My First Vote

1

976. The Bicentennial, Dorothy Hamill, Pogo’s, Bruce Jenner, the Andrea True Connection.

More, More, More.

T

hree chums from the Wichita Heights class of 1975, sharing a 2-bedroom second-floor pad overlooking the pool in the brand new Woodgate Apartment Complex on 21

st

Street between Oliver and Woodlawn.

Long hair, bell-bottoms and parties.

Three 19-year old guys living away from home for the first time and enjoying every ounce of freedom to which we were Constitutionally entitled and a few grams of some that we weren’t.

One roommate didn’t have a job, but always had plenty of dough. As a kid, he’d earned thousands painting address numbers on curbs all over Wichita and had wisely saved and invested. He later went on to success managing global pipeline projects for the Koch brothers.

We had him pegged back in 6

th

grade. In the curb painting years.    

In the summer and fall of ’76, he spent most of his time in a beanbag chair in the middle of our living room, a cold Olympia in his fist, beating Jeopardy contestants to the punch.

WHAT IS MANIFEST DESTINY?!!..

Even Matson knows that… C’mon..!”

He would drain a beer and bang the empty can on the nearest hard surface. That was the cue for his girlfriend to fetch him a fresh one.

The fact that she did it willingly (almost Pavlovian) prevented those of us who thought it crass and demeaning from pointing out the obvious flaw in this relationship.

Neanderthal see, Neanderthal do.

Beanbag beer boy was all Ronald Reagan. This was 1976, when Ronnie ran a fire-breathing conservative insurgency campaign against the GOP mainstream.   

Roommate #2 was for Jimmy Carter. His agenda was pretty narrow: Operating solely from the assumption that a vote for Carter got him one step closer to more lenient pot laws.

That left me.

Forget ideology. In ’76, I couldn’t get past Reagan’s pompadour. My generation had already suffered entirely too much parental pushback to grow and wear our hair long for me to support Mr. Vitalis.   

And Carter’s shtick seemed contrived. With hair down over his ears, he just struck me as some middle aged dude trying too hard to relate to me.

Gerald Ford was my man.

Right down the middle. He was the anti-Nixon, his 19-year old daughter was a fox and Bob Dole was his running mate. For the times, for me, for 1976, Ford was just right.

Only three years removed from Roe, the prospect of legal choice had real meaning in the lives of 19-year old Bicentennial Freedom Exercisers (my caps.) President Ford’s wife said all the right things.    

One roommate in the Ford camp.

One roommate solidly for Reagan.

The third roommate one toke over the line (Sweet Jesus) and oblivious to politics. And the law, as it later turned out.     

On Election Day, I jumped into my 1971 forest green MGB ragtop (God, I miss that car) and motored to the polls. A half dozen ginormous gray mechanical voting machines in a church dining hall. Push down the levers corresponding to your choices then pull the big red handle, which simultaneously cast your votes and opened the curtain.

My first vote.

Hopped back in the ‘B’ and eased home to Chez Woodgate.

I’m sure we had a party.