Election day means it’s time to find your polling place — here’s one for Mecklenburg County and a saucily-named one for the ENTIRE United States. Do your research and build your own ballot guide before hitting the polls. If you don’t, you’ll look dumb like me five years ago.
You see, current Charlotte mayoral candidate and Pillow Talk with Joanne guest Jennifer Roberts once meant only one thing to me: free pizza. Because I was an idiot and also hungry.
When I first saw Jennifer in the Green, a park in uptown Charlotte, I had no idea she was the chair of the Mecklenburg County Commission — again, because I was an idiot and also hungry. Tall and slim and assured-looking, she was the definition of an upstanding person. It was clear she was someone who didn’t say things like, “Oh, I’ll do that tomorrow,” like I did. Plus she was wearing an ironed pantsuit and surrounded by cheerful middle-schoolers speaking French. She was a walking infomerical for a wholesome life.
I, on the other hand, was a mess. Lunch was my time to take off the mask of being a responsible, underpaid paralegal. And boy did I go for it. Sensible, worn flats were discarded on the concrete ground. I could not form full sentences. If a passer-by had complimented my cardigan, I would have simply grunted. For one hour a day, I allowed myself to be a dried husk of a woman. To stop nodding my head at my senior partner as he gave his just desserts about the Accounting department, as if we were two girlfriends at a sleepover.
But on this day, Jennifer would not let me let myself go.
Jennifer walked away from the middle-schoolers, who were now digging through a stack of Fuel pizza boxes set on a wooden bench. They were taking out cheese and pepperoni and veggie slices. The dented, soggy tuna sandwich I packed for myself at 6:30 this morning looked even sadder in my hand. Jennifer stood over me like a sun god, her hair flecked with gold. Mine was flecked with cookie crumbs. I could never be this woman who was talking to me about foreign exchange students, even though I hadn’t asked about it.
“You know it’s great when we can get the community together,” she said, gesturing towards the students knee deep in marinara sauce.
I could have responded in any number of intelligent ways. Tell me more about the greenways in Charlotte. What is the future of public transportation in Charlotte?
Nope. This was the froth that issued from my mouth.
“Can I have a slice of that pizza?”
Jennifer’s smile faded.
Being the dutiful public servant I had no idea she was, she still brought me a slice on a paper plate with a napkin tucked under it. I deserved none of her kindness that day.
A few years later, I would make up for my bad behavior. I introduced myself — as if it was the first time — at a pre-Democratic National Convention 2012 luncheon and told her I wanted to write about her for Creative Loafing. At the time, she had broken her leg doing something sporty. Maybe skiing. I’d like to think she had fought a wild grizzly bear and won, but she loved the environment too much to get into a senseless brawl with wildlife.
I covered her congressional campaign that year. She called my articles about her run for office thoughtful. Yes, thoughtful. Then Jennifer was my first guest on Pillow Talk in January 2014. She put up with me dressing her in a captain’s hat. She talked about the environment and – in a scene I had to cut for time –her love of Swedish mystery novels.
I’d love to grab a slice with Jennifer, when she has time. Until then, I know she’d want you to vote. And to get informed so you’re not a sad, pizza-horny fool languishing on her lunch break.