Of Election Nights and Comfort Food

Categories: Berkeley

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(Photo of Popeye's mashed potatoes by joshbousel via Flickr.)

By Meredith Brody

As election day 2008 approached, I had more than one reason to reflect upon election day 2004.

It was, as luck would have it, the day I was scheduled to have my TV hooked up to DirecTV with TiVo, and I'd been warned to stay off the phone during the unusually generous all-day window they'd scheduled for themselves. "Because," I was cheerily told, "we'll call you when we're en route, and if we don't reach you, we won't come."

Which meant not only staying off the phone, but also the Internet, which in those dear dead days was still dial-up, chez moi. (I know!) The advantage, such as it was, that unlike many of my friends I didn't get sucked into the early-exit-poll-trap of thinking that Kerry was going to win.

As it got later and later, I got more and more anxious about voting, since the polls close at 8 p.m. And not without reason, since the installer showed up at the last possible moment, 7 p.m., and threatened to leave without completing the job if it grew too dark.

But he did complete it, and as he ran through the channels on his final check I realized to my dismay that it was all over.

Still, I hurried over to my polling place, in the lobby of what used to be called an old people's home. There were a number of said old(er) people sitting in somewhat dilapidated lawn chairs on a somewhat dilapidated lawn.

As I walked past, one of them, based on I know not what sinister deduction from my modest car or attire, challenged me: "You votin' for Bush?"

I rolled my eyes. "What do you think?," I said. They laughed.

And I went in and cast my useless vote.

And then I headed over to my favorite comfort-food-in-a-hurry place, the Popeye's Chicken on San Pablo in Berkeley.

When I got there, I couldn't believe my eyes. I'd never seen the place like this, before or since. The line was out the door. (I maybe go there twice a month, and even at prime dinner time, four people in line is a lot. Though I tend to avoid weekends.) It was like everyone in Berkeley had the same craving at the same time.

And, when I got to the front of the line, I found out they'd run out of mashed potatoes. Quite a while ago, as it turned out. Completely run out. Days before they usually would have, necessitating a special order if they were to have any on hand the next day. Berkeley needed its mashed potatoes.http service, service way above the line of duty, my poor overworked TiVo gave up the ghost (and seventy hours of stockpiled programming, and all my Season Passes, not to mention an awe-inspiring, not to say obsessive-compulsive, WishList) just a bit before the election, leaving me again TV-less on the day.

But, free to vote early (if, alas, not often), this time in a church where my intended vote was not challenged, I headed up into the hills to watch the returns, all shpilkesy [shpilkes - upset stomach, or simply nervous energy; to be feeling "antsy", to be "sitting on pins and needles." Cf. Polish szpilka, "pin" - as per Wikipedia's useful Yinglish lexicon.], because I don't trust polls, exit or otherwise.

Initially reluctant to watch the TV, despite my painful days of no-satellite-access-enforced involuntary cold turkey (and it's been rough, although that's another story), I found myself more and more glued to it as the blue and red was spilled across the map as that baseball guy proved to be right.

I'd intended to head over to that same Popeye's, to see if there was another line out the door (this time celebratory, and perhaps not unconscious that the new President-elect was pictured on a GOP mailing of a $10 food stamp, surrounded by not only fried chicken - KFC, alas - but also watermelon, ribs, and Kool-Aid, icons that the head of the San Bernadino County group that sent it out said didn't occur to her were racist. And, she said, "I really don't want to go into it any further." Which we completely understand.). And if the mashed potatoes had held out.

But I couldn't leave. I had to stay until Obama gave his victory speech.

And while driving home in the chilly night, I realized I didn't want inexpensive, crunchy, creamy comfort food. My palate was craving expensive, challenging, victory food. I wanted a thick black-and-blue steak. I wanted foie gras, oysters, caviar. I wanted stinky cheese.

It was too late to satisfy my desires. If my favorite butcher shop at Café Rouge had been open, I could have bought an inch of their salt-cured foie gras, an excellent cut of meat, and maybe a Chaource at the Pasta Shop cheese counter next door.

But my options at that hour were slim. I rejected the crummy-looking prepackaged NY cut at the 24-hour supermarket and went with some chunky Australian lamb chops.

Which seared up well, as it turned out.

And what did I have with them?

Mashed potatoes.


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