Story 1: Keli’s Tale (subtitle: “Spooky Waffle House”)
It’s damn near one in the morning, somewhere outside of Memphis, and Keli needs to pee. There is nothing open. Fast food joints are closed. Gas stations are pitch black. The town is deserted with the exception of an isolated Waffle House uncomfortably far from the main road. It’s spooky. Keli isn’t thrilled about going in alone (a purple-haired out-of-towner going into a poorly-lit, secluded diner is the start to a horror movie). She makes a joke about being kidnapped and asks if we’ll go in with her (Jamil says no because he is on his phone; Shannon says no because she doesn’t need to pee; I say no because I am a coward and it is a spooky Waffle House). We say we’ll watch through the windows, and Keli goes in.
After twenty seconds, Keli comes out of the bathroom, and the Waffle House staff starts talking to her. The conversation seems serious (not angry—but serious). Maybe the staff is yelling at Keli for using the facilities without buying something. Maybe they’re explaining to her that they are going to kidnap her (I don’t know—it’s a spooky Waffle House—all bets are off). I’m curious, maybe on the verge of concerned. It doesn’t help that Keli talks with her hands. When she is happy, she swings her arms wildly. When she is angry, she does the same. Watching her through the window gives us no clue what is going on. But, they talk for a while, seriously.
After three minutes, she leaves the diner—followed by about half of the staff of the Waffle House. What is happening? They’re kidnapping all of us? Is that a thing that happens?
A young waitress has come out to register to vote for the first time (encouraged by Keli and the other employees). She says she is nervous about voting, but she wants to register with us. It’s one in the morning, in the secluded parking lot of a spooky Waffle House, and we unpack the van to find a registration form for her.
Story 2: Jamil’s Tale (subtitle: “Eligible”)
It’s 7:15 in Arkansas. Dave Matthews is going on in 45 minutes, and the HeadCount team is talking to the crowd about voting. The crowd is friendly and diverse. We’ve registered college students who are going to vote for the first time and people who have been voting for decades. Shannon registers a couple in their fifties who have never voted before (but decided this is the year).
Jamil finds a woman in the crowd and asks if she’s registered to vote. She’s a Native American. She’s in her fifties. She’s a little sullen. She tells Jamil that she can’t register to vote. Apparently, she had committed a felony a few years back. In a crowd of excited music fans just before showtime, she stands out because she’s clearly unhappy to be missing another year’s election (her eighth year of being ineligible to vote)
But, Jamil looks it up for her. In Arkansas, she can vote if she is finished with parole and/or probations (which, as it turns out, she is). She will be able to vote this year (for the first time in about a decade). She won’t have to sit out another election day.
The team registered all kinds of people to vote—but Jamil helped this woman get her voice back after eight years without it. She could enjoy the show a little more after that.
Story 3: Shannon’s Tale (subtitled: “Traffic Jam”)
It’s six in the evening. We’ve spent hours in the car. We are grumpy. Traffic is at a dead-stop as far as we can see (in front of us and behind us). We’re somewhere in Sonora, Kentucky. Truckers are turning off their rigs, and people are getting out of their cars to stretch. Our phones tell us we might be stuck here for two more hours. It’s worth repeating: we are grumpy.
After a short traffic jam photo op and a little side-of-the-road flower picking, Shannon and Keli decide to take a clipboard from truck to truck to truck to meet some people and maybe get some registrations. They warn me and Jamil specifically not to drive away if traffic suddenly starts moving. We promise to consider it.
They go car to car waving at people and beckoning at strangers to roll down their windows and talk. A few hundred feet ahead of our van, they start talking to a man and woman. The woman in the driver’s seat isn’t registered. Shannon walks her through the process. We’ve now registered people in parking lots, in concert arenas, and in Waffle Houses—but I will guarantee Shannon is the first person to register someone to vote in the middle of Interstate-65 in Sonora, KY.
Traffic starts moving again. Jamil and I consider our options, but just then, Shannon and Keli haul themselves back into the van. We continue our drive to Ohio with one more registered voter on the roads with us.