Thursday, July 1, 2010
Get Me to the Court on Time.
I got the summons a month ago, the day I had been granted my vacation week for mid-September. I came home and announced to the Little Woman I had vacation the week of our anniversary, then I opened the mail to find I was ordered to Jury Duty on September 8, three days before my vacation would start. One doesn't want to spend their vacation in a courtroom, which was now a possibility.
Not only that there was the money situation. Money isn't something I have. Taking my vacation is costly enough, because I don't get paid for time off, and that includes vacation or serving on a jury. The justice system pays $20 per diem after the first day to jurors for their service. For most people by the time they pay for gas, parking and lunch that $20 is eaten up. Even if I didn't have to pay for parking and skipped eating, that $20 doesn't come close to making up for my lost wages.
Nonetheless, there is nothing to be gained by moaning about it, one must go. Early Wednesday morning I set off to the city for my day at court. I parked three miles out from my destination. That is how far from center of town you must go to find free parking on the street. In the center of things are parking meters that won't cover the time you must be there or parking garages, which will for a good price. One mile out and you still have street parking limited to two hours, and you will get a ticket.
But I'm a walker and three miles is no big deal. Now came a decision. I wanted to limit what I had because of the security measures at the court. (My friend, Ron, would hate being called to Jury Duty. You can bring no cameras, no cell phones, no electronic devices -- so there would be no picture taking in the courthouse. Trying to enter with any such devices would result in their confiscation.) This brought a question to my mind about my hat. I always wear my hat (baseball cap, actually) when out. You see several years ago I suffered Graves Disease and it left me with eyes that are oversensitive to sunlight (and sometimes overhead lights in buildings) and if the sun is bright, without my hat I become blind as a bat. Sunglasses do nothing for me. It is the downward angle of light and the only thing which works is a good hat brim.
But I wasn't sure if my hat would be welcome in court. I know, it was probably a dumb concern, but I didn't know, so I fretted about it. I wore an old cap driving in because it was one easily folded and tucked into a back pocket, but when I finally parked I wondered if I wanted even that hassle. The day was a bit overcast as I drove and the forecast was calling for some mid-day rain, so I left the hat in the car.
Ha, where did the overcast go? I came the first mile and as I crossed the interstate as the edge of the downtown area the sun was mid sky and bright. I was walking directly into this fiery ball. This was not good, but a line of small trees was not far and once I reached them it blocked that red globe. Except now the big red globe was to my left. What in the world was this? How could the sun be directly ahead, but also off to my left? Was this the end of the world? Were were two suns in the sky about to turn us to a cinder?
As I cleared the line of trees I saw my dilemma. The sun was indeed to my left, but it was reflecting in all it's brightness off the top of a mirrored high rise directly ahead. I was hatless in a double whammy. Too late now, I could only squint and hurry as quickly as my arthritic feet would take me to the shadows of the downtown buildings.
Now here's the thing, the court information was very empathic about time of arrival. My summons read I must report at 8:30 AM. However, on it and on the court website, in bold print it stated if you arrived before 8:15 you could not get into the courthouse proper. You could get into the atrium, it said, but warned there were no benches or chairs or water or food or any other creature comforts to be found in the atrium and you would have to suffer there in deprivation until 8:15 when security would begin allowing you passage forward.
I knew I had parked my car about 7:00 and I can walk three miles in forty-five minutes, but I was not certain of what time it was since I wear no watch. There is a large clock on a pedestal on the same street as the court, so I went to the clock. It was 8:47. I then turned down the next cross street because I knew a park was behind these buildings and I found a bench and sat down. I would wait here for a while rather than arrive at the court and it's alarming atrium before 8:15.
I sat and thought about not much of anything. I watch a few people go by. A pretty young woman in business attire came by and went up the long set of steps that joined this street with the other between these buildings. I followed her progress up. Her skirt had a long slit up the back from the hem to her...well, her rounder parts. Going up the steps she showed a lot of leg and then some.
I then watched an old man with a cane come down those steps, clinging to the railing and then the wall for the final few where no railing existed. I wondered if he did this every day.
I decided to go up the steps myself and check the clock. As I approached the steps what did I see? The clock, plainly visible at the very top from where I stood. If I had sat a bench further over I would have been able to watch the time seated. It was two minutes to eight. I went and sat on a bench where I could watch the hands and decided I would head to the court when they reached five after.
It was two or three blocks further to the courthouse. I'm sure I arrived at the doors a bit before 8:15, it certainly wouldn't take me more than ten minutes to walk that distance. I pushed through the front doors and there before me was security.
Let me say things had changed since the last time I was called for jury duty. I was called about this same time of year in 1998 just as they were about to embark on the biggest trial in the city during my life here. A very prominent, well-to-do lawyer with many political connections had been charged with the murder of his mistress and the dumping of her body at sea. I went in with some thought of being selected on that jury. That would have been a long trial (and indeed it was going from October 26, 1998 to January 19, 1999), but in those days I would have been paid my salary by my employer for the duration.
That was before 9/11. When I reported back then one simply walked through some metal detectors and as long as no bells and whistles went off one went directly to the jury services room. Not so this time. This time I had to empty all the content of my pockets into a little plastic box and hand it to the security guard. (Women had to place their pocketbooks on a conveyer for x-raying. Then the security guard asked if I had any metal on me. I held up my left hand.
"Just my wedding ring and my belt buckle," I said.
"You will have to remove the belt," he said.
I removed the belt and placed it in that plastic box atop my wallet and keys and reading glasses. I stepped through the metal detector, grateful my pants stayed up. No bells sounded.
I then had to lift my pant legs so the guard could examine my shoes. Then I was given the plastic box to carry to a table where I could put myself back together, still grateful my pants remained where they should be.
I walked down a long corridor to the Jury Assembly Room and stepped in the doorway.
What the hey?
There was a line that began where I stood and went all along the wall down a short hall, around the corner and along the wall of the room. At one point it went down another hall and came back and continued around the room and back out the entry hall to the clerk station, where you had to show your summons.
So tell me, if I arrived just at 8:15 and you couldn't get into the building before 8:15, where did all these people come from?
There were already some people through the checkin process and seated in the room. And you know what? When I finally snaked my way slowly around that entire large room and handed over my summons that line was just as long as when I entered.
Once checked in, I went back into the room and found a seat all the way in the extreme back right corner. The seats were filling up and the line wasn't shrinking. People just kept coming and coming. Chairs were filling with bodies and the line wasn't any smaller and there was no air conditioner going and it was getting very warm.
Something told me this was going to be a long day.