TALLAHASSEE -- There is a thud coming from behind the bathroom door of the luxury tour bus -- boom, boom, boom -- then, seconds later, a tiny voice. "Hey, I can't get out of here. I'm stuck. Let me out!"
It's Alfre Woodard, movie star and celebrity activist for John Kerry. The Congressional Black Caucus and the Democratic National Committee bus tour through Florida has barely rolled a mile, and already there's a glitch.
Up pops a spokesman for the DNC. He trots down the carpeted aisle to rescue Woodard. Face straining against the marbled gray door, he says, "I . . . can't . . . get . . . it."
Art Collins, a strategist for the Kerry campaign, looking poised in his regal blue pinstripe suit and silver tie, puts a finger to his head and thinks the situation through. "Someone get the driver," he says.
Like the voting booth, a bathroom of about the same size can be hard to negotiate. With driver George Turnipseed's help, Woodard is freed, and she goes on to star at campaign rallies at the University of Florida in Gainesville, at a black church and school in Jacksonville and a dinner party with ministers in Orlando during the tour, which ended in Fort Lauderdale yesterday.
There is urgency in the rallies, desperation even. There were speeches that could be summed up in a few sentences. Get out and vote! Don't let the Florida voter fiasco deter you! Don't be intimidated! Bring your voter registration! Bring a photo ID!
But on the bus, the mood is less urgent. At times, it's tranquil. At others, it's downright hilarious.
Woodard is joined by James McDaniel, who played the square-jawed lieutenant on the cop show "NYPD Blue," and much later, Victoria Rowell, a drop-dead-gorgeous soap opera star from "The Young and the Restless."
The tour is a get-out-the-vote effort by Democrats who know that to win Florida, Kerry needs the 9 out of 10 votes that African Americans usually cast for the party's nominee. Two big red buses are emblazoned with the words "Election Protection," but inside they say the real name should be the "Scene of the Crime" tour, reflecting their belief that the 2000 presidential election was stolen, allowing Geroge W. Bush to defeat Al Gore because tens of thousands of votes weren't counted.
Like everyone else on this tour, Woodard is roughing it a bit. In Tallahassee, she stayed at the Ramada Inn, the same hotel where CBC spokeswoman Candice Tolliver says she walked into her assigned room for the first time Thursday night and found the bed unmade and used towels strewn about the floor.
The next day, Woodard says, "It's better to be here than riding around in my car listening to Usher or somebody."
She's released from the bus bathroom in the nick of time, because she's needed at a hastily formed news conference that CBC members set up in the lobby of the Florida secretary of state's office. The secretary, Glenda Hood, is not there, which is one of the problems.
Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) says that when she told Hood's staff that caucus members would stop by, she was told that Hood would be traveling. What about her deputy? He's on a conference call, Brown says she was told. What about another ranking official? They're all on conference calls, Brown says.
In Brown's district, which covers part of Jacksonville, 27,000 votes were discarded in the 2000 election. She is shaking when she declares this at the news conference.