My first time going to vote was with my mother, a recollection that's gauzy enough to indicate that it was probably somewhere around 1974. The polling place was the gymnasium of the local elementary school, a cavernous place to me at the time and the future site of many memories of Halloween festivals and grade school dodgeball.
The volunteer ladies running the polling wouldn't allow my mother to take me into the voting booth because of the whole secret ballot thing. Perhaps an unnecessary precaution to preserve my mother's electoral independence, but on the other hand I was rather bossy and opinionated for a 5-year-old.
But Vietnam and Watergate were all still beyond my ken at that point — I also recall having the vague idea that Watergate had something to do with the Kentucky Dam that was just a few miles down the road. Watching my mom disappear behind a curtain into a large metal contraption with enough levers and buttons and pulleys to make a young kid believe the Wizard of Oz might pop out at any moment was a strange ritual, kind of like the tiny crackers and little shot glasses of grape juice they passed around occasionally at church for something called ''communion.'' It was a mysterious thing that I knew I was expected to understand as I got older.
And so then I grew up and found my understanding of what it means to cast a vote (although I've never really managed to get my head around the Communion thing). The ritual itself is similar: On Tuesday around lunch I went to my local elementary school, where a cavernous activity room held a handful of volunteers who greeted me with the good cheer of people who are simply happy to see someone walk through the door on a low-turnout day. Of course, the machine is different, being a simple touch screen barely shielded on three sides by little plastic walls. It does give me a small pang of nostalgia to realize I'll never get to cast my vote in a curtained machine that looks like a changing room in the Emerald City, but you have to take progress for what it is.
On my way in I'd passed two of the partisan politickers who, maintaining a perfectly legal distance from the entrance to the polling place, were handing out their respective Democratic and Republican sample ballots. I took the former and declined the latter, which got a friendly laugh from the Republican as I smiled and said, ''Sorry.'' She said, ''Maybe next time,'' and I just smiled and declined to go into any discussion about how that scenario is unlikely to play out for me in Virginia anytime in the next couple of decades.
Seriously, have you seen some of the Republicans out here? We're not talking D.C.-style Republicans who actively seek gay votes, we're talking the way-out-on-I-66 and down-south-on-I-81 Republicans who, all things considered, would be happy to see us Northern Virginia homosexuals move back across the Potomac and maybe take a few immigrants with us while we're at it.
So, it was with both a grin and small sigh of relief that I took in the news that Alexandria's Del. Adam Ebbin (D) won his campaign to become the first openly gay member of the Virginia state Senate. His victory doesn't completely ameliorate the skin-of-their-teeth takeover of that same body by the state's Republicans, so Ebbin will have his work cut out for him, the same as he did when he blazed a similar trail in his first election victory as a state delegate. He has my full congratulations (with just a touch of sympathy).
Still, despite Ebbin's victory, it's obvious Virginia still has a ways to go.
Maybe next time.