way to the crosswalk, we approach a long line of Bush supporters, with no Kerry sign-holder in sight.

"Hi, we're from Orlando Weekly, can we snap a quick photo of you waving at traffic for this Thursday's paper?" we ask politely.

"Yeah, fucking right," says a man aiming his Bush sign toward traffic while arching his head back toward us. "And I'm running for president!"

Because it's early, and because we are scrupulously objective, we don't immediately get the joke. "You are?" we say naively.

"No. Not really. And you're not from the newspaper. Nice try, I'm not buying it," he says with a disgusted look on his face.

We grab our camera and snap a few photos of the Bush supporters. They scowl at us.

11:15 a.m. A large crowd has gathered on all four corners of the intersection of State Road 436 and U.S. 17-92 near Maitland. On three corners, pairs of Bush sign-holders wave and shout at the driving cars. On the remaining corner, six Kerry supporters hold up huge signs with pictures of the planet Earth. We park the H™MNIC and make our way to the Kerry sign-holders, since they seem the "happiest." Just as we approach the group of screaming, smiling Kerry supporters, we hear tires screeching. An old white Cadillac speeds around the corner and aggressively swerves toward the Kerry sign-holders. They scramble and jump back to the sidewalk, out of harm's way.

"Did you see that?" one angry Kerry supporter yells to another. "They could have killed us!"

As the shaken-up group comforts one another, a man holding a Bush sign walks over to the group and shouts, "Vote Republican!"

We decided to put down our camera and pick up a Kerry sign, holding it in an extremely, jaw-droppingly objective manner.

1 p.m. We return to Happytown™ HQ, hamstrung by our impending deadlines. We remain on the streets in spirit, however.

Seems like you can't sit down in a blue box anymore to enjoy your lunch without being interrupted by a protest. Elect this person, jail that one, run some guy out of town, it's getting hard to keep track. Not that we're complaining, mind you. We love a good protest. We love a bad one, too. We think protesting ought to be mandatory. Kids ought to learn how to protest in the fourth grade. No, third.

So our civically disobedient little hearts pitter-pattered with joy last week when we came across a knot of sign-waving cops shouting down Mayor Buddy Dyer as he was trying to give a speech about how flippin' joyous life will be when The Plaza on Orange Avenue is complete. The $140 million condo/retail/yuppie hive broke ground Oct. 27; Dyer came out to speechify, but the cops, upset about the fact that the mayor has halted contract negotiations with them, made a lot of noise. Best touch? Police cruisers inching down Orange blipping their sirens every time Buddy opened his mouth.

Speaking of knots on Orange Avenue, we were driving to work Oct. 25 and found that thoroughfare clogged. In the distance, near the 16-floor Wachovia bank building, we could see Orlando Fire Department trucks, with lights on, clearly the source of our impending tardiness. But what the matter was, we just couldn't tell.

Later that day, we heard a rumor: The fire department had found two "suspicious devices" on a downtown roof next to some homeless guys sleeping there. Rumor has it that the objects of mass destruction were lava lamps.

Brian Gilliam, the public-information officer for the Orlando Police Department, said that the cause of deadlock was indeed "suspicious" items found on a roof. He'd also later heard that they were lava lamps, but he couldn't confirm anything. He referred us to the fire department's PIO, district chief Greg Hoggit, for specifics. Hoggit, unfortunately, couldn't be reached by press time. Probably too busy keeping the world safe from pet rocks.

Speaking of knots on Orange Avenue, part three: You'd be forgiven if you happened to wander out on said drag Oct. 30 and thought you had somehow ended up in Austin, San Francisco, New Orleans or any of a number of real cities that encourage people to cut loose in the streets once in a while. Downtown was packed with Halloween revelers, who somehow managed to enjoy themselves despite the distinctly unfamily-friendly feel to it all. Hmm, wonder if there's a lesson in that ….

SEMI-REGULAR FEATURE: DECODING KATHLEEN PARKER

Orlando Sentinel columnist Kathleen Parker is a very important writer. Not since Will Rogers has there been a pundit whose words reflected the feelings of so many Americans. From soccer moms to NASCAR dads, Parker has her finger on the pulse of this great land.

Unfortunately, her columns can be somewhat inscrutable. So as a public service, Happytown™ has hired a team of language experts to read and decipher her offerings. Though they refused to do it on a weekly basis, citing mental-health issues and a lack of stamina, we feel Parker is worth analyzing whenever our brain trust is willing. Thus, we present this as an occasional feature. Enjoy.

Oct. 31: "In praise of lizard brains"
Summary: Bush voters will abandon rationality and vote based on fear. This is not a bad thing, either, because primitive fear is better than thinking.

Oct. 27: "On the imaginary trail"
Summary: Herein, Parker imagines a campaign in which George Bush acts like John Kerry and John Kerry acts like George Bush. Our experts were flummoxed as to the reason for this column, and simply quit trying to decipher it. They were severely reprimanded, and forced to stay on extra hours to reach a consensus regarding the Oct. 31 column, which they did, whining like preteens the entire time.

Oct. 20: "No 'yo mama' or my daughter either"
Summary: It was OK for Dick Cheney to discuss his daughter's lesbianism. It was not OK for John Kerry to do it. And Bush confessing ignorance on whether homosexuality was a choice was good ol'-fashioned honest politicking.

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