Looking for Clarita

Ginny casually mentions while we are swimming laps that she is going to vote. ''For what?'' I ask. I ask not because I don't believe in voting but because I am an out-of-stater and have never heard of anybody voting for anything in August - except maybe who will get up and turn on the air conditioning.

My husband, Steve, hands me the section of the newspaper that covers the election. The newspaper says that it is a primary but that there are several budgetary proposals on the ballot as well. I begin to feel the guilt one has after discovering one's ignorance. How am I to make any kind of rational decision in such a short time.?

Ginny had mentioned an independent organization which reviews the relative qualifications of candidates. Some of this organization's comments are in the newspaper. She said it could be trusted. . . .

Trust my friend, trust her view of things, trust this independent organization, trust its judgment - a tenuous string of trust but all I have right now. I feel guilty again. I write down my semi-informed choices in a notebook.

6:30 a.m., election day. I wake up remembering that I want to vote. It is a dim vision in the early gray light - something about keeping the right to have a say. Must have a say. Still don't know where to vote. Maybe I can call someone like the League of Women Voters.

4:30 p.m. As I am driving home from work I mentally review tonight's list of things to do. Fix supper, oh yes, and go vote.

5:30. I remember the league. Call them up. '' . . . Voters' office is closed at this time. If you wish to leave a message. . . . '' Too late. Couldn't they have the foresight to be there when I need them? Why didn't I think to need them earlier!

6:30. Supper is over. I find the computerized statement that tells me where to vote: the Larned School, Clarita Street, District 16, Precinct 3A. Steve takes up the challenge of finding Clarita. We'll have to hurry. Polls close at 8 .

The manager of our apartments doesn't have any idea where the voting is. He's been here six years. Vote? Our neighbor across the way has heard of Clarita. He points west. We doubt his word. A few hundred feet to the west is a suburb of the city we live in. We've never heard of anyone living in one city and voting in another.

7:10. We get in the car and head due east along Grand River Avenue. Maybe we'll cross Clarita.

7:15. Wait a minute. Steve has heard of Clarita. He thinks it runs parallel to Grand River. We'll never cross it this way. We take Evergreen south, then north. It's got to cross something, somewhere.

7:30. Clarita! We've found it.

7:31. Dead end. ''I think it picks up again,'' suggests Steve hopefully.

7:39. ''I'm only giving this street one more chance,'' he says as we run into our third dead end. We ask some people outside their home for the Larned School. By now we know better than to ask where to vote. We turn down a shaggy, bottle-strewn continuation of Clarita; see the orange brick of what must be the school. A man stands near the door with campaign literature. A sign says Precinct 5. Where is Precinct 3A we wonder. Wouldn't it be funny if it wasn't here. . . .

7:40. We find a gym and our precinct represented by a set of foldable tables and a voting machine which looks like one of those new telephone booths. A woman explains how the voting works - by punched cards. I find myself very grateful for the woman and her help. For a minute it seems as though she is standing, machete in hand, ready to fight back the creeping jungle - right at the cutting edge. . . .

7:42. I step to the booth and pull out my little notebook. More guilt as I realize that half the positions on the ballot are completely unknown to me - of course, the newspaper for a large metropolitan area couldn't cover all the local elections. Next election I'll do better. Next election.

7:45. We've done it. We learn that 76 out of the 508 registered voters found their way to this precinct today. The women guarding the machines have had a lonely vigil. At what point would even these ladies stop keeping watch? Still a buoyant sense sweeps over me. Maybe we weren't as well-informed as we should have been, but we made it; we've had our say.

As we drive to still another end of Clarita, heading home, I wonder if next year the path to Clarita will be all grown over, if through lack of use there will be no more finding it at all.

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