RV Trip for Obama!: Sean Carroll (Obama Spain organizer; DA Spain Finance Chair) & family travel 5,000 miles with Barack banner!

To those of you just joining us, this is Entry #3 in an expected 6-entry series on Sean Carroll and family's RV trip for Obama around the Western U.S. (with a pit stop in BC, Canada). [See further down for entries 1 and 2]:

Take the Banner Down? – A week on Canada’s Vancouver Island: Anacortes, WA → Sidney, BC → Nanoose Bay, Parksville, Comox, Victoria, Qualicum Beach → Vancouver (Aug 1-8)

August 9, Bellingham, WA – It was worth leaving up. For the comments it produced. As we entered Canada, I’d wondered: Should I take the banner down? Would Canadians appreciate the blaring show of support for Obama, or would they think, “Another American who doesn’t realize where the border is!”? It’s not very appropriate to campaign, even passively, for an election in another country. But I figured there would be plenty of Americans vacationing there as well, and I wanted to hear what Canadians had to say about our coming election.

The first response came unexpectedly from an American (who I’d just assumed was Canadian) who lives and works in Parksville, and it wasn’t what I would have hoped for. We had been jump-starting the RV after every stop, and we finally had to take it in to be repaired. I had no reason to believe the Ford dealer repair shop attendant was American. But, when she saw the banner on the back of the camper, she exclaimed, “Obama!?!” She told me she was from the States (Pennsylvania and later Montana). I asked if she was going to vote for McCain, and she said “Anybody but Obama!” When I asked why, she said “different beliefs,” but I sensed I wouldn’t get anything more specific from her.  That was the only negative response all week, though. One woman, with a camper-trailer on the return ferry, told me she had seen another RV with the same banner, and that her daughter lives in San Francisco and is trying to get citizenship so she can vote for Obama. Driving around the island, we saw few U.S. license plates, but we did get several friendly honks, waves and thumbs-up from a number of passing cars, mostly Canadians. When I talked with Canadians, as with many non-Americans around the world, it was clear they are acutely aware of the importance of this election. And the vast majority is very much hoping for an Obama win.


This whole summer trip was built around the somewhat incongruous ideas of a week-long family reunion on Vancouver Island, and that of toting my family (three out of four members willingly) around the U.S. in a big RV with an Obama banner on our rear end. Vancouver Island in “Beautiful, British Colombia” is beautiful. As Anna pointed out, the island is too big to have the feel of small, everything-is-close islands like the Canaries, the Balearics or the Aegean Sea Greek isles. And I found the island – at least the populated southeastern bit we saw – to be much like the rest of North America, with its strip malls and now even big box shopping centers. [Admittedly we didn’t make it to Victoria, the island’s charming capital, except for “don’t miss” Butchert Gardens.] Still, the combination of water, mountain, and green on and surrounding the island – including spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies – make it a wonderful place to spend time. My mother’s apartment, originally a timeshare and now fully owned because she loves the place, has wonderful views out over Craig Bay, between Nanoose Bay and Parksville. It is very tastefully decorated with furnishings collected over years of living and travelling abroad. Most of the pieces had welcomed guests for 20 years to Hillbrook Inn in West Virginia near Washington, DC. Not the best apartment for four grandkids and a grandniece and nephew, mind you, but very nice for the adults. And, we had our own apartment and plenty of outdoor space to run and splash around. I became a fan of playing Bocce (lawn bowling to the English; petanca in Spain). Probably because of the setting right on the bay, more than the actual game – much the way many golfers go for the green expanses and (often) beautiful views as much as the thrill of trying to get a little white ball into a slightly larger hole.


When we left the Island, we took the ferry to Vancouver for a first visit for all of us to this boomtown capital of BC.  We had a good lunch with Eric Nonacs (formerly of the Clinton Foundation, now with Endeavour Capital) at a marina-side restaurant in Vancouver’s Coal Harbor district. Some Americans are living overseas partly in self-imposed exile from two Bush Administrations (I’m not suggesting this is Eric’s case). Others in the U.S. talk, only half-kiddingly, about moving abroad if McCain wins and brings us Bush III (actually IV). Canada is a natural and easy choice. So it’s interesting to look from this perspective at perhaps the country’s most attractive large city (though Montreal, Toronto and maybe even Ottawa give it tough competition). We were a little disappointed in what we saw. It’s unfair to judge given we spent only a short afternoon there, and didn’t see everything. But we drove through most of the recommended areas and while we liked it, much of it was a bit too new and similar.  What makes Vancouver of course is the setting – between seas, sounds and mountains.


Fortunately, I believe it’s a moot point. Now back in the U.S., I’m convinced Barack Obama will be the next president and bring us all together and home again, whether we stay living abroad or not.


Next: The Wonders of Big, Blue Washington State




Entry #2:


Banner Logistics and Signs of Support in Obama Country: Carpinteria, CA→ Belmont/ Fremont (San Francisco) → Canyonville, OR → Everett, WA → Anacortes, WA (July 27-Aug 1)

August 2, 2008, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada –

I put the sign in the wrong place at first. I had wanted to put the 4’ x 6’ (no, it hasn´t grown since the last entry, I hadn’t taken its full measure) banner on the side of the RV with the largest expanse of free space. This was starboard (passenger side), mid-ship, between the main door and the back “bedroom” window. I thought I could secure it against the airstream. “Oh, there are many uses for duct tape!” noted those disapproving Carpinteria Beach boys, old enough apparently to remember the first Gulf War, when we’d first put it up. But several bungee cords and a whole roll of duct tape were no match for the Route 1 North wind. So we moved it to the back where it should have been put up in the first place. With no draft in the rear, four single bungee cords, attached to each corner eye-hook, were all we needed.

Now “OBAMA 08’” is riding tailgate, unflappable. Once secured, and can’t-miss-visible to every car passing our 24-ft (plus 4 more feet of bikes and bike rack) beast, the banner fast and fairly often provokes honks, waves and thumbs-up of support. Somewhat surprisingly we are not seeing many political signs. Very few bumper stickers; a few more yard signs. But almost nobody wears their politics on their sleeves, fenders, windows or lawns. And the presidential campaigns don’t seem to have coordinated yet with local candidates whose signs are cluster planted along highways coming into and out of cities and rural towns. We see a few bunches of non-memorable signs, usually just with a candidate’s surname in large letters with no party or position mentioned – “Gordon, Penny, McKenzie, Burroughs, Salinas,” but no connection to their party’s presidential hopeful, or even with the district or State’s Congressional candidates. In most countries it would be normal to see so little campaigning when still three months from elections. But we’re 21 months into a two-year campaign. If you watch tv or scan the political websites daily, or even weekly, the campaign seems constant, filling our screens and heads. But, in fact, the vast majority of Americans are going about their lives as if there is not a big deal election coming up fast.

In our first week in the U.S., driving from San Diego to Anacortes, WA, we see only one billboard and one large banner for national candidates. And they were for the same candidate. Guess who? Wrong. Ron Paul. That’s right. “Dr. No” is in fact, in our utterly non-scientific scenic roadways and highways survey, outpolling John McCain 3-to-1.  A faded John McCain yard sign was in the window in an unexpected place – on San Francisco’s Lombard Street (the “steepest and most crooked street in America” – an omen for his campaign?). But that’s been it for Big John on the Western Coast. One yard sign. Not a single bumper sticker; no billboards or banners. We’ve seen no-one wearing a McCain t-shirt. 

Okay, so we know Obama is going to do well in Oregon (where he pulled 75,000 out for a rally in Portland and where we saw all three of the expressions of support for Ron Paul) and Washington and California (although McCain says he thinks he can win the Golden State – “Dear John, Sorry, but it’s over. Let’s still be friends, California.” – he does so only to get Obama to spend more there). Still, it’s fun to look at our numbers.  In the first two days, we saw 11 Obama yard signs (in San Diego, Santa Monica, Pismo Beach, to McCain’s one. Obama was winning the bumper sticker vote 4-0 (1 for Ron Paul). Low numbers, but good percentages. Prompted by the banner, we get a lot of enthusiastic waves, thumbs-up signs and honking. We started to lose count after about 20.

Our way up the Coast was rushed – only 6 days to get from San Diego to the WA State Ferry at Anacortes. But we took the time to drive the scenic route all the way through California and stayed two nights and a day in San Francisco. We spent a night with my cousin Quin (who had just moved in hours earlier to a new house in Belmont), and parked a night outside Bob Wieckowski’s house in Fremont so we could see our friends Tim and Sarah, visiting Bob from England. Bob is a Democratic City Councilman in Fremont. His first campaign slogan was “Vote Bob ‘When Cows Ski’” so he could build some name-recognition around his hard-to-pronounce last name. After a banner-less day of driving following the initial aborted attempt, we re-hung the banner in front of Bob’s house to great fanfare from our friends but bewildered, somewhat detached, glances from neighbors.

Most campers in campsites don’t say anything – hard to say if they don’t notice the banner or don’t want to talk politics – I’m guessing the latter.


That’s it for the first week in the U.S. Thanks for all your positive response on this. I’ll try to get these and the next entry up onto a real blog site – probably the Spain site of Democrats Abroad – and add some photos.

Next: Take the banner down or keep it up in Canada? – a week on Vancouver Island.


Entry #1:


On Mon, Jul 28, 2008 at 7:18 PM, Sean Carroll <scarroll.madrid@gmail.com> wrote:


"Are you crazy?!" That was the first response to the large, 3' x 6' Obama for America banner I was attaching with my family's help to the side of our 24-ft RV. The comments came from the impromptu spokesperson of a group of young tent campers. I hadn't paid them much attention, and didn't after the comment either - they didn't sound convincable. At quick glance they didn't look particularly Republican or like McCain supporters. Maybe racist?




This was the first morning of a 4-week tour of the Western U.S. - California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada (one week will be spent on Vancouver Island for a family reunion). I had traded our apartment in Madrid for a 20 year-old, Class C motorhome. My wife Anna - who though a happy camper generally would not describe herself as happiest when camping - thinks our exchange partners got the better deal.




I'd first had the idea of RVing America during this election year summer with family about 2 years ago. At the time, I hadn't decided whether I'd be sporting Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama banners, but I knew it would come at the right moment. My kids - 11 years old - would be at the right age for the trip and for a short re-immersion into U.S. culture and language. I imagined I'd probably go to the Democratic Convention in some capacity, so Denver on Aug 24 would be a good end point.


By January this year, when I put ads on the internet to swap our home in Madrid for an RV in the Western U.S., and made plane reservations, I had decided that Sen. Obama was the best person among the candidates to be our next president. More than that, I was convinced that his candidacy represented a first in history - a truly intercultural candidate who very well might win - but also that his qualities and perspective brought exactly what we needed at a time when U.S. standing around the world had plummeted thanks to the policies and posturing of George the Anti-Curious. 




But my first few encounters in the U.S. on this vacation with a political twist were not confirming this sense. I didn't raise the issue with Richard, our swap-host, for fear he was a Republican and wouldn't want me to tie an Obama banner to his camper. Anna, chatting with Richard's 88 year-old mother, found out she's a Republican but not content with any of the "three" candidates - "I'm glad the girl's out of the race" she said.  Likely, then, her son is also Republican.




With this as background, here I was, after a breakfast by the surf at the Carpinteria State Beach Park, tying and taping the big, blue Barack banner to the RV. The immediate, snearing, laughing reproach from the young campers - "it's crooked, lift it up a bit on the left!," - combined with Richard's likely political pedigree, made me wonder if the situation is not as ripe and hopeful as I've been thinking. Still, when I finished struggling with the task, I turned back to the political agnostics and said, "You'd be crazy not to vote for him," and happily drove off.




NEXT: banner and wind dynamics, and all the right yard signs...



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