Voting with the 1%

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Peter Bohler for TIME

For the seven years I’ve lived in L.A., I thought it was rustic and warm that I voted in the living room of the ranger’s house in Griffith Park. Then I realized I didn’t move to L.A. to be rustic and warm; I moved here to be rich and famous and not have to deal with people who are lowly park rangers.

That’s when I found out that I live in the wrong part of L.A. In Bel Air, citizens in two precincts vote at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, which provides free valet parking, hors d’oeuvres, wi‑fi, election coverage on two flat-screen TVs and a voting butler. I made up the voting-butler part, but I’m sure if I ask for one, they’ll provide it.

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Since economic inequality was such a big theme of the campaign, I figured it was my responsibility to see how the 1% voted. Sure, the Founding Fathers created Election Day so all our voices would be equal, but I think those guys would have wanted to throw in a little something special for the white land­owning males who live in Bel Air.

I got to the Luxe at 7:30 a.m. and handed over the keys to my Mini Cooper. Men in crisp suits directed me to the buffet, where I grabbed a cup of tea, a pain au chocolat and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. There was no line to vote in the ballroom, where the hotel had hired real old people dressed in real old-people clothes to make the experience more Norman Rockwell. When I spoke to the actors, however, I discovered that they were actual old people who had volunteered. Inspector Len Harris, who wore a stylish fedora, was signing a letter to the hotel’s management, asking it to host the next election. “I’ve worked mostly in churches or community centers,” he said. “This is the best. None of the other places served a continental breakfast.” Clerk Jan Honoré was equally impressed. “It’s so wonderfully American for a place like this to share. I’m sure it’s sound business, but it’s also beautiful, beautiful patriotism,” she said. After an hour in Bel Air, I was no longer seeing how those could be different things.

I headed to the hotel’s Election Media Room — or more accurately, the Joel Stein and for a Brief Time Some Freelance AP Photographer Room — to organize my meals. At noon, I ate from the to-go box of Chinese chicken salad and ­considered waiting for dinner when chef Olivier Rousselle, a Parisian wearing an ­American-flag pin, told me he was working on tuna tartare. You know what they get when they vote in France? Socialism.

Needing a break from all my eating, I took a golf cart uphill to check out the hotel’s sizable property. I considered getting a bio-organic facial at the spa — or at least finding out what any of those words meant — but was drawn back to the lobby for the smoked-salmon and cucumber finger sandwiches. Voters sat at tables just outside the hotel restaurant, eating their free lunch and talking about the election. Harrison Ford walked by with his i voted sticker, and I was proud to live in a country where people who have played the President in action movies get special voting privileges.

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I talked to Fallon James, a pretty architect who is somehow not a soap opera character, to find out if rich voters feel differently about free stuff than the rest of us. She was happy with her voting experience, but Dr. Eliot Siegel, who was wearing scrubs and yet was also not a soap opera character, said he missed the park where he used to vote. “I’m a Republican, but I believe in social equality,” he said. “Wealthy people shouldn’t do this. It’s not a good way to present themselves.” Though, it turned out, not as bad a way for wealthy people to present themselves as Mitt Romney.

Efrem Harkham, the owner of the hotel, said that he was just being neighborly and that a good neighbor offers his guests a drink. And in Bel Air, a neighbor has to step it up a bit. Mitt Romney might think the 47% are entitled, but no one expects free stuff as much as superrich people. If in­equality in our country keeps growing, by 2016 the Luxe is going to have to give out free hotels on Park Place.

On my way out, as I worried about our country and ate a freshly baked cookie, I ran into Laura C. Medina, who lives in an apartment in nearby Brentwood. She had gone to the Luxe just to drop off her vote-by-mail ballot. “If people did this more often and treated you right instead of making you come to some grungy place and wait for hours in line, more people would come out to vote,” she said. Medina told me her mom, who voted in Goose Creek, S.C., had such a miserable, non-Luxe experience, waiting three hours and getting yelled at, that she’s considering never voting again.

After I left, I stopped by the polling place for the people who live in less expensive homes near my neighborhood: a McDonald’s Play Place. Compared with the Luxe, there was no incentive to vote. No one parked my car, the view left a lot to be desired, and the bathroom urinals weren’t lined with large, polished stones. Plus I drank a very disappointing peppermint mocha latte. Even worse, it wasn’t free.

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17 comments
bsmiller
bsmiller

Mr. stein,

Being an idiot on the computer, this is the only way I could figure out writing you personally, so to address the story, I agree, the gap between rich and poor sucks. I'm poor, that's why it sucks.

I have a friendly challenge for you. A column idea for that special week when writer's block is facing you down.

If you had to choose what ONE issue is screwing up America, or threatening America, what would you choose?

Here's mine, and if you agree with me, you'll allow me to die with my dreams fulfilled.

Administrators in America are threatening our very fabric of "who we are" as a nation. Policy over purpose. Putting the needs of a written piece of paper over the well being of citizens. From the Dean of Students, to the bank branch manager, through the probation chief, up to the highest levels of government, no one escapes responsibility.

Rather than open a deluge of examples, I'm quite confident you have a plethora of your own examples.

What to do? God, who the hell knows? But....what if, what if, when we catch administrators abusing public trust, we treat them as we would treat one convicted of armed robbery.

House them with general population, no bail. When the sentence is up, give them $2000 bucks, and have them, as part of parole or probation, rent an apartment in a low income area. If they desire a job, put a limit on their salary that allows them the basic necessities of life, no more. Have them sell off possessions and make restitution. After probation is over, they can resume their careers, and rake in as much money as they like.

Though I crush all aspects of the Constitution with this proposal, I've been through the legal system, and what happened to me was exactly what I propose. I was a middle class high school teacher with a big mouth, and administrators decided they wanted to put me out to pasture. I had a spotless record after 26 years, and was the hardest working member of my staff. I worked with the "at risk" population, which translated means I worked with kids that knew the score. I busted their tails, and in all my years I lost only a handful of students. And...I taught basic algebra. When I saw the pasture coming, I fought back, and got in major trouble for an email I sent that was "perceived" as a felony terrorist threat, I just made a poor analogy, but they had me. I lost absolutely everything, except a retirement income that puts me below poverty level, my health insurance eating up one fourth of my income.

So I'm not just tossing out ideas, I am living it, and every day.

My whole disaster could have been avoided had ONE administrator listened to MY side of events. But they threw policy at me, not caring whether the policy applied to me or not. It was disgraceful, and I can't imagine ever saluting the flag or getting goosebumps upon hearing the National Anthem again.

Whaddya think Joel? Maybe I'm wrong, but I believe this is right up your alley...Brian Miller, Claremont Calif.

bssmail56@gmail.com

po box 1561. Claremont , Calif. 91711...I don't have a phone, had to drop it because of the cost...

JasonKellenbeck
JasonKellenbeck

You are so right about the growing gap between the rich and the poor. It's kind of interesting that some Republicans believe in social equality.

jamiejenelle
jamiejenelle

What I like about this column was that you start it off by talking a little about your life, then you go in to the main topic and it flows from there. I think that is what I need to work on with my writing.

KristinC.Sabo
KristinC.Sabo

"...I moved here to be rich and famous and not have to deal with people who are lowly park rangers."

I realize they are far from the topic, voice, and point of this opinion piece, but I need to point out something about those lowly park rangers to those who may not quite get it:LA City's Park Rangers are some of the hardest working, NECESSARY public servants we have in Los Angeles. I do 1000 hrs of volunteer work in LA's parks annually. I am the steward caretaker at Amir's Garden (AmirsGarden.org), and I work with these dedicated men and women all the time. There aren't enough of them and they are significantly underpaid compared for their education and job duties compared to other LA City employees. For most Park Rangers, their livelihood is their vocation. We need these far more of these dedicated, multi-talented parks professionals in a City with the types of problems Los Angeles has -- someone with authority and training has to be IN THESE PARKS -- and yet the very existence of City Park Rangers is threatened 3-4 times a year when the 'bills coming due' at LA City Hall. Los Angeles certainly has some of its priorities backwards, to put it mildly. Oh, and I voted by mail. What % does that make me?

KimH
KimH

I wonder where Beyonce, Oprah, Jay Z, George Clooney and George Soros vote?

Rick
Rick

I hope the 1% kept their donation receipts, might be hard to get a refund! (snicker)

ahandout
ahandout

We should occupy Time, steal their computers and give them to the needy.  We would all be better off.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Just look at the argument some rich people present, is that they can't possibly invest in this country unless they also pay little or no taxes.

I used to believe that someone invest in something because they see a possibility to profit but it almost seem like some people argue that the only reason they can invest or profit if they also do not have to pay for the society they live in that guarantees that they can profit. Either through infrastructure or a legal framework that protects their investment.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

Clever post--send it to Adam Carolla. 

steveot
steveot

@ahandout Go take a nap, sport. Someone will wake you up in time for 2016, when you can rant and rave, and in the end, be humiliated. As usual.

outsider
outsider

you could always just go away, troll.

no one is forcing you to be here. no one is forcing you to read. no one even wants you here. and paulie is not here for you to riff on - so why are you even bothering?

ahandout
ahandout

@MrObvious Nothing protects a bad investment, no amount of government or legal "framework" whatever that is.  If you ever had a dollar to invest and lost it, or made a profit you might actually know what you are babbling about.  

Unlike you, most people are not stupid.  Investor's will put their money in  a very safe place if it has a reasonable rate of return such as US Treasuries.  If they weigh the possible tax burden, risk, and possibility of return and decide that they would be better off just parking their money in a tax shelter or tax free investments, then you don't have investment in the private sector, and you don't have the capital available for new start ups, expansion etc.

No one would ever use your idiotic analysis to invest a dime, ever.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@ahandout

Why should investors in this country worry when they have helped create the type of legislative framework that protects them regardless of how the conduct themselves?

And I can't help you if you don't understand what a legal framework is; infrastructure is not just roads and bridges. It's also communication and judicial system. 

Rich people take advantage of that in a very substantial way - both to haul goods and make money, but also protect their investments and ideas. But some psychopaths wants to do it on our backs without paying for the system they gain the most for.

And you don't mind if they do.