Michelle Cottle

March 25, 2002

Over the years, Alice Patterson has endured every health problem imaginable—“I’ve lived a reckless life,” she chuckles meaningfully. Now in her seventies, the longtime disabilities advocate has trouble with her hearing, her vision, her legs, and her heart. She is soft and round (exercise has long been out of the question), with smiling blue eyes and pale pink skin that has begun to take on the papery fragility that comes with age. Even so, the preternaturally upbeat Patterson is in constant motion, bouncing around in her chair, waving her hands, laughing with her entire body.

Identity Crisis
February 18, 2002

LAREDO, TEXAS Tucked into the backseat of a black Range Rover, the candidate is on the phone with a local reporter. And he is causing trouble. "I want to propose a debate," announces Dan Morales, who careened into this year's Texas governor's race in the final hour of the final day of filing.

Zoned Out
October 29, 2001

Electric razor in hand, barber Jane Hill offers up her prescription for personal safety in these tense times: "I think all women oughta carry a cell phone and a three-fifty-seven. Loaded." Everyone else at the Royal Barber Shop here in rural Front Royal, Virginia, bursts out laughing. Smoothing the near-bald pate of the customer occupying the shop's second chair, barber Marlene Daniels (Jane's older sister) recounts in disbelief a "20/20" episode her daughter recently saw about the run on anthrax medication. "That blew my mind," she says. The others murmur in assent.

Eastern Union
October 15, 2001

Northwest Washington, D.C. The landing is dark, and the door to the office--ostensibly a travel agency--is unmarked, save for a sticker proclaiming, "I Pakistan." Outside on the street, small clusters of men lounge against cars and in doorways, calling out to passersby. Inside, one rickety flight of steps up from Trina's Hair Gallery, the air is silent and stale. I obey a tiny sign, faintly visible in the gloom, instructing visitors to "ring bell." Then I wait--10, 20, 40 seconds--until a pair of gold-rimmed glasses appears in a small, arched window above the door. I wave and smile.

Mission Control
July 02, 2001

The young woman clutching a video cam appears in grave danger of having her eyes pecked out. She dodges and weaves and backs slowly away but cannot escape the advancing (and quite pointy) nose of Bill Cunningham, spokesman for Michael R. Bloomberg. It's June 6, and Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman turned New York mayoral candidate, is making his first official campaign appearance at an interminable awards breakfast on the Harlem campus of City College. The entire New York media is there to document the event.

October 30, 2000

St. Louis, Missouri--The third presidential debate has just ended, and the 36 undecided voters gathered at the studios of ketc Channel 9 are ready for their close-ups. These undecideds--twelve leaning toward Al Gore, twelve toward George W. Bush, and twelve staunchly neutral--have been invited by Republican pollster Frank Luntz and msnbc to give their verdicts (broadcast live across America) on the two candidates' performances. Before the cameras start rolling, Luntz does some last-minute pre-interviewing.

October 16, 2000

Senator John Kerry looks positively giddy as he poses for the cameras, his long arms draped around three smiling Bud Girls. All told, seven Bud Girls are floating around the press filing area here at the University of Massachusetts's Clark Athletic Center, serving as perky, shapely goodwill ambassadors for Anheuser-Busch, proud sponsor of the evening's "2000 Presidential Debate Canteen." The ladies' primary job is to distribute commemorative plastic beer steins to the hordes of bored, hungry journalists who wander into the canteen to gorge on roast beef, play foosball, and watch espn.

All in the Family
October 02, 2000

It is obvious to the folks at Bob Jones University that I do not belong. For starters, I am the only woman on campus wearing pants: The university dress code requires female students and faculty to clothe themselves in more appropriate attire--dresses or skirts, mostly of the floor-length variety. What's more, I have a small press pass dangling around my neck. Just by looking at me, therefore, locals can instantly tell that I hail not only from the liberalmediaelite but from the secular-avant-garde-that-scorns-the-traditional-moralvalues-- that-decent-Americans-hold-sacred.

Hide and Seek
July 31, 2000

In case you missed it, July 19 was National Paint-a-Poster Day. Sponsored by the 2000 Republican National Convention, PAP Day, as those in the know call it, was pretty much what the name suggests. With the Philadelphia gathering less than two weeks away, the GOP was encouraging the faithful to " bring yourself, your friends, and your party pride!" and help ensure that, come convention time, there would be plenty of colorful, homemade displays of love and support for Texas Governor George W. Bush.

Open Season
February 21, 2000

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina--You see a lot of roadkill in South Carolina. The climate is temperate, the possums plentiful. Two-lane highways snake through miles of densely wooded countryside. I myself nearly take down a large goat as I speed along Route 378 at two o'clock in the morning. And, with each fresh carcass my headlights illuminate, I'm reminded of George W. Bush's desperate hope that John McCain's presidential aspirations will wind up in a similar condition-- flattened and forgotten along some dark back road of the Palmetto State.These are trying times for W.