The staff lounge in Dr. C’s office in Rancho Mirage, California is one of the swankiest I’ve ever visited. An ample rectangular conference table, which can seat up to ten people, is stationed at the center, surrounded by lots of elbow room. At ten o’clock is a workable kitchenette with a stainless-steel French-door refrigerator, the inside of which is spotless. At 12 o’clock, mounted on the wall, is the break room’s glorious centerpiece, and the one thing that would keep anyone employed there from actually doing their job: an 80-inch flat screen high-def television, always on, channel locked on a cable news network.
As a drug rep, I’ve become intimately acquainted with doctor office break rooms in greater Southern California. It’s where I do my job. It’s where I have spreads of Greek, Mexican, Asian, or the usual sandwiches and salads delivered to, as an entrée — pun intended — to the physician. After all the nurses, medical assistants, lab technicians, file clerks, and assorted administrators come through and fill up, not the least bit interested in my real wares (stacks of brochures and enrollment forms), I’m lucky if I get two minutes to pitch to the doctor. The other times, he or she is standing up, gobbling food, instructing me to leave my materials with Debbie.
But Dr. C’s office is different. The staff comes in. They talk. They ask questions. They watch T.V. My first visit to the office was on March 22, 2016, the day of the three suicide bombings in Brussels, Belgium. Lots to see on the T.V. that day.
My second visit was on November 9, 2016. I wore a brown suit and a blue pocket square in place of a tie. It was lunch time in California. There were no voting returns to report. Just footage of citizens turning out in record numbers to the polls. Maybe a side interview here and there, voters for him, voters for her.
In Dr. C’s break room, I visited with three women that day — each of whom had their opinions about the presidential candidates. The running thread amongst these women, even though Riverside County, it would later be revealed broke 49.6% for Clinton to Trump’s 45.3%, was that they were not with her.
The first was a Medical Assistant, likely in her early 30’s. I assumed she was white, could have possibly been Hispanic. She fixed a plate of Mexican food, and we watched some BREAKING NEWS. High schoolers in Arizona had staged a walkout to protest the pending reelection of Sheriff Arpaio. The woman and I exchanged pleasantries, then dove right into the topic of the day. She was quick to share that she had voted early, and against her family’s pleading.
“My family kept telling me to vote for Hillary, but I didn’t. I despise her. I voted for Johnson,” she said.
“Why do you hate Hillary?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I just can’t stand her. She’s evil.”
I offered a retort about Gary Johnson being the former governor of my home state of New Mexico, and quipped about his stance on legalizing marijuana.
“It’s my vote,” she said. “We have to vote for who we want, right?”
“You’re right. That’s what democracy is.”
After she left, a nurse came in. She was older, maternal, short hair, glasses, a healthy and stout build. Her scrubs were a multi-pattern print of American flags, and she had voted that day, as evidenced by her “I Voted” sticker.
“It’s going to be a long day,” she said, looking up at the T.V.
“Probably a really close race,” I said.
“Yep. I’m just ready for it to be over,” she said.
“I know. It’s been a brutal campaign,” I said. “I see that you voted.”
I was curious to know. It seemed like on Election Day, you could just let it out by now. And did she notice I was wearing a pantsuit?
“Yeah,” she said, scooping up some rice and beans. “It was one of those times when you had to just hold your nose and vote.”
The conversation stopped there, the nurse not saying much else. But her response, her scrubs, gave it all away. She was a lifelong Republican disappointed with her choice of Donald Trump, but not willing to sacrifice a vote for her. My crooked heart just knew it.
My third visitor was Tammie (not her real name). She was African-American, and Dr. C’s direct Medical Assistant. We had talked at length on my previous visit. I had learned then that she was a working single mom. On Election Day, she was the last to come through, since her schedule coincided with Dr. C, right around 1:30 pm, when they both had a tiny break before his afternoon appointments.
Our conversation turned to what was on screen — the East Coast just one hour away from the polls closing. I asked Tammie, if she had voted yet.
“No,” she said. “I need to after work. What time do they close?”
“8 pm,” I said. “You have time.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I need to study my ballot.”
I was showing her an app where you could view each candidate and proposition, and she scribbled notes on some papers she was holding. She was distracted, troubled. Dr. C came in. He wasted no time chiding Tammie on her procrastination.
“You’re not going to vote,” he said. “You should know by now.”
Dr. C is a small man, and a Columbian immigrant. He made his politics clear to me, and it was apparent he had done so with his staff. He had checked with another staffer that had walked in whether she had voted. That woman gave an emphatic “Yes!” to Dr. C.
“Tammie’s not ready for a woman president,” Dr. C loaded his plate up. “Are you?”
“That’s not it,” she said. “It’s my beliefs… about…”
She trailed off. Her worry showing.
“I’m Christian…” She had set the stage, but the fright got her.
“The President can’t change abortion laws.” Dr. C took a seat, closing the gap on the large leap Tammie had made in her mind if Hillary Clinton were elected president, that access to abortion would remain in place.
“You need to vote, and you need to vote for Hillary,” he continued. “She’s the most qualified candidate. She’s smart, and she’s been vetted.”
Tammie wouldn’t budge, and though she had put up with Dr. C’s prodding on a daily basis (I had seen this borderline forceful banter on my last visit), this issue was Issue #1 for her.
Dr. C scarfed down his lunch. I gave him a refresher of my products.
“Do you think she’s got this, Doctor?” I said. “Do you think she’s going to win tonight?”
“Of course she will. Look who she’s running against.”
Tammie ate her lunch, and Dr. C finished his. He got up to walk out.
“You’re not going to vote,” he said. “She voted for Obama the last two times. I don’t know why she won’t vote for Hillary.”
Tammie just smiled. “Okay, Doctor,” she said. It was obvious the two were office spouses.
“You have to vote,” I said.
“I will, I will,” Tammie said. “I have to pick up my daughter, and then I’ll go.”
She wasn’t going. And it probably wasn’t because she hadn’t done her homework. Tammie was one of the millions of Americans, who, instead of holding their noses, or protesting via a third-party candidate vote, simply avoided the polls. I wonder to this day if she voted at all. Would it have mattered?
I drove back to San Diego that afternoon, stopped to pick up some groceries on the way. There was a quiet tension in the air. On my drive back home, Kentucky was the first to report, with Trump taking the state. I made fajitas that night, we fed the kids, and I put my sons to bed. I came back downstairs and my wife said, “It’s not looking good.”
The hope for Hillary is gone with the wind, and yet the hatred remains. It’s baked in with the hubris and chaos our new president thrives upon. His loyalists say we Hillary supporters can’t get over it — that we need to just accept that he’s the president. I’d have to agree with them. We can’t get over it. It’s the one thing those on the wrong side of history have right.