“Can you write an election-night colour column?” my editors asked.
Sure, I said.
That was before I realized it was an election almost devoid of colour.
But it’s too late to back out, so I have to try. I can hit three of the four campaign headquarters in St. John’s, I realize.
First is the Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance at the Capital Hotel. When I pull up, the parking lot is packed — I think, could there really be an upswelling in support for the new party?
Two dining rooms are full with patrons for a customer appreciation night for Axis Security. The product display showroom is full and loud, and everyone’s got a beer.
By contrast, the Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance space has a three-seater green couch, three yellow armchairs, a deep green armchair you can curl up in, two standing party banners and a podium.
There is absolutely no one there.
It’s not only the NL Alliance that has chosen the relative staidness of a new hotel.
Ches Crosbie’s Progressive Conservatives are at the airport Holiday Inn Express.
They are tonight’s business customers in a totally business environment. Tomorrow, it will be corporate someone else. Earlier in the week, it had apparently been PAL Airlines and also executives from Costco.
White floor-to-ceiling sheers cover a ground floor view of the back parking lot, while white, neutral lighting hangs above. Rented risers serve as a stage; the same risers underpin the television cameras halfway down the room.
It is a very small room; the space would seem blocked if just 30 people stood between the cameras and the stage. And maybe that’s the point: a big show with few hands.
The floor is carpet tile, an equally-neutral pattern of blue, aqua and grey rectangles, picked, no doubt, to hide stains well.
Election night, all that’s been added to the room are two Ches Crosbie standing banners and a blue background curtain, as if the whole campaign is designed to be packed in the back of a moderate-sized SUV.
The Liberals are holding their event in Corner Brook, safely out of sight from me, but pictures from the scene show exactly 32 chairs in front of the cameras, four rows of eight, all wrapped in white and red, with a net holding red and white balloons suspended at ceiling level.
The Tories have no balloons. The Tories have no chairs.
The atmosphere is like a wine bar, quiet, though people are mostly drinking coffee.
But if the Tories are like a wine bar, the NDP is like a pub.
They are downtown at the Benevolent Irish Society, the BIS, a place with a machined hardwood floor, the wood a light grey and able to rattle sound around, the whole place smelling like aggressive chemical cleansers. An old building with bar, beers being drunk, even a bright orange NDP crazy wig, but it’s on a table, not on anyone’s head. A pile of orange and black Alison Coffin T-shirts by the door that no one is picking up.
The Tories are like a wine bar, the NDP is like a pub.
When I get there, everyone is gathered along one wall at the tables, like teens at a dance waiting for something good to happen. It’s subdued; you can already hear people talking about the need to rebuild.
It’s the way election campaigns used to be — unstructured. Raucous when the numbers suddenly improve. Old school, the way someone would inevitably be waving an angry finger in your face as you tried to file a news story, their comments starting with, “The trouble with you people in the media is…”
I don’t like leaving. It feels like a real place, not a carefully planned event where coverage can be turned on and off like a light switch.
I have one more place to go, just to see if anyone outside the land of politics is even paying attention.
There’s almost as much excitement at the Duke of Duckworth pub as there is at the BIS — though the parking’s tough. The Edge are in the last gasp of the playoffs, parking spaces full down to Mile One.
Every television in the bar is turned on, but not one of them is turned to the election. Most are Latvia playing the Czech Republic in ice hockey.
And I realize, outside the political bubble, for this election, people have a lot more important things to do.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at email@example.com — Twitter: @wangersky.