Enter the Jackrabbit is a subset of the Viper Pit series. It was written during the 1998 congressional campaigns over the course of a few days and has been split up to accommodate the web.
I got a call one night recently and instantly recognized the voice on the other end. It was one of the most neurotic young men I have met in my entire life. What’s worse, he’s a staunch partisan, of the Democratic persuasion, and has somehow set his eyes on me being critical to the survival of the Faith on our campus.
A: Is Jay there?
J: Hi, Adam. This is Jay.
A: Can you go campaigning this weekend?
A: We’ve got two trips going out this weekend. One to Pennsylvania where the Republicans won by a thousand votes last time and we really need to campaign out there in order to win and teach the them a lesson.
J: Right, well… I’m not really interested in revenge.
A: That’s cool, but we’ve got this other campaign in North Carolina. Bob Etheredge is a Democrat who won in a conservative district and the Republicans are really pissed off. Newt Gingrich and his friends have targeted Bob and want to take him out and win his seat from him. We think he’ll win but the districts have been re-drawn and we’re afraid some Democrats might go to the polls and not see the name of the man they usually vote for and just not vote.
J: I see.
A: We really need to send some people down there to spread the word about the redistricting and to get them out to vote.
J: I’ll think about it.
A: Can you drive?
J: er… yes. Why?
A: Because we need someone to drive a van of volunteers down there.
I admit that I folded, and with great reluctance began preparing myself to drive to North Carolina. It would be an excellent excuse, I decided, not to be around on Halloween (thus divesting me of the duty to dress up and spend large amounts of money) and to perhaps get a little more sleep than I normally would expect for a weekend.
By 8:30 p.m. that Friday I would find myself behind the wheel of the largest vehicle I have ever had the pleasure of climbing into without a ladder or walk-way. This behemoth, I quickly discovered, not only responded like the progeny of an oil tanker and a Catellac and had an engine which would shame some budget airliners, it also had a perverse sense of humor which manifested itself in a light switch which took myself (with the help of every member of our crusade) a full ten minutes to find. If the first hour was any indication, this would be a trip fraught with set-backs (we were meant to depart at 7:30).
At two o’clock the next morning we rolled into Raleigh, North Carolina, more of a sleeper car than an oil tanker, being that we were now considerably lower on petroleum and the passengers resembled an Engineering fraternity with barbiturates in the beer supply. Besides, I seemed to have a better record with staying on course (and out of harm) than the Exxon Valdez, much to my surprise. While it is true that our directions, literally followed, would have left us on the road for another four to six hours, the wisdom of a committee which knew nothing prevailed and we did not mistake any of the first four exits onto Highway One as our exit onto Highway One. But I digress.
We were in Raleigh, North Carolina, to help Congressman Bob Etheridge campaign for re-election. If the size and state of his campaign office was any indication, he needed our help and a few large soft money donations. We had been told that we were to sleep on the floor of the campaign office, which suited me fine because it meant that I would be able to sleep with little to-do. No. The democrats of North Carolina’s second congressional district would have no such thing; they had arranged for us to stay at their houses (4) or at the Hyatt Hotel (so much for campaign finance reform). I crawled into bed slightly after 3:30 a.m.
…and crawled out at seven to wake the two graduate students who were staying in the same Cosmopolitan Magazine candidate house as myself. They showered, I grumbled, and we went off to the campaign office.
“What did you do?” I hear you asking, your noses pressed to the screen before you. “What could you do to justify driving so far?” I’ll tell you what we did: we delivered junk mail.
For reasons which I still do not understand, people seem to like junk mail as long as it is not delivered in the standard way. If we had stuck it in their mail boxes or had it delivered inside their news papers, I was told, they would be annoyed and throw it out. But when we delivered it to their front door steps, or perhaps even handed it to them personally, they felt important and received the message favorably.
Our aim was to inform the citizens of certain neighborhoods that, due to redistricting, they were now in the second congressional district, not the fourth, and that their congressman was Bob Etheridge (“Maximum Bob” as his staff liked to call him) and that he would be the democratic candidate from their district. On the surface, one would think that such things would be well known to the solidly middle-class residents. But they may have tuned out… a “major” campaign issue in this race was the accusation that one of Bob’s workers had put “squirrel parts” on his opponent’s front steps – a story which I never managed to get a full account of. The Republican candidate was apparently intent on using this sacrilegious action to full effect, even buying T.V. air time for a commercial slamming his opponent with it.
In retrospect, we should not have expected much competition for Bob from a campaign built entirely around presidential phallicio and “squirrel parts”, but the polls showed that it would be a close race.
Regardless, we spent the day-light hours of both Saturday and Sunday going door-to-door delivering our newsprint propaganda in the neighborhoods which are portrayed in State Farm ads on T.V. Tract housing, planned and built as it was in the years after W.W.II, is alive and well in North Carolina, complete with the two and a half kids, white picket fence, and small happy dog. The congressman, in the mean time, went to church services and toured key neighborhoods on foot delivering his manifesto personally and attempting to make his swing voter constituents feel personally important.
It occurred to me, while walking through these quiet developments with new streets, that the ideal method of delivering these pamphlets was not on foot, but on roller-skate or roller blade. The long walkways which snaked through each yard took an annoyingly long time to walk, but could have been dealt with quickly by someone with wheels on their feet. I made a mental note for any future campaigns.
One of my charges, as the dictatorially appointed reluctant leader, was to ensure that those in my care were shown a good time on Halloween. In D.C. that would have involved taking them to Georgetown and falling asleep in the back of the van until they returned. Our being in North Carolina, not D.C., limited our choices to go to a poorly attended bar party, party with the campaign workers, or to drive north to Chapel Hill where the University of North Carolina resides. We initially opted to quietly party with the campaign workers until a group decided that they really had to see how North Carolina threw a party. Forty-five minutes later we were in Chapel Hill, in the midst of a parking nightmare which marveled Fisherman’s Wharf in the dead of summer and the sort of depraved insanity which is accurately depicted in the fraternity classic “Animal House”.
Hundreds of drunken students stumbling about in their uninspired costumes dropping their empty containers of cheap beer and liquor on the ground. I was not impressed, but my companions had apparently never seen a frat party of any sort before, so this was all very alien and seductive.
I returned to my sleeping bag shortly after four in the morning.
By Saturday evening Raleigh had begun to feel like the Hotel California. It had been so easy to enter, having suddenly appeared on either side of Highway One, but seemed impossible to leave. This can primarily be attributed to the four Puerto Ricans who seemed to cling to the idea that when I said we were “leaving at seven” I meant Pacific Standard Time. Conversing in Spanish, it seems didn’t help, as “rapido” allowed them to have a cigarette or four and to take a shower, if they so desired. Confused, but insistent that we would return to D.C. with plenty of time for me to finally get a civilian’s eight hours sleep (or at least a kindly six).
We departed the city in good time, as I had thoroughly hard-wired a map of Raleigh into my head by then. Things were going fine. We had listened to the only two tapes I had brought with me several times by now, but there was no other source of decent music, so we endured James Brown and Tom Waites a few more times.
Things turned sour on U.S. 85 to Petersburg. I heard the siren, saw the lights, and knew I would be very lucky if he was chasing after some lunatic who held up a truck stop and not me. I changed lanes and he fell in behind me. The number of people in that van who didn’t seem to understand the blatantly obvious was rather astounding, I must have heard “you’re being pulled over” five times. I thought I’d pull out at the next turn off… until I saw the sign that said “next exit – 23 miles”. I pulled onto the shoulder and slowed down gradually so as to make sure the cruiser behind me didn’t climb into my back seat.
When the officer showed up at my window my drivers license was already hanging out.
“Do you know how fast you were going.”
“No sir, but it was too fast.”
A semi-trailer went by a little too close for the comfort of anyone with survival instincts, and he said “come back to my car with me.”
He asked me if I had any weapons on me (“No sir.” “No knives, pistols, shot guns…” “No sir, I have no weapons.”) and quickly patted me down to be reasonably certain I wasn’t hiding a twelve gauge in my pants. He turned to walk away when it occurred to me that I did have a weapon: a can of mace in my pocket (D.C. can be scary at night, and I find frat parties worse). I informed him of this, he looked back somewhat confused, returned an removed my mace with a shrug. “I’ll give this back to you when we get out of the car.”
He showed me his radar gun, which had tagged me at 87 miles per hour, and his various binders which all agreed – I was due for a reckless driving ticket. He heard something on the radio which interested him, and he took out his map to determine if the call was from his district. While he did this he explained how he could never make heads or tails of map coordinates.
Satisfied that the call came from several hours away he continued his evaluation of the security holograms on my California Driver’s License.
“Where were you going in such a hurry?”
“Just trying to get home to D.C. and sleep, sir.”
“Where’re you comin’ from?”
“Raleigh, sir. We were campaigning for a
congressman down there.”
“A Democrat or a Republican”
Oh shit, I think to myself, I’m sunk. “Uh… A Democrat, sir.”
“That’s like the President, right? Is the President a Democrat or a Republican?” Is he kidding?
“He’s a Democrat, sir.”
“So that means your guy was probably at the Democratic convention in Richmond, right?”
What? “To be honest, sir, I don’t know. I suppose so. Why do you ask?”
“I was a cop down there at the time,” he said, apparently sadly recalling the Good Old Days.
He asked me about my record and then called in my DMV number to check it. The return came back with less than I had given him. How it went from there I don’t quite recall. But in the next five minutes we began talking about how some cars just wanted to go fast and others didn’t. Then we discussed the extraordinary nature of the engine in his cruiser, which apparently wasn’t standard police issue. He showed me his various radios and light boxes and sirens. In the end he wrote me a warning and told me I didn’t have to go 65… I could go 70… I could go 74, but I couldn’t go 75. As I stepped out of the car I remembered my mace.
“Oh. Sir? Could I have my mace back?”
“Oh right!” he said and he dug it out of his pocket. “I have my own,” he grinned as he produced his own can – a 1.5 liter can resembling industrial size DDT.
When I got back in the car I was quite confused. The trooper had sped off lights flashing so the others relieved to see that he hadn’t driven off with me. Myself, I was just wondering why I hadn’t gotten a ticket. The trooper had said something about letting someone else off earlier, so he saw no reason not to cut me a break too. I looked at the MacDonalds’ Happy Meal toucan we had taped to the dash board as a mascot and turned on the radio. For some reason the bird reminded me of the toucan in the Fruit Loops commercials which, combined with the Christian music from the radio, brought back the words of some born-again preachers who had assaulted the DNC office in Raleigh earlier in the day:
“Jesus loves everyone on Sunday.”