Autumn Phillips: Four more years

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Mostly I remember the flashing red lights.

It was late at night, late November 2000.

Instead of spending Thanksgiving with our families, stuffing our faces with bland starchy foods, three friends and I drove to Canada to spend our four-day weekend in the bone-shattering cold of Montreal.

We were driving home Sunday night.

The snow was coming toward our windshield like bullets in a Space Invaders game. Outside, Northern Maine was peeling past as a treadmill of trees. Beyond that was nothing. Darkness.

There were no streetlights and no evidence of population of any kind beyond the shotgun holes riddling every sign.

Our faces were lit by the lights on the dashboard, and we were reminiscing about the events of the past four days.

What we did know in that moment was that we had to work in a matter of hours. What we did not know was that our driver had used his snow-tire money for a trip to Montreal. His tires had the tread of a volleyball.

What happened next took place so fast, I'm not quite sure how it happened. All I remember was some ice, some swearing and a deep ditch. The engine died, and from my vantage point in the passenger seat, all I could see was the ground. We had landed face first like a rocket, the back tires were spinning high in the air.

Two members of our party crawled out of the car and started the long walk back to whatever one-block, one-bar, one-gas station town we had seen almost an hour ago. I stayed behind with one other person to wait and hope that the next passing lumberjack was friendly and, more important, had a wench.

The hazard lights flashed a lost-in-the-woods rhythm.

The red lights reflected off the snow. My friend started chain smoking, lighting one cigarette with the dying fire of the one he just finished. We didn't talk.

Breaking news interrupted the music on the radio. I leaned over and turned up the volume. It was a message from Florida. George W. Bush was the next president of the United States.

"Could things get any worse?" my friend asked.

This year, I wasn't dangling in a ditch when I found out President Bush was re-elected. I didn't have any hazard lights to stare myself into a mindless haze.

It was four years later, but I was sure people like my chain-smoking friend would turn out in droves at the polls. But from the news on Wednesday morning, it sounds as if he may still be sitting in the car listening to the radio in a ditch in northern Maine.

Democrats held concerts. They sold CDs and T-shirts. They bought blocks of advertising on MTV and VH1. But the butts of the 18 to 24 voting bloc must have been too heavy to get off the couch.

We knew that Bush was going to be president by 1 a.m. Wednesday. I was still at work reading off election results as they came over the Routt County clerk's Web site.

All around me, reporters were turning gray. Wrinkles were starting to show on the foreheads of the TV pundits, and their voices took on the drone of play-by-play sportscasters.

All that was left of the pizza we had for dinner was a greasy square on the conference table and a pile of crusts and boxes in the trash. I'd developed some kind of digestive traumatic stress disorder from all the chocolate and cookies we'd eaten in attempts to keep ourselves awake.

I lifted my feet for the janitor and watched Bush's electoral votes collect.

It's four years later, but this election is different. I didn't have to wait until Thanksgiving. Driving home, I knew who won.

For the next four years, no one can complain about Bush stealing the election. Michael Moore will have to find different material. On Nov. 2, 2004, voters knew what Bush was about, and they voted for him. The missing votes, the voters who could have tipped the scales the other way, were still at home watching MTV.

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