I wanted to vote in the Hungarian election and in order to do so I had to travel to a consulate. Here is how it and the first half of my day went down. (Voting part starts in the seventh paragraph.) My flight from our small, local, Northern California airport was scheduled to leave at 6.30 AM for Los Angeles, where the nearest consulate was. I set my alarm for 5 AM, but woke up at 4. I tried to sleep a bit more, but no luck, so I started my day after four and a half hour sleep. After finishing up a few things at home I got to my airport at 5.30 and had an uneventful boarding.
The first few minutes of the flight were beautiful. The patches of morning fogs looked magical around the neighborhoods, that I know so well. I could almost see my house as was ascending. It was truly a sweet experience. My phone was turned off as I was saving the juice in it for later and I had no other camera, so I didn’t capture it.
At the Los Angeles airport, I didn’t have to go through any security, which was unusual for me, as I usually fly international. At one point during the long wandering in the tunnels of LAX I asked an airport employee which direction should I go and he just took me there on his glorified golf-cart, which went surprisingly fast. This was the first time I ever sat on one of these. Hence, I enjoyed the second new experience of the day.
I had to wait less than a minute for the shuttle that took me to the rental car agency, but there I “made up” the time, as it took about half an hour for the two clerks to process the 5 people who were in front of me in the line. When it was my time I had a nice chat with the clerk. He jovially asked me the purpose of my visit and I told him. Then I asked where he is from: Lebanon. He volunteered how the voting goes for Lebanese living in the US. The government pays for their flight ticket back to Lebanon, in exchange for their vote. They have to vote, the government takes that seriously, but otherwise they get a free flight ticket. And yes, there is a Lebanese consulate in LA, but no, they cannot vote there or via mail.
I also re-learned that every company is sneaky. I bought my flight ticket online and was under the impression that the price I paid included the car rental and extra insurance. Turns out that my impression was wrong the, or rather “an” insurance was part of it, but the price for the car renting that I saw during the booking process in big letters, was just an estimate of how much it might cost. I was annoyed by that, but a close look at my printout clarified that indeed that was the situation. And while the car rental clerk explained this to me, he did the same thing. He asked whether I am interested in a convertible Mustang. I told him that I feel safer in a car that has a real roof. He said, OK, than just a regular Mustang. I said sure. When it was time to look through the paperwork I asked why the rental fee is so high? Well, because I upgraded my basic reservation to a higher category. Yep, sneaking in the Mustang was a costly upgrade, which I ended up not going for.
I walked out to the car, familiarized myself with it, looked up the map to the Hungarian consulate and drove off the lot. Of course, I missed my exit from the freeway and got off the next one. Instead of hoping back on the freeway I opted to take the low ways back to where I was going. All day I had the unusual feeling that I am not in a rush. I had no reason to drive fast or to be in a hurry in any way. So I enjoyed driving on Barrington Avenue to Willshire Blvd and looking at neighborhoods I would never see otherwise. I scored: parking on Willshire Blvd and the streets next to it costs money, but I found an empty spot two blocks away from this main artery of the city.
The consulate was on the fourth floor of a tall building. I, like every other visitor, had to sign in upon entering the building and the elevator only worked with the keycard of the doorman. There were well placed sign, English only in the lobby and Hungarian only on the fourth floor’s minor labyrinth pointing to the election office. Its door was wide open and in the first room 4-5 people were standing. One of them greeted me in Hungarian, asking whether I came to vote. I guess he knew I would understand Hungarian as my t-shirt had a Hungarian radio station’s logo and name on it. Or maybe they greeted everyone in Hungarian on this auspicious day. He ushered me to the second room, which looked like most other voting rooms I’ve seen.
In the inner room I was asked whether I vote for Budapest representative or countryside. Upon learning the former I was directed to one end of the table, that had 4 people sitting at. I presented my ID and address card, they checked and found them valid. They repeated the world “valid” (as in not expired) several times from which I surmised that this might have been a problem for other voters. I got my cards back and had to sign my name on a dotted line. I paused for a second to make sure that I sign my name the Hungarian order (last name first) as I’ve gotten used to signing it the American way. The sheet I signed my name on had about 15 names on a page and maybe 8-10 sheets were stapled together. So I think at the LA consulate no more than 150 people registered to vote from Budapest and maybe a similar number of people from the countryside. Although I can’t really have any real guesses for the latter.
I got my two sheets: a long, neh, make that wide, one for the parties’ list with 18 numbered options and a shorter one with 5 people for the local representative for the (heavily gerrymandered) district I belong to. There were two voting “booths”. One of them was a properly screened off part of the room the other a portable paper booth. I had to go to the latter as the other one was taken. Nobody could really see what I was doing, but the booth’s three “walls” only separated a small writing area. The walls didn’t extend to my side, so I felt a bit exposed. It was just a feeling, so I cannot have any real complaints. Scratch that, I am Hungarian I can always complain. The first sheet was so wide that it barely fit on the writing table, where I was supposed to make my mark on the paper. I managed though.
I stepped out, folded my sheets, put them on a green envelope that had my district’s name on it and nothing else. Then I dropped it into the box, that had a slit on top, but otherwise was sealed on the sides. I particularly enjoyed the touch, that there was a big piece of paper on top of the box, covering the slit where the voting slips should go in. It was only taken of for that 2 seconds I cast my vote and was then covered again. It made me feel that no paper can accidentally slip in. If I’d be cynical I would say it was good theater. Unlike the US election I got no sticker, just a sense that I did my civic duty.
On my way out, in the first room, I asked now that I am here, by any chance I can renew my expired Hungarian passport. Sure, all I need to do is make an appointment on Monday. When I told them that I am an out-of-towner and won’t be here on Monday the mentioned that sometimes in the second half of the year the consul will come to San Francisco and I can make an appointment there. The consul, a young polite man, also was concerned that I voted for a local representative in Hungary, while I clearly live habitually in the US as my expired passport shows. When I informed him that we pay the social security in Hungary his concern evaporated, because that’s all that really matters. My Hungarian address card is valid this way for voting purposes. (Thanks Mom.)
While I was there 3 more people came to vote, but I didn’t chat with anybody else. If I have time I will write up the rest my day, but the voting related part ended before 10 AM.
4:00 – get up
5:15 – leave for airport
6:30 – flight leaves
8:00 – flight arrives
9:00 – leave airport in rental car
9:30 – arrive to consulate
9:50 – leave consulate