The normally busy streets of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, have gotten markedly more quiet since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered numerous local businesses early this spring. On Saturday afternoon, though, the normally hushed neighborhood exploded with shrieks, whoops, and the banging of pots and pans after multiple major networks called the 2020 presidential race for Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
The 2016 novelty song “F*ck Donald Trump” blared from local watering hole Bar Meridian as its owner and staff busied themselves getting ready for a sure-to-be-big afternoon of sales. Elise, 31, a local resident who showed up at the bar to pop champagne with a friend, said she was experiencing “full-body chills,” although her words were all but drowned out by the boisterous honks of passing vehicles and the rhythmic percussion of a tambourine being shaken by a passerby.
“I just want to see what the orange person does now,” laughed Darlene, 51, who owns the hair salon next door to Bar Meridian as well as another bar, Dorsett, a block away. “I’m from Guyana, and I was just down the street talking to a friend at the wine shop who is from Laos. He said, ‘People don’t understand,’ and it’s true; coming to America, being undocumented, not having a green card, you keep your head down. I’m tearing up right now, because my mother, who came here in 1976, was a qualified teacher who worker under the radar for 35 years. I’m from South America, but I’m American first, and for my kids to feel like they have a place in this country? It’s a great day, and I’m going to be joyful today before we keep working.”
Further down on Washington Avenue, locals were gathered in a line under the proudly waving rainbow flag that designates the entrance of queer-owned eatery MeMe’s Diner. “I biked over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan,” said Henry, 32. “I went all the way down Dean Street, across Brooklyn, and you could just feel the excitement rolling across neighborhoods.”
Inside MeMe’s, the vibe was jubilant, if preoccupied. The restaurant, which opened in 2017, is named for co-owner Bill Clark’s grandmother, and Clark’s fiancé Andrew Spena said she was their first call after Biden’s win was announced. “She had to turn the news off, because she’s been following it too closely, and it wasn’t good for her, so we got to tell her,” said Spena. “We heard the horns honking on the street, and the pots and pans banging, and we all cried, and Bill and I kissed.”
Outside of MeMe’s, a B45 bus driver pressed insistently on his horn as a couple inside a car danced to the ear-blasting pop music emanating from the restaurant. While some were distracted by the ambient joy filling the streets, others were already thinking about the ways in which a Biden presidency would materially alter their lives. “I feel relieved, and I’m loving this change of atmosphere,” said Gavin, 21, who was on his way to work a COVID-19 tracer. “It’s stressful work, but I do think things will change now, policy-wise. We can finally move forward on a more progressive path.”
Despite the excitement of the day, some on the streets were cognizant of just how much work there is left to do, even with a Democratic President-elect. Isolda, 49, a Prospect Heights local en route to Fort Greene Park, noted the impact of the “social justice activists who made this happen,” adding, “We have a lot of work to do, but I’m super-excited about this sense of hope. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do the work.”
Back at Bar Meridian, a family accepted complimentary glasses of cava from the bar owner. “A working democracy keeps him asleep,” joked Jordan, 41, gesturing to the baby strapped to his chest in a sling; even the cacophony of horns, bike bells, sporadically cheering bar patrons and Patti Smith anthems blaring from the speakers weren’t enough to rouse him from his slumber.