Thursday, August 19, 2010

Real Housewives of Bloomfield Hills

(Glossery of Canvassing Terms. Burb: The vehicle driven to deliver canvassers to a location. Turf: The neighorhood in which the canvassers work. Rap: The conversation a canvasser initatites at the door. Contact: The person who opens the door and listens to the rap.)

Being a normal person, I suppose, has just never really been in the cards for me. Today has been one of those days when I've been acutely aware of the fact that the normal genes missed me. I look pretty normal most of the time. I can fool people on first impression. But the fact is, I am a girl who will canvas door-to-door in a Bloomfield Hills golfing community during a tornado and have a remarkable time with it all. It's the sort of day that reminds me I'm very much alive.

Yes, it's true -- I'm crazy. I don't think there's any cure for people like me. I enjoy getting people up off their couches to talk about protecting our Great Lakes. If a tornado happens to pass through in the middle of it all, well that's interesting.

I wasn't expecting a tornado. There'd only been a 30-percent chance of rain. I was hot and exhausted after my first few hours of canvasing. Neighbors had not been supportive. Only two people had contributed. I'm supposed to raise at least $150 per night and typically I exceed that. But this was tricky turf - houses built on a golf-course Bloomfield Hills, quite a few people who work for the oil or coal industry, many who favor off-shore drilling. We are working to permanently ban off-shore drilling in the Great Lakes. I just wasn't getting very far with my rap. One lady gave me $5, more-or-less to get me off her porch. Another fellow wrote a check for $25 even though he wasn't sure he agreed with our issues statement -- because he thought I looked like "the real deal." I assured him, of course, that I am the real deal and that he was making a great investment. But that was it. I was striking out.

So I sat under a tree before starting to ring doorbells on the second half of my turf. Clouds were rolling in but it looked as if the rain might hold off. I just wanted to rest a minute, drink some cold water from the bottle in my purse, and freshen up my makeup. Sometimes I feel like I have more success if I take a little time to apply makeup. While I was applying green eye-liner and enjoying the shade, sirens began to sound. I could see rain and lightening in the near distance. I recalled learning that it's dangerous to sit under trees during a lightening storm but I rationalized that this was actually a very small tree and even if it toppled over on top of me, I wasn't likely to be injured very badly. I was alone there for two more hours. I needed to make the best of it until the burb came back to pick me up and return me to Ann Arbor. The tree didn't worry me too much and I figured it was better to have a bit of shelter. But the power lines behind the tree did worry me. Death by electrocution is not on my list of top ten ways I prefer to die.

So I was quite relieved when, as the sirens were wailing at full alarm and I was starting to feel droplets on my skin, two blond women rolled down the window of their SUV.

"Is someone coming to get you?" the driver asked. These were the Real Housewives of Bloomfield Hills, no kidding. Suddenly I was feeling like the homeless man the Kardashian girls found in the alley behind Dash and brought home to clean up. You know, a project. But I was good with that. When the storm sirens are blaring at such decibels, one doesn't let pride stand in the way of becoming someone's charity project.

"Nobody's coming to get me."

"You're just going to sit here?"

"Well, I was just considering my options."

"You can't sit under that tree!"

"Yes, I suppose..."

"We'll take you to the clubhouse. You can sit there. Get in."

As I climbed in the backseat of the SUV the driver explained to me they don't usually drink and drive but they had been golfing, so they had to finish their beers. Then the clouds burst, torrential rain.

"We'll take you to the clubhouse. But I don't know if they'll let you sit in there. You know people get irritated with solicitors. People don't like that."

"I'm not soliciting. I'm not selling anything."

"Oh, so you're not going to try to sell me magazines?"

"No. I am working to protect the Great Lakes. I'm a former journalist. I care about our water."

"Oh, well that's good that you're not going to sell me a magazine."

She pulled in her friend's driveway. They were all supposed to be going to the clubhouse for dinner. But the wind started blowing furiously and we had to go inside the house. As we looked out the living room window we could see debris flying through the air. It was like the cyclone in the Wizard of Oz. Mind you, I am not sure if this event was officially declared a tornado. None of us saw a funnel cloud. But as far as many of us who experienced it were concerned, it was a tornado. When it was over, heavy patio chairs were relocated four houses away from where they had been to begin with. Trees were snapped in half. Patio coverings were busted apart. It was quite a mess. It lasted only about fifteen minutes and then I was back on my way, ringing doorbells and asking for support to protect the Great Lakes.

One lady gave me $3, more-or-less to get me off her porch. Neighbors were too distracted with the property damage to listen. But I didn't stop ringing doorbells. I wanted to raise standard. I did have a $20 post-dated check I'd collected on Monday, so, including that, I'd raised $53. I had nearly $100 to go to make standard and only about an hour in which to do it. The pressure was on.

At 8:50 p.m. I finally rang the doorbell of a supporter. This is just the way it is with canvassing. You can't get discouraged. You can't stop ringing doorbells. There are people in every neighborhood who want to help. You just can't give up before your reach them.

I was invited in to sit on the couch with the lady of the house. She was a very dear grandmother and also the youngest child in her family of origin, a family containing 13 children. I just loved this lady from the start. For one thing she had wonderful taste in art. That's always an indication that people will donate. People who spend money on and appreciate good art generally also will give money to protect the Great Lakes. I don't know why this is but it seems to make good sense to me.

I asked her for $120. She told me she wanted to donate but had to go upstairs to see if her husband wanted to give a check or cash. I thanked her and told her I would be happy to wait. When she sat back down with the checkbook she asked, "how much did you say you want?" I told her $120. "Well," she said, "I'm just going to make that out for $150."

The odds don't really seem to be in my favor for having the opportunity to be a wealthy old woman some day. But should I ever become a wealthy old woman, please remind me that this is the way to donate money -- to donate even more than you are asked for the causes you support. It made me happy. It made our whole crew happy. It generated love. And on top of that, she gave me a big hug and told me I am "very brave." Seriously, I just love this lady.

This is democracy in action. This is why I love canvassing. Although I didn't get very many people to donate money I did an excellent job of generating good will in that neighborhood and was rewarded at the end with a check that enabled me to exceed the daily goal. I was kind and informative to the thirty-something people with whom I had conversations.

Being abnormal isn't so bad. And anyway, what's normal?


  1. Nice story Patty. A tornado, an act of kindness and one of generosity :-) I don't think there is a "normal" anyway, and you are wonderful the way you are!

  2. Patty,

    I so related to your canvassing story. I worked as full time staff on the Obama campaign and most of my time was spent canvassing in Detroit and Highland Park, day and night, sun and shadow.

    It was easy for me though; 90% of the people liked what I was selling. But, when it came to the "ask" like "will come to headquarters and make phone calls?" Well, there I think you've got me beat.

    Thanks for a great story. It was so full of images, I was able to see you every step of the way.