Election Night 2016 in New York City
It was such a beautiful fall Tuesday in New York.
We were all in such a good mood.
But in retrospect there were some early warning signs I’d rationalized and dismissed: The tollbooth clerk I had a happy election exchange with but when asked who she was voting for answered, “I don’t tell people that.” Or the random middle-aged poor guy in the New York deli who volunteered, “I like Trump. That guy tells it like it is.” Or the two women in the Democratic heart of NBC’s Democracy Plaza wearing “Trumplican” t-shirts. Or the young cool-looking hippie-rebel dudes outside Trump Tower spending their days holding up pro-Trump signs. Or when I left my Beat buddy’s apartment in Brooklyn in full Democratic regalia on election day, not one person responding positively — so unlike walking the New York streets in Obama gear in ’08. Or when I was leaving the Port Authority Bus Terminal for the Hillary victory party at the Javits Center some construction worker type guy said as I past, “I pray to god you fuckin’ die.”
Another sign was when I asked a Clinton campaign worker in the afternoon about the evening’s planned fireworks over the Hudson and he told me they were TBD. Then around 8:00 I was talking to a high-level security coordinator straight outta Scorsese Casting and he told me they’d been canceled.
It still didn’t dawn on me.
Just to set the scene — it was glorious. I got to the Javits about 3:00 — and by 5:30 was outside with thousands of fellow Democrats at a block party on closed-off 11th Avenue next to the glass-ceilinged building.
Oh and a funny thing — during my pre-scout the day before, when I saw how small the main room was inside the Javits and learned there would be a big outdoor party scene, I also noted how there were no seats or benches out there. So when we were inside the airplane-hanger-like holding pen . . .
I spotted a woman pushing a cart stacked with folding chairs, buttonholed her, asked if I could have one, and managed to talk her into it! “Okay, but don’t tell anyone where you got it.” So now I was the only guy in a crowd of thousands with a chair! Then when we went thru security, I folded it up and carried it with me! When we were going out the door to 11th Avenue and I still had it, a cluster of cops were looking at me and the only woman in the bunch said, “Hey you can’t take that outside.” And I said, “Yeah I can — they gave it to me to use.” Ha! 😀
So now I’m outside with the one & only chair on the avenue!
Another funny thing was, the party space was this long rectangle — 4 or 5 blocks of 11th Avenue — and the first of us to arrive went to the stage that was about 7/8ths of the way down. It was positioned sideways towards the camera risers on the sidewalk, so there was only a small area in front it — which was of course immediately sardined. But those of us who arrived first went to the little area just beyond it that very few people seemed to know was there and we had all this whole space to ourselves — oddly right next to the reporter’s pen.
I went straight to the boom camera operators . . .
and told them how I needed the chair, and they let me fold it up and put over their barricade whenever I wasn’t using it.
I could see the images from the boom cameraman’s monitor that the crowd was just subways-at-rush-hour packed all the way north from the stage. But those of us who broke on through to the other side coulda played frisbee back there! You can see a picture of me in the open space in this Norwegian national news service story.
Then it hit me — this very Javits Center is where I first raised my hand and became an American citizen!
As the oath was being administered.
And now a woman was becoming President in the very place where my mother’s dream for me came true — and where her dream of woman’s equality was finally shattering the last glass ceiling!
At 7:00 they turned on the giant two-sided movie-theater-size screen that faced both up and down the avenue — and suddenly we collectively had a news feed with blaring audio. They started with CNN, and every 10 or 15 minutes would flip between that and NBC, ABC or CBS. So it was kind of like being at home except some omnipotent hand was holding the remote control.
It was around this time my old Prankster friend Lucy popped in and beautifully colored the evening from here on out — including psychedelic perspective and big-picture grounding much later when the storyline changed.
Prior to election night, with the polls looking good, I was so convinced Hillary’d win 322–216 . . .
(end of the day I only got 5 out of 53 wrong)
I drove nine hours to be at the party. I only qualified my optimism by saying, “I’ll feel better when I start to see the first actual numbers come in around 7 or 8:00.” And of course that’s precisely when things started to look less than positive.
I was interviewed by a ton of news organizations over the course of the night including Time, the Guardian, the Boston Globe, Newsday (twice), W (the fashion mag), the Daily Beast, the Boston Daily Free Press, Fortune, Chinese, Czech & Norwegian television, Italian & Portuguese print press . . . and just like in full regalia in ’08 for Obama at NBC’s Democracy Plaza, had my picture taken about a million times.
And oh yeah — when I was talkin to one of them describing the contrast to when Obama won, I worked in “that was a whole night of strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand.” Just sprinkling a little Grateful Dead magic into the election night media ether. 😀
“Democracy isn’t something you have, it’s something you do,” as the great folk hero Granny D put it. Politics is not a spectator sport. And just as I was active and visible in person and online throughout the year of the primary and months of the general, election day & night is not a time to be bland and blend in but rather dress up and rise up.
And talking to the hard working journalists of all stripes from all over the world who were out there racing against deadlines to get the story I thought about the ridiculous “mainstream media” haters from donald trump to the Berners who parrot the meme that everyone who’s a reporter is part of some grand imaginary global conspiracy. Many of the press haters are the same people who consider themselves too “smart” to vote for Hillary Clinton or think that “it’s all rigged.” But of course most of them have never been in the presence of a Congressperson or working journalist in their lives — yet they know everything about the profession — and sound a lot like the guy not named Hillary running for President.
And here we were surrounded by them — from print to television to web-based, from 20-somethings to septuagenarians, from New Jersey to China, from the time I arrived until the time I left around 1AM — all working their butts off to capture the moment.
Unknown journalist working hard on his story at 1AM
Another of the early warning signs that things weren’t going well came around 9:00 when the first reporter asked me how I was holding up considering what was happening. “Why — what’s happening?” I thought. I didn’t know the depth of the bad news, so I improvised an answer about Democratic-leaning precincts not reporting yet, but could tell by her reaction that she knew I was grasping — and I knew she was onto something.
And another crazy part of the night was — the few people who got inside Javits figured they had the catbird seat. But the funny thing was — nobody including Hillary ever spoke to the crowd in there — and all the people who made appearances at the event did so at our little stage outside (!) which was broadcast onto the giant screens both inside and out. And being in the secret little enclave just past the stage, I was about 10 or 20 feet from all of them all night.
Gold Star father Khirz Khan
Senator Chuck Schumer
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Governor Andrew Cuomo
Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mothers of victims of violence (police and otherwise)
But even without us knowing the final outcome like I think some of the speakers already did, there was a distinctly perceptible inauthenticity in their voice as they said, “We’re going to win!” to flag-waving cheers.
Luckily I saw Lucy again around 10 o’clock, making that twice tonight, and she was blazing in my head clearly.
The information on the big screen was trickling in piecemeal. The newsdesk projections were regularly overridden by the speakers on the stage, and the hard numbers on the bottom of the screen were often blocked out by the closed-captioning, and I choose to Adventure without the internet, so it was hard to read the trajectory. But the numbers I managed to catch were not taking the upward turn they needed to be. Suddenly we were seeing 95% of Florida counted and Hillary was still behind by a bunch. Same in North Carolina. And PA. All the states that I figured Trump would win, had already been called. But all the Hillary states were still “too close to call” … and she was behind in most of them. There would be CNN’s dramatic drumroll signaling a projection coming and I’d stop answering some journalist’s question to listen … and it was … Connecticut! A state that’s usually called at about 8:01 for the Democrats wasn’t being “won” until 10 or 11 at night. And Florida was still about 100,000 votes in the wrong direction. And Virginia still wasn’t locked up! And Trump had broken 200 electoral votes and Hillary was still lingering at about 109 or something.
“This isn’t happening.” “This can’t be happening.” “There’s just no way.” — as the numbers on the screen continued to not add up. “It’s just not possible.” But the crowd had quieted down. In fact, it was actually thinning out. “This isn’t good.”
The environmental journalist from Grist I’d been talking to was absolutely ashen. Others along his fence line were calling out for me to come talk to them — wanting the raw grieving parent quote. I shook my head silently “no” and kept my face away from them — and went instead to my buddy Manuel from Switzerland who I’d met in line about eight hours earlier. He was solemn but sanguine — no horse in the race. But he was a calm familiar face and became something of a grounding touchstone.
I finally embarked on a recon mission around the site at 11:30 or 12 — for the first time braving the sardine crowd. But by now there was a single narrow one-body-wide path along the outer rail where a person could just squeeze through the football-field-length crowd stretching up the Avenue — and then it was open space to 40th Street, which was blocked off by dump-trucks to keep the bad-guys out . . .
same as we saw in Cleveland during the Repugnant convention —
I stopped at the porta-potties for a much-needed jazz cigarette break that was supposed to be the celebratory cigar after the victory but was now medicinally deployed. “I gotta change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules,” Dylan started singing in my head. And just as I stepped out of the door a ways down the row, cops were beginning a sweep search of the johns starting at the far end! I felt like the guy stepping out of the Port-O-San in the Woodstock movie. “Outta sight, man!”
By the time I headed back through the crowd, the narrow squeeze-through path had grown wide enough to walk your dog. There’d been a steady flow of sad-faced souls streaming from the polls to the exit. When they’d passed over this same pavement in the opposite direction hours earlier they were in the opposite mood — from a celebratory birth day to a grieving funeral in a few hours.
When I got back to my grounding chair and Swiss brother and tried to grasp reality, I felt like Mia Farrow in unscreamable horror in Rosemary’s Baby. “This is really happening!”
Then one of the TV commentators said, “This is one of the biggest upsets in American political history.”
Yeah, . . . see . . . that didn’t help.
The crowd was thinning by the minute. What was once 4 or 5,000 people, was down to less than a thousand. Sometimes the big screen news channel would momentarily cut to the Trump event at the Hilton uptown and they were all partying like we were supposed to be — chanting, “Call Florida! Call Florida!” They were loud and crazy — and we were subdued and cold. “This ain’t right.” Having seen Victory Parties from both sides many times, I knew how this movie was gonna end.
I sat in that chair for a long time unable to come up with any place in New York I wanted to be right now. I had no krewe anywhere. In fact, the only person I knew who was On The Beat was my Beat brother formerly known as Levi Asher … who was already getting on a train home.
And that’s just what I thought of doing. Getting the puck back to Canada. This town was already not feeling friendly before tonight kicked in. Now it’s gonna get downright ugly. And I looked ridiculous. This was gonna be one helluva “walk of shame” home tonight — with a top hat and 97 buttons for the losing team. And there was nowhere to go. But home.
Trump was at 244. A state or two away from crossing the 270 victory line. Some people on both the screen and in person were saying there was still a chance. I didn’t wanna walk out of the moment and miss the greatest comeback in history. I’d wander to the exit starting to leave … then, “Holy shit — it’s not over.” “Yeah … get out of here … this isn’t happening.” “You’ll regret it the rest of your life if you leave and she comes back and wins.” “The streets were really ugly already and I need to get off them before the hounds are unleashed.” … back & forth until finally I split. And Manuel sent me off with, “You deserve your beer now,” knowing my Canadian soul had been pining all night.
Some girl from some internet news station in China stopped me just outside the gates for one last interview. I agreed to a couple of questions, and while I was answering, one of these same guido construction worker guys like who prayed I died earlier, stopped behind her and glared at me with his arms flexing and his eyes bugging out like he wanted to punch the shit out of me right now. And as he lingered in red-eyed seething hate . . . I keep riffing for my life to the good people of China. “It’s pronounced ‘Gina.'”
I’d only reached the borderline of the outside world — and this fist-clenching goombah was what it had already become.
Then it was out into the darkness of Port Authority Hell’s Kitchen where the street lights are still blown out like it’s the 1970s — with nothing but scary nuthin-left-to-lose street people lurking in nightmarish midnight shadows. And I’m all velvet tails and Gatsby top hat with 97 buttons that say “mark”!
It was like leaving a Dead show in some strange city — where all night you’re surrounded by people like your offbeat crazy colorful self . . . and then wander into some ever-darkening streets that ain’t like the world you’re coming from at all.
And this is New York. This is my town. This is my home. And it’s gone. First it was that rabid rat Giuliani — whose nickname in town was “Saddam Hussein.” Then Joe Bruno ending rent control. Then the complete corporate Disneyfication of the whole city. And now the redneck racists have won the championship. They don’t have to be polite to niggers or faggots no more. “It’s clobbering time,” The Things were saying.
And then right at this bizarre point … well, as I answered the cool Newsday reporter Emily Ngo’s question if I thought this result would happen, I said something like, “No. … I’m not religious … but there’s something,” and I looked up into the low lit-up clouds above Manhattan. “There’s something. And whatever it is, I didn’t think it would let this happen. There’s just no way.” And she was nodding and so getting it.
Whatever that thing is — he or she or it took the wheel at this point and I just went along for the crazy ride:
A split-second before swiping my card at the subway to head back to artist Aaron Howard’s studio I heard a cop inside the station tell someone the A/C/E lines weren’t running. So now I had to walk from 8th Avenue right through the madness of Times Square to get to the 6th Avenue lines. And I’m decked head-to-toe in losing Democrats — walking into “the crossroads of the world” where donald drumpf was now the proud flag-bearer of fuck-you.
But halfway there, this young blond-haired Swedish couple came walking towards me under the bright lights of 42nd Street — he wearing a blazing brand new blue Lundqvist Rangers jersey — and as I smiled he said, “They tell everyone this is ‘the city that never sleeps’ — but everything is closed!” And he’s right. New York is now a cartoon of its former self and just sucks. But I’m still a New Yorker, and we take pride in our city, and don’t want anyone to not have a good time, so suddenly it’s my mission to do right by my Swedish Beat brother Johan Soderlund, and for all the great Swedish hockey players, and that admirable recycling-leading socialist-leaning country whose whole vibe and color scheme I love, so I escort them to O’Lunney’s, the very first bar I ever looked into the window of in New York City — but this involved walking through the packed throngs of madness in Times Square, which is ABC’s headquarters, where they’ve built an outdoor studio for the night . . .
Crowdless photo from day before
and it’s just packed . . . with very dark energy . . . and I think of what this was like at this same time 8 years ago . . . and MAN is it different! If not for the Swedish couple I never would have seen the contrast between Times Square when it was like the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup versus now with George Wallace realizing his segregationist dream.
Continuing to 6th Avenue I looked in car windows and saw women blankly staring in stunned shock. “This isn’t good.” Walking south down dark 6th looking for a deli beer to merge with my coffee cup prop, some guidos — and don’t get me wrong, I love Italians, and was effectively happily married to one for six years — but there’s a whole ugly side to that culture that was coming out on election day in spades, as I’m sure they’d love to phrase it. And as I walked down the shadowy Avenue in the abandoned 30s a few of them got out of an SUV and were eyeing me with this vicious “I wanna fuckin kill you” look on their faces.
Once on the subway — take 2 — the train somehow skipped 14th Street where I needed to transfer and suddenly I was at West 4th — my home stop for my first seven years in Manhattan. For some reason I’d been transported to my old home base. “Why are the Fates putting me here?” I was happily headed to Aaron’s and maybe the highway an hour ago. And now two different transportation alterations brought me home.
Greenwich Village post-trump. At least I knew I was safe in heaven alive (to riff on that great Village-mate, Kerouac).
Of course I went straight to the Kettle of Fish, but for once it was not a happy place. Even the owner’s home state of Wisconsin hadn’t gone our way. And it also wasn’t a political hotbed like it had been when Norman Mailer ran for mayor and used its former incarnation The Lion’s Head as his campaign headquarters.
So I continued back into the streets — where people were in shock. We just looked at each other and made the tiniest gestures of acknowledgement. As another Beat brother Tim Moran observed the next day — there was a silence on the streets not heard here since 9/12. Or as another New Yorker put it — 9/11 – 11/9.
I thought of the night the Mets won the World Series in ’86 when I hosted a huge party right there on Washington Square North and how we poured into these same streets full of dancing screaming singing joy as I was supposed to be in right now. But tonight tumbleweeds and depression were blowing down Fifth Avenue.
When I finally got to the L train platform, a 20-something German girl was sitting on the stairs staring into the distance freaking out. When the train came, a middle-aged woman was crying uncontrollably. When we got to the next stop, two different groups of young politically-centric people got on — and immediately merged into one. When they saw me pouring another Heineken into a coffee cup, they toasted me and offered brandy from a flask.
And at the end of the car … two homeless people slept.
Whateverthehell happened tonight … you’re probably sleeping in a better bed than a subway car. As bad as you think things are, you’re alive, you have people who love you, and a million blessings all around you, and you’re functioning, and can make a difference.
You can still be kind to strangers, you can still do the work you were put here to do, you can still be “a warrior” as Ken Kesey called us fighters, and you can still be part of the solution.
Van Gogh didn’t topple a government, Abbie Hoffman didn’t die in vain, John Lennon never remained silent, and neither should you.
This is the only shot each of us is going to get on this run,
so may as well leave the bleachers, and Get Things Done.
If you wanna ditch the darkness and dance in the sun,
I’ll see you on the field where it’s way more fun.
Here’s the story of Obama’s election night in NYC in ’08 with a much happier ending.
Here’s election night in New York in 2004 — at Rockefeller Plaza and The Daily Show’s party.
Here’s the tale of my birth in politics — at a Gary Hart rally in 1984.
Here’s the story of a Bernie Sanders rally on the primary trail over the summer of 2016.
Here’s a piece I had published about Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in January 1993.
Here’s what it was like at Obama’s first inauguration in January 2009.
Here’s where my coverage of the Republican convention in Cleveland begins.
Here’s a funny strange story involving Al Franken and Howard Dean on the primary trail in 2004.
If you like this prose there’s a whole “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” you’ll certainly enjoy.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
by Brian Hassett — firstname.lastname@example.org — BrianHassett.com
Or here’s my Facebook account if you wanna follow things there —