Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jury Duty

Yes, that's right, today and yesterday I had [duhn duhn duhn!] JURY DUTY. Yesterday I showed up downtown at the Multnomah County Courthouse to fulfill my civic duty at 8am on the dot. Each potential juror was checked in at a little desk and given a plastic tag that said "Juror" on it and had a barcode associated with your name. The jury room was really nice - comfortable chairs, clean, flat screen TVs with cable, work stations and internet access, a kitchen area, microwave, vending machines, private "jury only" bathrooms, board games, puzzles, books, magazines... I'm not saying the hour I was there before anyone said "boo" to us wasn't boring, but it was nicer than expected. Then there was half an hour of "here is how this works," and then another half hour of boredom before they called THE GRESHAM JURY. Yes, because Multnomah County is so populous and (I suspect) so weirdly shaped, there is a second county courthouse in Historic Downtown Gresham (I'm so not making that up) that holds short trials, whose jurors are selected from the same pool as the main, Historic Downtown Portland Courthouse. At ten to ten or so, they called sixteen (or so) names of people who would be let go for the day, but asked to show up at the Gresham Courthouse the following day. As soon as I read the words "Gresham County Court" on the little "Juror Handbook" they gave us as we checked in, I just knew I'd get called for it. As soon as I went to the "Kitchen Area" to get a soda and ran into a talkative old vet - of the mostly deaf, jovial, retired, disabled, everyone's grandpa variety - I knew that he'd be called for it too. I don't know how I knew, but I was just certain of it. When they started calling names for that jury, I walked out of the kitchen without buying a soda so that I could shout "here" when they called me. Keep in mind, there were like 150 people there and only 16 were going to Gresham. And I thought about warning the old guy, but that seemed weird.

So this morning I drove out to Gresham after dropping Pete off at work. And it was a fully surreal experience. It was like visiting another world. I also realized that I've never actually been to Gresham before. I've driven through it on Powell (Hwy 26) on my way to the mountain, but I've never actually been to Gresham. I couldn't find a Starbucks. I didn't need to be at the courthouse until 10, I dropped Pete off at 8, and found myself tooling around Historic Downtown Gresham at 15 mph around 8:30am. And there was no Starbucks. Checking Google Maps, I can now find two or three, but Gresham is a big-ish place, and none of them were on my path. We found Starbucks in Cody, WY and in Rapid City, SD - to find one's self in a palce that ostensibly has no Starbucks, Peete's Coffee, Boyd's, Stumptown, Coffee People or Seattle's Best at all is like finding one's self in a parallel universe. Gresham is not interesting enough to offer anywhere else to go, so I just cut my losses and showed up an hour and fifteen minutes early at the courthouse.

I had a feeling I'd be waiting a long time, so I was prepared. I had my iPod, a book of crosswords, a book of number puzzles, an actual book, paper for letter writing and my cell phone (games) in my satchel. I also had my purse. When I got through the door, there was a metal detector and a guard sitting at a little table next to it. I said, "Hi, I'm here for jury duty." He said, "Um, you really need both those bags?" I said, "What?" He said, "Yeah, um, I'm gon' have to ask you to git rid'a one'a those, 'cause we don't have a scanner or anything here, so I hafta check'em by hand, and it takes a while, so if you could jus' git rid'a one'a them, that'd be great. K, thanks." And then he looked past me. Into the empty vestibule. Into the empty parking lot. Dude! I'm the only one here!!

I was as mean to his as I could be: I rolled my eyes. And then I complied. Oh, and I pushed the door extra hard when I left. Yeah! That'll teach him to make silly demands! I crammed all the stuff in my purse into my satchel and went back in. Now there was a second guard standing next to the first one. The first guard bore a striking resemblence to my mom's brother, Rick - it was just eerie. The second guard was a woman with a beautiful round face and pink cheeks. The uncle-resembling-but-not-at-all-avuncular guard started pulling stuff out of my satchel. He handing the clipboard thing I keep my stationary in to the female guard and said, "We hafta look through everything." It's essentially a letter-sized plastic box with a clipboard clip attached to it, and a little pen holder at the bottom. "You want me to open this?" asked the female guard. "Mm hm," said the male guard. She opened it, and carefully rifled through my paper. "Oh, these your Christmas stamps?" she asked. "Yep," I said, while the Not-My-Uncle guard finished emptying out my bag and began haphazardly shoving everything back into it.

I checked in, and the woman at the window told me to go make myself at home in the jury room. Unlike the Historic Downtown Portland Courthouse, this was not a spacious room with new chairs and fun things to do. It was a room the size of an Associate Professor's office at U of O (maybe a little longer) with two beat up old conference tables and exactly 17 chairs. There was a tiny sink, a non-functioning coffee maker, an old postal pin (those white, plastic/cardboard things they use to move mail around in an actual post office) filled with old magazines and a single deck of cards. There was no microwave, there were no vending machines, there was no TV. I played several hands of solitaire before the second juror showed up at 9:15. Around 10, the other jurors started showing up and I filled in some crossword puzzles. Around 10:30, the final juror - Old Man Chatty Pants - arrived, but there was no sign of any court official. Two of the middle-aged ladies talked and talked and talked. Old Man Chatty Pants challenged everyone to a game of gin and ended up playing solitaire. Everyone else was quite and read, worked on their computers, played Nintendo DS, did crosswords, or listened to music. Or napped while pretending to read, which is what I did. At 11:15 they finally brought us into the courtroom. And the judge, who was super nice and had a great speaking voice, told us to go home. They had gotten new evidence and it just wasn't going to happen to day. So I drove the 200 blocks back down Powell Blvd, the 20 blocks up 39th, and the 60 or so blocks up Broadway, over the bridge and up Lovejoy to eat leftovers for lunch.

I have done my civic duty, such as it is, and am now free to go about my business for at least 24 months. Huzzah?


Anonymous said...

Wow, the civic spirit has taken over you with such fever I'm shocked. At least you got to see some more of Gresham. Although, really, what have you gained? Steph and I ducked out of jury duty a few months ago because we had moved out of Boston into Cambridge. But you never know when they'll get you. A friend missed almost 2 weeks (!!) due to jury duty just last month. That would really suck. So at least you didn't get stuck on some extended, sequestered trial. No Starbucks to be found? That's the ultimate indictment of Gresham not being civilization that I've ever heard - you can always find a Starbucks in civilization.

Anonymous said...

Did I ever tell you guys about my time on a jury? It was just a DUI case, and we ended up acquiting the guy, but during deliberations this lady said "I don't think he's proved his innocence." "Yeah," said another guy.
I screamed a little in my head, and then told them that he didn't have to, and explained what "burden of proof" was. So, I got to be foreman and tell the judge we found the guy not guilty, but the idea that people on a jury went into the back room thinking that it was the defendant who had to prove something kind of made me throw up a litte in my mouth.
I'm shocked that Gresham has no Starbucks. Shocked. I mean, you'd think that at least some Portland culture would be able to, in whatever faint and distorted fashion, bleed across the scant distance and bless upon you sweet caffeine. How do they live? Are they able to extract coffee from the groundwater? Do they douse for it? Are their regional skirmishes when someone discovers a coffee deposit? I'm very curious now.

Sydney said...

My theory is that Gresham is filled with two kinds of people: those who prefer sanka, and those who commute to Portland and can't wait to get out of Gresham as quickly as possible.

I think the jury I would have been part of would have been a little better - lots of hipsters and yuppies. But still: glad to get out unscathed; scared of the jury you were on, Joe; glad to have a 24 month hiatus.