It turned out that he was a laborer who traveled around the country following jobs (his current position was at a foundry). He was living in the motel and sat at the table drinking beer pretty much every night, so when he saw our silhouettes at "his" table in the dark, he assumed we must be friends of his. Once he'd realized we were strangers, though, he was still quick to offer us beer from his 20-pack of Rolling Rock bottles, and we sat and talked for a few hours. The guy was intelligent, friendly, and well-informed, and although we didn't have much in common demographically, he was easy to talk to (although I had to drop out of the conversation when the others started talking sports, about which he knew everything and I knew nothing).
Eventually, the conversation turned to politics. He said that he couldn't wait to get somebody new in the White House, and that he was crossing his fingers for McCain. I'm backing the other horse, so I just said, "Well, yeah, it'll be nice to get somebody new" and he chuckled and said "I knew that would get a rise out of somebody." Then came the part that shocked me a little: "I've voted for Democrats all my life," he said, "but I can't do it this year. Just can't do it."
He didn't go into more detail than that, but based on the purposeful ambiguity and some of the racially tinged jokes he'd told earlier, it was pretty clear what he meant: he couldn't vote for a black guy. He's always been Democrat-leaning, and if he's like most Democrats he's even more frustrated with the Republican party than usual, yet he's voting McCain because of Obama's skin color.
Nobody really responded to this, and the conversation moved on quickly enough and stayed pleasant. He kept pushing beers on us for another half-hour or so and eventually we went to bed. But what he said worried me. If a guy like that--a smart, big-hearted, hard-working guy--could turn away from Obama just because he's black, then I don't understand the people of this country as well as I thought I did. We haven't come quite as far as I thought. Big lead in the polls or not, maybe this election is going to be closer than we realize.