Thursday, November 10, 2016

The magic of change

         Long before the American electoral system transformed a TV reality show host into commander-in-chief, there was a legend about an arrogant prince who had been turned into a beast and was saved by a beautiful woman who taught him how to love.
         If you need a refresher course in this tale older than time, catch the production of "Beauty and the Beast" opening Nov. 18 at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre.
         Just a day after the historic election, Civic welcomed some local media representatives, and a few appreciative children, into their costume shop. Staff and volunteers are working on ways to transform household servants into mere objects such as a teapot and a clock. Kathleen Johnson, a Chicago expert in foam sculpture, explained how she uses lightweight, pliable foam to turn a chorus of children into teacups. By using matching fabrics to cover the foam, the elegant coat of butler Cogsworth becomes the rigid case of a windup, pendulum timepiece. In this photo, the costume-in-the-works is modeled by actor Jason Morrison.
            The show is being directed by Civic's associate director, Allyson Paris. Alyssa Meeuwsen, a 19-year-old musical theater student at Western Michigan University, will portray the tough but loving Belle who courageously tames the Beast. Meeuwson, who joined us in the costume shop to sing one of the show's stirring songs, said she has always dreamed of playing Belle. "She was my go-to Princess." The beast will be portrayed by Matt Hartman.
             Tickets to the month-long holiday show are disappearing quickly. You can get yours at
              We know we can count on Civic's team of professional designers and energetic young performers to create unbelievable magic on stage.
               Now, if only the fairy tale can actually come true. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Get out the vote

I went door to door for the Hillary campaign yesterday and have never been more proud to be a Democrat.
       They didn't just send us out to knock on any ol' doors. They gave each of us a list of people who had supported Democrats in the past and armed us with information about polling place, hours of operation and voter ID requirements. When somebody joked that we should tell any Trump supporters that the election would be Wednesday, our trainer quickly set the record straight. We were representing the Democratic Party and we were not to say or do anything mean or negative to anyone.
      "When they go low, we go high, " she reminded us.
       As if that weren't enough to make me proud I went out and met so many wonderful voters. The first was an elderly, black, blind woman who welcomed me into her apartment praising God. There had been a snafu with her absentee ballot but she was confident a new ballot was in the mail and she would deliver it in person to the clerk's office on Monday.
      There was a father still wearing the uniform from his third-shift hospital job corralling several young kids in a darkened living room. Yet he paused to accept my literature, smiled and said he and his wife would make it to the polls on Tuesday, kids in tow.
       I met an elderly couple whose excited chatter was tinged with the  accent of their native Netherlands. "They aren't smart," the woman said of the Trump supporters. Another woman from Estonia had such an accent I could barely understand her as she begged me to call her friends and tell them to vote for Hillary.
     An Hispanic boy was working on his car. His mother was on my list but she was sleeping he said. He wasn't sure if she supported Hillary or not, but he said he would take her to the polls on Tuesday. And maybe he would vote for Hillary too.
      A middle-aged mother told me she would be supporting Hillary but didn't know about her daughter. When the beautiful young woman with long false eyelashes and high spiked heels came to the door she asked,  "Can I write in a vote for Bernie Sanders?"  I reminded her that Sanders supports Hillary and Hillary has incorporated many of his policies into her platform.
      After three hours of trying to encourage voters, I realized they are the ones who had encouraged me. We are stronger together. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Who's laughing now?

          Most of my life I have worked on the other side during elections. I don't mean the other party, I mean I covered elections as a member of the media. Now that I am retired I will be working the polls as an election judge.
           Way back in 1972, when Tricky Dick was re-elected, I worked for the Charleston News-Courier. My regular assignment was in the "Women's Department," walled off from the army green newsroom in a "Kotex-box blue" protected sanctuary where we could view the bustle of the regular reporters through large glass windows but wouldn't be offended by their off-color language. On election night, however,  every hand was needed so I was stationed at the messy city desk just to answer phones. I was so excited to be part of the "real" story.
           In the '80s I was the assistant city editor at the Joliet Herald-News which meant I was in charge of election coverage. We had a union staff but on election nights we overlooked all the rules. Everyone volunteered to work back-to-back shifts, 16 hours straight. "At least we got pizza," one of my reporters recalled recently.
            And we got stir-crazy working with all the names and numbers in all the little contests that never get covered on CNN. In fact I saved an old chart of some of these minor offices in my computer at the Herald-News for coding reference at the next election. Unfortunately, when the 1990 election came around, I had taken a job in Grand Rapids. In the confusion, that old chart that was still in the system ran in the paper by mistake.
            Now I have graduated to the real job: working the polls. I don't think I ever really understood what dedication it takes to run an election. First you have to recruit and train all those polling place workers. And when the big day comes they will show up at schools and churches and other polling places all over America, working from 6 a.m. to prepare for the 7 a.m. opening until 10 p.m. to deliver the last votes to the county clerk.
             We'll get a boxed lunch, I'm told. Not enough time to eat a messy pizza!