It’s a big world. And even with the penetration of cable and internet and such, some people can still be oblivious to all the stuff swirling around them. I’m following Sen. Cory Booker around the country as he makes a run for the Democratic nomination for president. I’ve been covering the senator since he was a thorn-in-the-side Newark councilman. At this point, to me and the people of New Jersey, he’s pretty much a household name. He’s got a gazillion social-media followers, so we assumed he’d be a well-known figure everywhere we went. Guess again, New Jersey, you ain’t the center of the world.
In a roadside convenience store between Sergeant Bluff and Des Moines, Iowa, the woman at the cash register (let’s call her Mabel) asks what I’m doing in Iowa. “I’m covering the Booker campaign,” I say, almost proudly (because I’m a journalist on a cross-country trip, dammit.)
“What’s that?” she asks.
“He’s the senator from New Jersey running for president,” I reply.
Rather than an “Oh, that guy,” I get “Never heard of him.”
“Is he a Democrat?” she asks. “Yes,” I say.
“Well, that’s probably why I never heard of him.”
I take my change and grab my spicy beef links and cheese curds. “Well, have a nice day,” I suggest. Mabel does not respond. “Hey lady, I'm just covering the guy,” I think to myself.
Of the five or so Iowans I encountered not at Booker events, just one suggested that they know Booker. “He’s the gay one, right?” No, ma’am, that’s Pete Buttigieg. “Oh, well he seems nice.”
The Cowboy’s Cafe, off Highway 395 North, in Minden, Nevada, is a surprisingly welcoming spot where locals recommend the blueberry buckwheat pancake sandwich. I say “welcoming” because there are all sorts of firearms hanging on the walls and a variety of ammunition arranged in a spiffy glass case just behind our table. Guns are not so big in Jersey as they are here. (Legal ones, anyway.)
Our waitress, Cristol, is the very definition of Nevada nice. (That’s a thing, right?) She tells us all about the Sierra Nevada mountain range and a few other places of interest in nearby California. She’s curious about why we’re here, and I tell her. “Oh, I just read that in the newspaper,” she replies. “Is he any good?”
I mean, he’s a nice guy, but is it for me to say if he’s “any good?” I explain that he’s a nice enough fella but that there are 18 people running for the nomination.
“I know, right!” she exclaims.
She admits to not knowing much about Booker. She’s heard of Biden (“He’s the one with the hands”) and Bernie (“the crazy old guy”). And she admits her family voted for Trump last time but adds that she made a mistake. “I think he’s a jerk,” she says. “Maybe I’ll vote for Booker.”
I tell her he’s holding a “Conversations with Cory” event just on the other side of the highway, in case she wants to stop by.
“Ha, I don’t think so,” she replies. “I'm probably gonna have to work a double. Besides, I hate politics.” — David Cruz