TAMPA — The table is big enough for six guys. It's big enough for their lunches of salad, Cuban bread and black beans. It's big enough for their half-century of friendship, their hardscrabble achievements and disappointments. It's even big enough for blue and red.
The day after the election, the six guys met for lunch at the old West Tampa Sandwich Shop on Armenia Avenue. Their table was split: Four had voted for Obama; two had backed McCain. The winners didn't crow. The losers didn't minimize the historic implications.
The mood at the table was something like the mood at Grant Park in Chicago the night before. It was part celebratory, and part anxious solemnity, nervous expectation. All six are desperate for change.
Four had liked everything Barack Obama said in his victory speech. Two had liked one thing:
"To those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president, too."
The six guys are all taking Obama at his word. They want him to set a table like theirs, where all of them have a place, no matter how they disagree. They're sick of labels.
They want one America, one people.
The four who won the night before were brothers Nelson and Roger Priede, Gene Perez and Victor Chavarria. The two who lost were Nelson Ligori and Clyde Darville.
They've known each almost all their lives in West Tampa. Two of them joined the Marines together. They're all small-businessmen, but none identified with Joe the Plumber. Most had voted at least once for George W. Bush.
All but one of their children voted for Obama. In some of their homes, political discussions were banned. But none was upset by his children's votes. They believe the face of this election was not so much black as youthful.
Nelson Priede had studied the faces at Grant Park as Obama spoke. So many young, so many colors. "I saw a lot of white people. If I were black, I would understand the importance of Obama's color, but for the rest of us it's not important."
John McCain man Nelson Ligori wants to see that same mix of colors and creeds in the White House. Then he'll believe Obama is his president, too.
"If he loads up on cronies, if he puts Oprah in the Cabinet, it's over."
They're happy neither party won a filibuster-proof majority. That'll compel them to work together.
"We want unity," said Obama man Roger Priede.
They vote different, but share dreams. Most grew up poor and didn't know they were poor. Most are sons of immigrants. One is an immigrant. Each built his business from nothing.
They brag about Victor Chavarria, who came from Costa Rica 40 years ago, penniless. He now owns Vic's Barber Shop.
"He's a millionaire!"
They still have some issues left over from Tuesday night. Ligori stews over Obama's "Muslim ties." He says Obama admits it in his own book.
Nelson Priede laughs. "I read his book. I didn't see that."
Ligori shoots back, "Read his other book."
They circle back to the idea of unity.
Ligori: "We don't argue, we discuss."
Priede: "We only talk about the other guy behind his back."
They so much want this to work. They so much want Obama to succeed.
"We have different opinions, but we want the same thing," Ligori says.
"We keep talking. We keep eating."