Two nice-looking men walked up to us while we were waiting in line at last week’s Portland Democratic caucus and asked us how long we had been there. We told them that we had arrived around noon. It was 1:30. They seemed impressed.

We joked with them that we should skip the formalities and caucus on the Deering High School soccer field. Why not? After all, there were only two candidates to choose from. All we had to do was draw a line down the middle of the field and then divide up by candidate: The “Bernies” on one side and the “Hillarys” on the other.

Honestly, we didn’t even need the line because it didn’t take a mastermind to realize that it was a Bernie kind of day: There were beards, horn-rimmed glasses and Carhartt stocking caps as far as the eye could see. Even the gray hairs were carrying Bernie signs.

A show of hands up and down the half-mile line of long-suffering voters would have had us all home by 2:00.

But that’s not what we did. We waited, or at least 4,000 of us did.

Many people chose not to caucus. Many chose to vote absentee. I chose to caucus because … the last time I attended a caucus it was a lovefest. It was 1992. After hearing all the speeches, I huddled for Bill Clinton. In the end, Maine huddled for Gerry Brown.

I remember the event as a big-ole party. I was not aware of any tension. I can only remember smiling citizens – no malice, no hate, and no pressure. Just classrooms filled with happy voters.

I was looking forward to more of the same rose-tinted experience at the 2016 caucus.

The difference between a caucus and a primary, simply stated, is that a caucus allows for debate. Once all the speechmaking is done you either stick with your first choice or change. I wore a sticker for each candidate to make my point and also because I was truly, madly and deeply torn between the choices.

I planned to decide after the speeches and discussions. Call me crazy, but I was looking forward to the process.

After four hours in line, the organizers canceled the speeches and using a curled up paper-bullhorn (there had to be at least one real bullhorn in that high school), they announced that we would all get to vote by absentee ballots.

My plan was blown and I was now cold and cranky. Seventh-grade cranky. One friend asked if she could cut in line and stand with us. Without a second thought, I snapped, “Nope.” I hope she got to vote.

About four hours into the wait, the message came down the line that anyone over 65 could go to the front. I’m not proud of it, but I was not happy. I’m mean, really, isn’t that just reverse ageism? I know a lot of very fit 65-year-olds. And then the word came down the line that anyone with kids could go to the front. I have a kid but she wasn’t there.

Just as I started to think dark thoughts about the whole process, a woman who lived on the same street offered us hot tea. She walked up and down the line yelling, “Who wants tea?”

Kids were playing on the soccer field. It was sunny. It was our democratic process. It was free. I knew several eighteen-year-olds who were voting for the first time. It was my version of church.

No one was on their phone.

I don’t want to think in isolation. I don’t want to live in isolation and that’s what pushed me to participate in this year’s presidential caucus.

Who really wants to stand in a high school on a beautiful Sunday with your neighbors (literally your neighbors) and reveal who you are voting for? It’s much easier to stay home. I have many times.

But this time was different. This time I need to show up – in person. I needed to put a small ding in the wall of isolationism. “We are here.” Whovillians unite. I hope to always choose optimism over cynicism.

The system is not perfect, but it’s what we’ve got until we change it.

So, these nice-looking guys I mentioned …

They asked us how long we had been waiting and then they stayed with our small group long enough to hear our minor grievances. We directed our complaints toward them and suggested that they should report our gripes – we meant report our gripes back to the volunteers inside – and one of them said, “Oh, we are reporting, but we’re not getting much out because of Nancy Reagan.”

And we were, like, “What happened to Nancy Reagan?”

And they were, like, “She died.”

And we were like, “Oh, that’s so sad.”

And they were like, “Yeah.”

And then, I was like, “Are your guys volunteering?”

And then they were like, “No we’re from CNN.”

And then I was, like, “Welcome to Maine politics.”

See you in 2020.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]