The Write-in

There was only one patron in the seats this early. Rosie’s Diner opened at five in the morning, and without fail, Harold walked through the door and straight to his favorite red vinyl booth within the first ten minutes of business. He had been a truck driver for fifty years, and he said after all that time, it was too late to change his schedule.

Rosie was an actual person, and she was nearly as old as Harold. She was not quite five feet tall, and almost as wide, and her hips bumped the booths as she walked by. It was she who met the first customer of the day with a piping hot cup of joe, she who took his order, though it never changed, and it was Rosie who delivered, just ten minutes later, a plate of scrambled eggs, homefries and bacon.

The day in which our story begins was just like all the others, and found Harold buried behind a newspaper while he slowly and methodically made his way through his meal. He had nothing but time, and usually spent at least an hour on the plate.

“Don’t see too many of those around here anymore,” Rosie said with a gesture towards his paper. She leaned over to top off his coffee and he chewed his bite slowly, diligently, before answering.

“No ma’am, I guess you don’t. Everyone has one of those eye-phones.” He spoke of them as if they were a completely foreign concept. “I would get one myself, but you know what they say about us old dogs.”

“Speak for yourself,” Rosie answered with a laugh, leaning against the table with a casualness that made you feel like you were in her home. Then she gestured towards the front page facing her. “What do you make of that, old dog?”

Harold turned the page towards himself and his smile quickly turned upside down.

“Downright shame, that’s what I make of that.”

“They make it so you don’t even know who to vote for come election day.”

“My thought exactly.”

Just then, the front door opened with a jingle, and the second customer, this time a young postal worker, waved their way.

“Excuse me a second, Harold,” Rosie said and shuffled away, calling out a “Good Morning” to the new arrival as she went.

Alone again, Harold stared at the headline thoughtfully. It shouted back to him in bold typeface: “VOTERS TRY TO DECIDE WHO THEY HATE LESS”. Pictures of the presidential candidates from both parties accompanied a story about the messy and childish campaign each had run leading to tomorrow’s election. The polls had each coming in with about a twenty percent approval rating, and the race was too close to call.

“It’s a shame, a downright shame,” he murmured, repeating his earlier sentiment. Then, he put down the paper and sat there, staring off into space. In the span of five minutes, it may have looked like he was daydreaming. But this was a man accustomed to countless hours on the open road with only his thoughts to occupy him. After all, he never had enjoyed the radio. Sitting there, he was anything but inactive...he was thinking. And then it came to him.

“It just might work,” he said quietly. “If enough people agree.”

He stood up as quickly as his old bones would allow, dropping a bill that was large enough to cover his food plus a generous tip on the table, and headed for the door.

“Leaving so soon Harold?” Rosie called as she came through the swinging kitchen doors with a plate of toast.

“Yes, ma’am. Got something to do,” came the response as Harold pushed open the door and marched down the street like he had back in his infantry days. Today he had a new war to fight.

*

“A write-in candidate?”

Harold’s granddaughter looked up at him while she lifted her laptop from its case.  

“I’m not sure what the rules are about write-ins…”

“Now, don’t worry about all that,” Harold replied. “What I want to know is, can we get people’s attention? Maybe make one of those hashtag things.”

“Wow, grandpa, I didn’t know you knew about hashtags.”

“Can’t watch a show anymore without someone sticking one of ‘em up on the screen. Hashtag this, hashtag that. Seems like you can’t make a point without one these days.”

“You might be right about that,” Amy answered with a chuckle as her screen came to life, displaying a large picture of her and a group of friends in bright technicolor. She clicked a button Harold didn’t recognize, and a new window popped up instantly.

“So, I think our best bet for something like this is Twitter. Maybe Instagram too if you’ll let me take your picture. Let’s see if I can use that marketing class I took last semester to our benefit. Who knows, maybe your hashtag will even go viral!”

Harold looked down at her smiling face and couldn’t help but roll his eyes. Hashtags that went viral. It sounded like something out of an H.G.Wells novel. Or Star Trek.

“So what do you want to say? We have room for a sentence or two, so you’ll have to keep it pretty short.”

That presented a problem. How could he say everything he was feeling in just a handful of words? How could he properly represent the sorrow he felt at the loss of integrity among the nation’s potential commanders? That he missed better days when a working class citizen could pin their hopes on the promises of a capable leader? What words could be paired together to paint the picture of the despair he and surely others felt as they decided who they could trust with their vote?

“I guess what I want to say…” he said slowly as his words faded to silence before coming back with more resolve. “What I want to say is that we can do better. That America is about having the courage to do better. And that maybe we all should demand better.”

Amy started typing rapidly, her fingers flying over the keys.

“Well,” she said looking up at him with a half smile, “It’s good, but it’s too long.”

“That’s too long?” he exclaimed with a huff. “What CAN you say on this Twitter thing?”

“Let me see what I can do,” Amy said with a laugh. She closed the top of her laptop gently and shoved it into a floral case before standing and offering him a hug. “I have to run or I’ll be late for class. But don’t worry, I’ll get it posted.”

He watched as she left through his front door, then headed in the opposite direction. There was nothing more he could do today, so he might as well finish covering his patio furniture for the winter.

*

The next morning, Harold woke to the sound of his phone ringing, far from his bed, down the stairs in the kitchen. He sat up in the dark of his room slowly, his back aching with pain to punish him for his outdoor work the previous day. His knees let out cracks as he stood, and he was sure he heard a creak or two from his neck as he stretched it.

“You get old enough, the only conversation you get around your house is your body talking back to you,” he mumbled aloud as he made his way downstairs. The loud jingle hadn’t stopped by that time, which was surprising, because the process of getting to it had been far from fast.

“Yes, hello?” he said as he pulled the receiver to his ear. Looking over at the oven, he saw the clock glowing ‘4:35’ back at him.

“Grandpa?”

His heart nearly stopped at the sound of Amy’s voice and a million scenarios ran through his head in a split second.

“What’s wrong, Amy? Are you okay?”

“Yes, grandpa. I’m sorry if I scared you,” she said, sounding out of breath. “It’s just that...well, we’re trending.”

Harold closed his eyes and ran through his mental files to see if he could figure out what she was talking about. He couldn’t. She must have realized as much, because she spoke again, excited.

“I mean that your tweet went viral, grandpa, like we hoped. Lots of people are looking at it and sharing it.”

“How many is a lot?”

“25,000.”

“Come again?”

“You heard me right, grandpa. And that’s just overnight.”

“Can you meet me at the diner?”

“Sure, I’ll bring my computer.”

“Don’t bother, honey,” he said as he headed towards the door to see if his early edition of the paper had arrived. “They don’t get any of that wi-fi stuff at Rosie’s.”

*

Turned out Amy’s phone could overcome the limitations of Harold’s favorite diner, and she was able to update him on their post even as their eggs cooked in the kitchen. When a reporter direct messaged their account (all of which meant nothing to Harold), Amy arranged for the woman to meet them at Rosie’s. From there, things got really crazy.

By the end of the day, the little establishment looked like a campaign headquarters. Someone brought in a television, and a crowd of all ages watched as the polls closed and results came in. The crowd was mixed, all ages represented, but a little heavy on the younger types who were always looking for a cause to talk up on their social media. It was standing room only, and several cameras caught it all for the big networks.

Harold stuck around until dinner time, then said he had to use the restroom, whispered something in Amy’s ear, and disappeared out the kitchen door to an alley none of the newcomers knew about. He wasn’t there when one of the candidates conceded and the other accepted, wasn’t there when the hashtag died the quiet death that came with no more tweets, and he wasn’t there when the last reporter wrapped up their human interest piece about what one old man had started.

In fact, by the time the last camera powered down and Rosie finally locked her door,  Harold was fast asleep. When he woke the next day, he didn’t need to check his paper to know that the election had been won, and by someone real, not by the write-in he had birthed. But that had never been the point anyway.

*

In Washington D.C., meanwhile, the soon-to-be-president hadn’t ever gone to bed. They were knee deep in caffeine and riding the high of adrenaline that surely comes with winning the most powerful office in the world when a staffer approached them.

“Have you seen this story?” he asked as he handed them a piece of paper, still warm from the printer. “It’s all over the internet and the morning shows. Some crazy old guy almost ruined the election. Check it out.”

He left the sleep deprived victor with the article and headed off on another mission, anxious to make a good impression and land himself some small position in the White House.

The candidate lifted the paper and raised an eyebrow as they read. Twenty percent of the votes? Surely that had to be a mistake. They pulled out their phone and googled, only to have the number confirmed.

Now, you can say a lot of things about politicians, but you don’t get to be president by being unintelligent. And as this particular one read the tweet that almost started a revolution, they realized that America was sending a clear message. One that it would be wise to hear.

The message that had created the frenzy, that almost turned the election on it’s head read as follows:

 

What do you do when you can’t vote for one of the candidates? You #write-in. If you're there, vote with me for #wecandobetter .

    

It was because of that tweet that one real candidate won 45 percent of the vote and another about 35 percent. And coming in third, with 20 percent, a person who was never a person at all. Just a call to the future president to step into office with the awareness that Americans expected more than what they had brought to their campaign.

Wecan Dobetter couldn’t have won the election. But that didn’t matter, because as Harold had hoped, a message was delivered and one humbled person took office with a changed heart and commitment to honor the write-in vote of a nation. And for the next four years, when someone offered an idea that seemed self-serving or partisan, they knew how the president would respond before the words came out, because they were always the same:

“Come on,” they would say with a smile. “We can do better.”