“Hi,” he said, way too awake and far too jovial for my morning crowd. “Let me introduce myself.”
My regulars grudgingly looked up and silently acknowledged his presence, then immediately turned back to their styrofoam cups of dark coffee.
“Can I get you something from the bar?” I asked.
“No, no. I’m here to introduce myself,” he repeated, smiling as he fumbled with his attache. “Here,” he said, handing me a postcard-sized something.
The brightly colored, glossy card felt awkward in my aching fingers, which are perpetually cramping from too many shifts during which they are formed into a bartender’s grip poised to pour yet another shot of spirits.
“That’s me!” he exclaimed, smiling as I tried to make sense of the picture and message emblazoned across the front of his card.
“Well, yes it is,” I said, pretending to read it while waiting for his pitch to hawk booze, nonalcoholic teas, colorful bev naps or just about anything else this one of three places I work would never purchase.
“I’m running for the mosquito board,” he said, now very serious.
One of my coffee drinkers looked up at this comment.
“And I was told that if I want to win this thing, I need to visit every single local bar in the Keys.” Oh, that smile. “Well, and other places too. You know, restaurants and all the rest.”
File this place that I love and hate–and for reasons unknown to me to which I remain ever loyal despite the horrendous lack of money I make and the cast of characters I never thought I would ever, ever know, much less really get to know–under “all the rest,” I thought. I may not know much anymore, but I do know that this one place qualifies as everything that defines the ultimate of Keys “local.”
“Wait, there’s an actual mosquito board that one has to be elected to?” I asked, kind of curious. My locals breathed a collective sigh of relief as I asked this. Now they didn’t have to engage with this guy; it was all me and all him. Their coffees, their thoughts, and their quiet morning time was safe for another few minutes.
“In this county, yes,” he said, that smile still everywhere on his face.
“So, okay. But why you?” I asked, harking to my D.C. days, when I cared enough to vote in every single local election, based solely upon carefully thought-out reasons based on who-the-hell-knows what, now that I really think about it.
“Because I own a resort down south and the mosquitoes used to be under control and now they aren’t.”
“It’s affecting my guests. My livelihood.”
I guess so.
“So I’m running for the board.”
My locals pretended to be disinterested. But I knew they were listening to every single word my mosquito man and I exchanged.
“You know what?” I said more than asked. “You have absolutely got my vote.” My God, any guy that drives more than an hour north to campaign for election to the county mosquito board deserves to be elected.
“Thank you!” he smiled more broadly than before. “Here!” he said as he handed me a pen.
Wait, a pen? With his name on it? A pen that actually writes? Ask any server or bartender. We covet pens. Give me a pen and I am your best friend. Give me two pens and I will give you a drink. Give me a handful of pens and I will not only vote for you, but I will tell everyone who walks through this local door as well as the doors of my other jobs to vote for you. Hell, I’ll be your campaign manager. No, seriously, you just met your vote-getting mama. Do you have a few more, pens that is?
“Just remember me on voting day!” he said, smiling that same ear-to-ear grin, as he walked out after dropping more pens on the bar.
“Are any of you registered to vote?” I asked my coffee-clatch gang, figuring I had a 50-50 shot at an affirmative answer.
“Does ten years ago count?” asked one.
“I never vote,” said another.
“What’s the point?” echoed his pal.
“Yeah, well I am registered,” I said. “And God help me that I am because I have to continually beg to get out of jury duty because I can’t afford the time off to serve, and I am on my third deferral as we speak.” I was rambling. “Anyway, if you can vote, vote for this guy.”
Blank stares from my regulars.
“Think about it. This is the mosquito board. That guy just drove an hour or more north to introduce himself and plead his worthiness as a mosquito board candidate right here, in this place!”
More blank stares.
“Well, all I can say is that he has my vote. And he better have yours!”
I was clearing my coffee bar.
And they were going, going, gone.
So be it. I saved my candidate’s cards, however, and I have told anyone and everyone at my three jobs to vote for him.
On the eve of a tropical storm, the reaction to which screams first-snowfall panic in D.C., and as I smoke a last smoke for the night and swat more mosquitoes on my deck than I ever imagined would congregate around a citronella three-wick candle, I wish everyone in any kind of power could be more like my mosquito man: He drives miles to introduce himself; he has a personal connection to the problem he wants to correct; he really wants to get the job done.
I wish I had more of the guy’s cards. He needs a landslide, and I want to help make it happen. And no, it’s not about the pens. Okay, maybe it is, but only a little.