Berned in Reno
Last Thursday I found out Bernie Sanders was going to speak in Reno on Friday. I don’t live in Nevada, but I live in a small California town called Nevada City, which is in Nevada County, so I spend a lot of time explaining to people that I don’t live in Nevada.
I texted my friend Hannah, who is twenty-seven and tiny and beautiful as a daffodil. “Bernie in Reno tomorrow!”
She texted back two hearts and five flames and “BERNIE BERNIE BERNIE.”
On the drive, Hannah and I tried to figure out, between Rihanna and Beyoncé, who was Bernie Sanders and who was Hillary Clinton. Beyoncé’s music was maybe more Sanders-y, because it was braver, and more personal, and Rihanna was more slick. But in some ways, Rihanna seemed like a more Sanders-y sort of person. “I think Beyoncé is super talented and beautiful and amazing but it sometimes it’s annoying how she’s like ‘I’m married, I’m Christian, I’m good,’ even though she’s also, obviously, more than that. I really appreciate how Rihanna is like, kind of a loose cannon stoner.”
“I thought you hated pot,” Hannah said.
“I do,” I said. “But I like people who feel like they have to smoke it a lot.”
I told Hannah the woman who was currently sitting in her seat at our co-working space (she had to move downstairs, long story) has told me she thought 9/11 was an inside job.
“What did you say?” Hannah asked.
“I started yelling at her.”
“How did she respond?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “Indignant rage always ends up being kind of a solitary experience.”
The Bernie Rally was in Sparks, just east of Reno, at the Nugget Casino. The moment it came into view we started to chant: “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie. Bernie!” We parked easily in a giant structure and got out of the car, then jumped up and down and shouted “Bernie!” some more.
There were maybe fifteen people standing at the casino entrance. “Is this the Bernie line?” we asked a security guard.
“Yes,” he said. “You’re here early.”
“We’re going to be so close to Bernie!” Hannah said. She put on some lipstick. “I have to look good for Bernie!”
“Oh yes,” I said. “I know how you millennial women are at your Bernie rallies.”
Some guy came up with shitty homemade Bernie buttons. Hannah got one that was covered with rainbows; mine just said “BERNIE,” with a blurry picture of his smiling face.
“Yours is boring,” Hannah said.
“Yours looks like a logo for organic marijuana fertilizer,” I said.
We talked to each other for a few minutes but then, tacitly acknowledging the only way to wait for Bernie was by making Bernie Buddies, struck up a conversation with the people in front of us. Rebecca and Aria were first year students at University of Nevada at Reno. “I’m actually on the fence,” Rebecca said. She loved to talk and she loved to listen and I was sure she was destined for success in a career where she would actually help people. “My dad is a Trump supporter. He thinks I am going to hell.” She seemed pleased about this. “My mother thought she was but I made her take one of those tests, and she found out she’s like, seventy-three percent liberal.”
Aria had enormous eyes and was wearing a romper and maybe colored contacts. Her parents were from Mexico, and not terribly political. She was full-on Bernie.
“That’s what we are,” Hannah said. “We’re full-on Bernie.”
Aria nodded and gave a thumbs up. Her fingernails were Tiffany blue. “I thought I was a Republican until Rebecca made me take that test,” she said. “Then I found out I was a Bernie supporter.” She said this as if she were talking about her blood type. “I just always thought I was Republican because I was pro-life, but then a friend of mine explained to me that women would get abortions even if they weren’t legal, and die. So I changed my mind.”
I asked her when this all happened. “I guess a few weeks ago?” she said. She shrugged and her romper slipped off her shoulder a little bit and as she tugged it back into place with a slightly apologetic smile I felt like could see her innocent heart under her romper. Hormonal tears flooded my eyes.
Rebecca had more to say. She liked Bernie a lot, but she really wanted to see a woman president. She also didn’t know if Bernie had enough experience. I asked if she thought Obama was a good president. She said she did. “Well, he had way less experience than Bernie has, and he’s been pretty good,” I said.
A tall white guy walked up and stood near us, and then he got closer and closer and soon he and Rebecca were nuzzling each other like two sheep in a field. In time, we learned that he was a disappointed Rand Paul supporter with a day off from work. Every time I met his gaze I sensed he was telegraphing to me, “Stop trying to telegraph to my girlfriend that I’m not good enough for her” and I sensed he knew I was telegraphing back, “You can’t make me.”
Hannah tugged me on the arm. “This lady is undecided,” she said. “You should talk to her.” So I engaged in conversation with Angela. She was sixty-five, one of those people who is, not unattractively, all one bronzed color; tan eyes, tan face, tan hair, tan jacket. Angela watched the news all day. “ I just retired and I just watch it and make myself crazy changing my mind this way and that way.” She laughed.
I gave her my speech about how income inequality was the single biggest problem in America and how if we didn’t address that we really weren’t addressing anything, and she was very agreeable. After a long time, she finally said, “I really would just like to see a woman president.”
Does anyone remember in Laurel Canyon when Christian Bale is going off about how great and brilliant his fiancée, Kate Beckinsale, is, and Natasha McElhone, who is in love with him (as he is, arguably, with her) shrugs and asks, “Who can compete with that?” I felt like her.
Standing there, I allowed myself to think all my most uncharitable thoughts about Hillary Clinton supporters. Not the Costco-shopping Cupcake Chardonnay and Wild Horse Pinot drinkers with their enormous Pottery Barn couches who love gay weddings and get abortions but would just as soon allow half the United States to life in jail and the other half in a gated community, because I don’t really know any of those people. No, I was having uncharitable thoughts about the ones I know, my family, my friends, the people in my life I have always thought of as progressives. I hate how they lecture me that I don’t understand reality, and that I’m silly to think anyone like Bernie Sanders could be president when he doesn’t understand how to work the system they all claim to hate so much, and I hate that it is essentially quaint and precious and delusional to believe that our country could free itself from corporate interests and values, and I hate that the ugly stuff and meaningless jargon that give those ties its shape and its sound seem to be perfectly tolerable to them and finally, I hate them for saying that just because so many truly stupid backwards fucks hate Hillary Clinton, that it’s my duty to like her because I’m a Democrat, and doubly so because I am a woman, because it’s not.
The line to actually get into the ballroom at the Nugget was like airport security, but worse. Security guards weren’t just searching bags, they were searching wallets. Right in front of us, some weird Crocodile Hunter-y dude had taken off a coat with about seven thousand pockets, and they went through every single one of them. He was also carrying a knife because who knows when you might have the opportunity to skin a possum at the Nugget Casino in Sparks.
At around three o’clock, they started bringing people in to sit on a row of bleachers behind the stage. Bernie supporter Dick Van Dyke emerged. There was a buzz while all the old people explained to the young people who Dick Van Dyke was and another buzz when they didn’t understand and we explained again. Some guy named Chris with long hair who looked like a stocky Greg Allman (though really, who doesn’t?) from the Nevada for Bernie campaign stalked up to the podium, a veritable panther for the Left. He looked at us and with stocky panther gravitas demanded to know if we were ready for a revolution. We jumped up and down and said that we were. Chris was followed by Susan Sarandon, whose matching purple sweatsuit gave her the air of a rich woman alighting from a plane in Scottsdale. She spoke for about five minutes about Bernie’s general awesomeness and was followed by a fiftyish former Republican who — you guessed it! — had a serious case of the Bern.
And then, Bernie came out.
The last time I was this excited about seeing someone was The Unforgettable Fire tour. “BERNIE BERNIE BERNIE,” we all yelled, glowing with love for our candidate. When it quieted down, someone yelled, “We love you Bernie” and he grimaced, then held up his hand in a sort of enough-of-that-nonsense gesture. But then he smiled. I know it’s condescending to say that old people are cute, but Bernie is so cute. I love the electric socialism of his smile.
You already know what he said: Healthcare is a right and not a privilege, yet we are the only major country in the world where that is not true. He asked people in the audience to shout out the amount of college debt they had, and a woman next to me had $200,000 in college debt. Someone else said they were $400,000 in debt and I swear to Christ I saw a bullshit shadow pass over Bernie’s face. But then a few nights later friend told me she’d had a one-night stand with a therapist who had $400,000 in student debt. “That’s why it was a one-night stand,” she explained
Someone fainted as Bernie rattled off those income inequality statistics, so he stopped everything for a moment. Once he saw other people were taking care of it, he just sort of backed away from the podium and chilled out for a bit. “He is a composed fucking guy,” I said to Hannah, and she said, “BERNIE! BERNIE! BERNIE!”
We got a packet to go canvassing, and found a Mexican restaurant in a casino. People were staring at me and I looked down and saw that I was wearing like two hundred Berine buttons. I removed all but one. The restaurant was opulent in a casino way, with a gold touches in the paint and a recessed ceiling filled with fake roses, which I found as difficult to assess and categorize as Susan Sarandon’s outfit. Hannah announced that she’d lost several Instagram followers, possibly because she’d posted pro-Bernie stuff, and one guy she knew from college had commented negatively on her Bernie picture.
“I went to UC Santa Barbara,” she said. “I’m friends with a lot of bros.”
We ate our food like well-trained NorCalers, complaining about its quality. But when we got the bill, I said, “Holy shit, a Jameson on the rocks is only $3.50.”
“Wow,” Hannah said. “Let’s move here.”
We canvassed in a suburban area off of McCarran Blvd, in more or less the same place I knocked on doors for Obama in 2012. We had about forty doors to knock on. “I’ll just talk to people, you do paper work,” I said. She said, “This seems like a good use of everyone’s talents.”
Some people might think canvassing involves arguing with people, but it doesn’t. If they say they’re undecided, you bring up Bernie’s issues — single payer healthcare, free college tuition, income inequality — but you’re not necessarily banking on moments where people suddenly see the Bernie light. Although these moments do happen. But not to us: Our goal was to find out who was planning on caucusing for Bernie and to make them more accountable about going.
The first guy said, “Go away” and slammed the door in our faces. A few people said they loved Bernie but had to work tomorrow, and I said, “When Bernie is president no one will have to work on Saturdays,” and we had a good laugh. One woman actually embraced me. “I love Bernie,” she said. “He is so wonderful! My whole family is going to caucus for him tomorrow. We can’t wait!” She sent me off me a jar of ice water and some sort of diet iced tea thing that brews when you twist the top which Hannah and I regarded with perplexed fascination.
The Bernie headquarters were in your typical mini mall, across from a nail salon and next to some New Age establishment that screamed mail fraud. We handed in our packet and the person who took it said thanks. But there was no outpouring of gratitude. For some reason I though we might get peanut butter and cheese crackers like you do after you give blood, but there was nothing left to do except drive home.
There was a significant snowstorm between Reno and Truckee, the first town over the border in California. “Isn’t it weird that the Donner party was like, a real thing? Like they actually died here. But we just drive over, with our heaters and our snacks,” Hannah said.
I tried to somehow process the miraculousness of finding myself at this moment in history but the best I could summon was a vague acknowledgement of comfort. As we descended the snow transitioned to rain and then to fog. I said “Is it really immature of me how often I find myself thinking Hillary Clinton supporters are tools?” and Hannah told me that everyone she knows who’s voting for Clinton likes her because she was on the cover of Vogue. The part of me that’s still a Yellow Dog Democrat felt relieved.
The next day, I was in the parking lot of the ReSale Store in Grass Valley when I read that Clinton had won Nevada. Hannah wrote me a text: “We should have knocked on more doors. At least it’s Rihanna’s birthday.” She added the birthday cake emoji.
I went out for dinner and split a half bottle of Barolo and a filet mignon with a friend of mine who is a Hillary supporter. After my first half glass, I totally went off on her. She just laughed. “Maybe you’re right,” she said. “Maybe it is because I really don’t care.” And I really do, but indignant rage always ends up being kind of a solitary experience. I let her pay.