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a sweltering mid-October afternoon, I get in my car and drive, alone, to a housing development in suburban Michigan. I’m tapping into my old customer-service persona from my summers scooping ice cream—friendly, cheerful, impenetrable. Of the ones who are, nearly everyone is friendly, if brusque. Am I talking too fast, in a way that makes me sound insincere, or confusing … I realize that I’m not a hundred per cent sure what this word means. All it takes is a meaningful pause, a facial twitch, or a slightly sarcastic inflection for my palms to get clammy, my face to flush, my heart to pound.The street where I park is lined with large, new single-family homes. I’m not used to arriving at strangers’ houses unannounced and begging them for the favor of their attention and their time. When I get a negative response, I just say, “Thanks for your time! Here—as everywhere—people are busy with work, children, sporting events. or am I talking too slowly, in a way that makes it too easy to slam the door? It’s not like I’m selling anything, and, anyway, this is important; a lot depends on this peaceful neighborhood in Michigan’s Seventh District. Immediately, a dog barks, and then a baby starts to wail. It’s not just people on the opposite side of the political aisle who provoke this reaction; several of those people thank me for my work, and go out of their way to be kind.
Each story is an adventure of its own, and guarantees not to disappoint.
There have got to be at least fifty houses within easy walking distance—it’s the kind of well-planned neighborhood that is a trick-or-treater’s dream. They don’t have time to chat with a stranger on this gorgeous Sunday afternoon. Except that, after I’ve been going house to house for an hour or so, I get a handful of negative responses in a row, and suddenly I’m painfully self-conscious. A young woman comes rushing around the side of the house, where she must have been working in the yard. The encounters that leave me feeling raw are the ones where people make it clear that what I’m doing is annoying, a waste of their time.
Before I get out of the car, I check my face in the mirror and practice my smile and my spiel: “Hi! I’m going door to door, talking to people about a candidate in the upcoming election . With distance, I can recognize that the people who treated me like a pest might have had their reasons.
He deftly maneuvers the story so that you really don’t need to know exactly who it’s about or where it takes place.
What matters is the deep dialogue and the thought-provoking storyline.