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We Ask Voters In The Southwest: What Keeps You Up At Night?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Politics is personal. Elections are about people - their lives, their fears, their decisions. So as the parties hold these virtual conventions, we want to hear from voters. We met five families recently, driving through New Mexico and Arizona. Some support Joe Biden, some support President Trump, but all share something in common - stress. Whether it's the pandemic, racism, divisive politics, people are feeling the weight of all of it. Today, I want to tell you about Matt and Susan Simonds.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

GREENE: It's just people with microphones coming to your door every night, right? (Laughter).

(CROSSTALK)

SUSAN SIMONDS: I mean, honestly...

MATT SIMONDS: I'm sorry. You've got the wrong house (laughter).

GREENE: We went to their home in Albuquerque on one of those hot Southwestern summer nights. There were toys everywhere. You got the feeling there have been some kids spending more time at home than usual.

SAMMY: I'm Sammy.

GREENE: Nice to meet you, Sammy. How old are you?

SAMMY: Eight.

GREENE: Nice.

(LAUGHTER)

EMILY: I'm Emily. And I'm 6.

GREENE: We were all together, all socially distanced in the backyard. My editor Arezou Rezvani asked the girls about how different life has been.

AREZOU REZVANI, BYLINE: Do you girls miss school?

EMILY: Yeah.

SAMMY: Yeah.

GREENE: What do you miss?

(LAUGHTER)

SAMMY: Seeing all my friends.

EMILY: I kind of want to go back now.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Their dad Matt wants life at work to be normal now. He was an environmental scientist, but then decided six years ago to go after his dream.

M SIMONDS: Had the opportunity to do something out on my own and decided to open up a distillery. And so we took a shot, and that's kind of where we are now.

GREENE: The distillery, because of the pandemic, hasn't been able to have customers inside. Now, Susan - for her part - works at a national laboratory owned by the Department of Energy.

S SIMONDS: I am a systems engineer, and I work on a satellite system. And I can't tell you much more than that.

GREENE: Yeah, tell us exactly, like, the intricate details of...

(LAUGHTER)

S SIMONDS: Right? Right?

GREENE: ...The satellite system.

S SIMONDS: I'll tell you that we're happy that we do these things, and that's about it. Yeah.

GREENE: So we started all of these conversations with a simple life question.

What keeps you up at night?

M SIMONDS: (Laughter) This week? It's a difficult question. And I laugh this week, but this week it's my mom who's been in the hospital and recently transitioned to hospice care, my brother that was intubated last week and just came off the ventilator last night.

GREENE: Because of COVID?

M SIMONDS: Thankfully not. But the symptoms and the treatment that he was going through was identical to as if he had COVID.

GREENE: Wow.

M SIMONDS: So, yeah, those are things that keep me up at night this week. And the week after that, who knows? Maybe there'll be another spike, and my business will get shut down even further. And there's been nights laying up at night in tears and late nights with the two of us yelling and screaming at each other or yelling at the kids or just staring at the wall because we don't know.

GREENE: Susan, what keeps you up at night?

S SIMONDS: My children aren't socializing with people, and they are suffering because their social network is gone. Their school network doesn't exist like it used to. The kids are showing their stress. The adults are showing their stress. Yeah, it's been one long freakout. I mean, you add anything else onto us and we're likely to crack. I'm surprised we haven't yet.

M SIMONDS: We have, once or twice.

(LAUGHTER)

S SIMONDS: We've cracked - yeah. We've cracked a few times, but we have managed to hold it back together. There hasn't been a permanent crack yet, so.

GREENE: You heard that fear Susan mentioned about what will happen to her kids if they're out of the classroom for too long; it's a concern that so many parents share. Matt and Susan feel like their kids can go back to school in person. They think it's safe. But they also say they understand if other parents feel differently.

M SIMONDS: For me, to discount their fear would be disingenuous. I mean - and at some point, as a parent, you need to evaluate what you think is most important for your kids and best for their safety and well-being. And if a parent in that situation were to say, I want to explore digital options, I don't want my kid to go to school, I want to home-school, I want to do whatever, then I think my only response would be, awesome, what can we do to help, you know? And that's where - it's not to say my beliefs are right or your beliefs are wrong or that we should all do it my way and - we should all be rooting for each other.

GREENE: It doesn't feel like we're all rooting for each other right now.

M SIMONDS: No.

GREENE: It feels like - that the immediate reaction among a lot of people would be, like, oh, you think that should happen? Well, clearly, you're on the other side of this than I am.

M SIMONDS: It's really weird. And I've been caught on the wrong side of this a few times as a business owner. Well, obviously, as a business owner, I want to be open, and that's apparently because I want my grandmother to die or I want the children to die because I value profits over livelihood. And that couldn't be further from the truth.

GREENE: That's the immediate reaction you're saying people have.

M SIMONDS: That's the immediate reaction. And - do we want to scoot under?

S SIMONDS: It's getting wind...

GREENE: Yeah, that thunderstorm came out of nowhere, and there's something so 2020 about that, right? Well, we didn't want to go inside because of social distancing. We moved to the covered patio, and Matt picked up talking about owning a business.

M SIMONDS: A small business is a person, and it's a person with a family. And I've, you know, spent endless nights doing construction and distilling and planning - probably spent more time at the distillery than I have with my wife (laughter) over the last six years. And a part of you is - like, that's taken a part of you away.

GREENE: Have you been able to keep the business going, like, with to-go and selling bottles and...

M SIMONDS: I mean, we're trying.

GREENE: How long do you think you can go if this keeps going?

M SIMONDS: I'd be lucky if we have another month, you know? That's just how fast we're burning through cash.

GREENE: That question really got to you, I think, Susan. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...

S SIMONDS: It did. It is tough to watch Matt go through this because it is a dream, and I'm watching it slowly shatter. And it's not him doing something wrong. He didn't extort money. He didn't fake the books. He didn't drink all of his profits. He didn't do anything wrong. It's - nature is getting the worst of all of us. But you're seeing how that falls apart right here, and it is heartbreaking to watch.

(SOUNDBITE OF THUNDER)

M SIMONDS: Couldn't have timed that thunder strike any better (laughter).

S SIMONDS: I think we all get ice cream (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: So getting businesses reopened again, getting kids back into the classroom - these are things that President Trump talks about a lot. And so I asked Matt and Susan if they feel like they have an ally in the White House.

M SIMONDS: You know, at face value, the words that may be coming out may seem like they're allied with what - some of the things we're saying, but it's - he's such a polarizing figure. I don't think he's an ally in a lot of senses or in at least the traditional sense.

GREENE: Does that mean you'll be voting for Joe Biden?

M SIMONDS: I think so.

GREENE: Susan, is that...

S SIMONDS: Very probably. And I'm Southern. I'm not a Democrat by nature. But I will choose who makes the most sense. I don't vote down party lines, ever.

GREENE: Well, what does Joe Biden have to do, say in the coming weeks to make you feel like it's not just going and getting an incumbent out, that you would actually, you know, feel really good about this?

M SIMONDS: I don't (laughter) - if any candidate were to bring a balance to the conversation, that would be comforting to me.

GREENE: Have you heard that from Biden so far?

S SIMONDS: No.

M SIMONDS: I mean, I - he's mad at Trump, and Trump's mad at him, and that's what I hear.

GREENE: And that dynamic doesn't impress you.

M SIMONDS: (Laughter) No, it's not a...

S SIMONDS: It doesn't impress us in small children, ever.

(LAUGHTER)

S SIMONDS: When children bicker, I tell them to go play outside and sort it out themselves and leave me alone.

M SIMONDS: That is a grand idea.

S SIMONDS: Maybe they'll get along afterwards. We can put them in a get-along shirt.

M SIMONDS: Oh, that's a great idea (laughter).

S SIMONDS: That is where you put two children in one shirt, and you say, you wear this shirt until you get along.

GREENE: Do you do that with the two of them?

M SIMONDS: We have, yeah.

S SIMONDS: We have.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Just to come full circle, like, I just think about this image of, Susan, you saying, like, watching him in bed, stressed out, like, and how painful it is to see him going through a lot of the stuff that he's going through, that you're both going through, I mean, it - what, if anything, keeps you going and gives you hope and gives you faith to get through all of this?

S SIMONDS: Well, one, faith.

(LAUGHTER)

S SIMONDS: So we - you know, we are churchgoing Christians. So that helps. But beyond that, it's the fact that we're together. We have two very cute girls that we want to see succeed in life, and we can't do that if we fall apart. So part of what keeps us going, at least for me, is them. And then they also bring us comic relief. I don't know if you could see, but one of them was standing up on the chair, looking out the window, waving at us.

M SIMONDS: (Laughter).

GREENE: Yeah, I saw it. It was adorable.

S SIMONDS: Yeah (laughter). This is what does it, is - you know, we have to watch our kid movies on occasion, you know? They do little skits for us. We have to play games. It is really tough to watch your little girl make up a dance right in front of you and just be sitting there focused on how the world sucks. They tell you these random jokes, and occasionally, they - like, there's actually a punchline and they're funny.

M SIMONDS: (Laughter).

S SIMONDS: And when they do that, like, it's uplifting. And it - you know, it's what makes you laugh, and it keeps you going.

EMILY: Now that's a roof on (ph). Yeah. Abigail (ph) - she's...

GREENE: Thank you both so much.

M SIMONDS: My pleasure.

S SIMONDS: You're welcome.

GREENE: Susan, Matt, Sammy and Emily - the Simonds family from Albuquerque, N.M.

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "HAKEA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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