On a slow night for business, election talk is subdued

November 7, 2012 11:53:26 AM

Carmen K. Sisson - csisson@cdispatch.com

 

There were no confetti showers of red, white and blue raining down on Columbus Tuesday night, no bunting dangling from windowsills or streamers hanging from downtown trees.  

 

By the time Mitt Romney took the stage in Boston to deliver his concession speech, a darkened hush had fallen over our slumbering city, with the chill night air punctured only by the lone rumble of a passing train.  

 

But inside the Highway 45 Holiday Inn, a trio of die-hard Romney fans were very much awake, seated at the hotel bar, bathed in the glow of two large-screen televisions flashing election returns the men had already seen one time too many.  

 

Chris Hawkins, of Jackson, swigged Coors Light as he argued good-naturedly about the war in Iraq with hotel owner Arvind Kumar, who nursed a glass of whiskey. 

 

Both said they were disappointed by the evening's turn of events, which ended with Barack Obama capturing 332 electoral votes to Romney's 206, securing a second term in the White House.  

 

Hawkins, an engineer, was in Columbus on business -- a man looking for the change Obama promised in 2008. 

 

Not that Hawkins would have voted for him anyway. He liked what Obama preached, but he believed Romney would actually deliver.  

 

Kumar, who wore a black T-shirt bearing the words, "Show Me the Money," also sought change, particularly on the economic front.  

 

Born in East Africa to Indian parents, Kumar was raised in London. Now, he owns multiple hotels and takes pride in becoming a self-made man.  

 

He became a millionaire, he said, but only through hard work and a savvy sense of business acumen.  

 

He pointed to the nation's trillion dollar deficit, and the spiraling economy, as proof of Obama's ineffectiveness as a president.  

 

But though he considers himself a Republican, there is one Democrat he idealizes -- former president Bill Clinton.  

 

"I supported him," Kumar said. "I don't think you'll ever find another president like Bill Clinton." 

 

Nearby, an Odenville, Ala. man listened quietly. Monday, he was still in Alabama, planning to vote for Romney. When he was unexpectedly called to Columbus for a project at Severstal, his hopes were dashed. It was too late to vote by absentee ballot, and he was unable to return to his home precinct Tuesday.  

 

His own plight made him more aware of another group -- Southerners who went to provide assistance to the Eastern seaboard following Hurricane Sandy's trail of destruction.  

 

"I don't think it was right or fair," he said. "All those people didn't get to vote. It may have made a difference -- you never know." 

 

Of course, hope springs eternal on a tide of old-fashioned booze and newfound friends. As the lights dimmed and the clock neared midnight, the conversation poured freely, dissolving into intermittent laughter.  

 

There would be other elections. In fact, Kumar declared, he'd like to be president someday.  

 

"No, wait," he said. "I want to be the mayor of Columbus." 

 

Stifling a boyish grin, Hawkins did his best to rise to the solemnity of the occasion.  

 

"In 10 years, I expect to come back to your hotel and find you are the mayor of Columbus," he said.  

 

As the hotel bar's lights winked off, one by one, the men spilled out into the night, scheming and dreaming, post-election blues muted -- for a while, anyway.  

 

 

 

Dollars and dreams 

 

Next door, at the Waffle House, employees cast furtive glances at their cell phones, trying to keep up with the latest news.  

 

Waitress Crystal Butler, 30, slipped into the National Guard Armory before work and voted for Obama, just as she did four years ago. 

 

The voting process went smoothly, she said, and she was pleased to see dozens of her classmates casting their votes. But her friends seemed to vote along racial lines, which surprised and disappointed her.  

 

She voted for the man, not the color of his skin, she said. She believes Obama is the best person for the job. She was pleased when her mother called to tell her he had won the election. 

 

She has her own dreams -- dreams she hopes Obama can make reality. She's worked at Waffle House for 12 years, and though she enjoys her job and is grateful for it, she'd like to be able to provide a better life for herself and her five children.  

 

But the Waffle House is all she knows. A 2000 graduate of Columbus High School, she's worked there since she was 16. She thinks about going to college, but her work schedule is draining, and she's already juggling more than she can handle.  

 

She comes home from work in the mornings, just in time to dress her four-year-old twins and take them to preschool and drive her mother to work. Her other children, ages 11, 12 and 13, are already gone by the time she arrives.  

 

She lays down to catch a few hours of sleep before waking in time to see her three older children when they get off the school bus. Then she rushes to work. And slowly, one day fades into the next, and thoughts of college become dim imaginings in a harried, paycheck-to-paycheck life. 

 

Among voters surveyed nationwide in exit polls, more than 60 percent ranked the economy as their top concern.  

 

That's what Butler worries most about as well.  

 

She prayed for Obama's victory, she confessed, as she stood outside the empty restaurant at 1 a.m. 

 

Normally, the after-hours crowd would be trickling in, but Tuesday night had been slow and today wasn't getting off to a promising start. Tips have become smaller and smaller over the past few years. Nights like this, with more hours than customers, make for thin wallets.  

 

"This is not just about us; this is about our kids, our grandkids," she said, looking out toward the empty highway and a dark horizon too far away to see. "I just hope Obama holds up to his promises and everything he says." 

 

With her break time over, she turned back toward the bright white of the restaurant light. 

 

Six more hours on her shift.  

 

And four more years on Obama's.

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.