Jury Duty Day 1: Silence, Smokers, and Camping on Downtown Seattle

Day 1 of Jury Duty: Silence, Smokers, and Camping in Downtown Seattle

I am currently enjoying (yes, really) the adventure of being called for King County Superior Court Duty.

Not for the first time. About 20 years ago I was called at a time when I had a student teacher. At that time teachers could be excused from jury duty, but I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to learn a lot of things, some of which might transfer to my classroom here and there. The principal was irritated, but then she was irritated by almost everything I did, so that was not news.

In that first go around I was excused from the first panel because I snickered under my breath (I thought) at the defense attorney, because I’d sussed out the likely direction of his defense. He used a peremptory challenge to excuse “juror #13” immediately. I found out later than I was correct. He was going to argue that his client could not be convicted of assault with a deadly weapon if the gun was knocked out of his hand before he had a chance to fire it. Turned out that yes, indeed, he could be convicted.

In the second try I made it on to a jury because both attorneys ran out of peremptory challenges. I ended up as the foreman of a jury in a cocaine sales trial, and the miscreant was convicted. Job done – back to class!

I also have experience with downtown Seattle. From 1973 to about 1996 I was a lead guide for the Underground Tours. Back then getting to work was easy. I would ride my motorcycle over the Evergreen Point Bridge (no tolls), taking full advantage of the commuter lane than ran to about 50 yards before the bridge. Ronald Reagan signed the bill that made motorcycles legal in HOV lane, did you know that?  Actually, that part was a rider on a sort of maybe related bill. The odds are high that Mr. Reagan was not aware that he had done that either.

You could park a motorcycle for free in the spaces between the railroad tracks and the parking spaces under the viaduct, at the expense of having your bike showered with soot and dust all day. But free.  It took me about 30 minutes each way.

Those days are long gone, of course, and other than a few nights of adventure at concerts and musicals, we have hardly been in downtown at all for the past twenty years.

Things have changed.

Driving and parking are just not viable options, even with a motorcycle, so my first challenge was to obtain an ORCA pass to take the bus. Added on to that was the bonus of my advanced age – a senior citizen pass that allows me to pay a whopping $1 for each trip. Despite confusing and partially incorrect info on the Metro web site that seems intended to make it unlikely that seniors will be able to actually obtain such a pass, I persevered.

Now – which bus? The metro web site offered up more confusing information, but I got some of it right. Most of these things are obvious once you’ve done them in the flesh, but very confusing with the sites and charts provided on the web site. At least to me. Your results may vary.

So Susan drove me to the “Brickyard” Park and Ride near our home, where I soon discovered I was in the wrong place. Or at least the wrong side of the street. Fortunately, Susan was still in the car and came back and picked me up and drove me to a better spot, where I ended up catching a bus earlier than the early one I had planned. (I hate to be late).

I wound up at court a full hour early.

The differences from last time began to accrue. I have a long standing distrust and dislike of “smart phones,” and there are reasons for this. They tend to reduce people’s ability to think, for one, and utterly destroy their ability to converse.  I first noticed this about 20 years ago in airports. In those days most airports had a “smoker’s area” inside the terminal, whereas these days’ smokers are banished to the far reaches of the land, standing in miserable clumps in the rain. I used to carry my pipe with me at all times.  In the smoker’s areas there were all sorts of conversations going on. Smoking is a social activity, and with time to waste people would discuss flight schedules, family, various travel adventures, and all sorts of things. It was fun, and the time flew by.

Out in the terminal, on the other hand, were vast seas of humanity, all of them with heads down to stare at their phones, and nobody speaking to others.

This change is true of the jury panel waiting room as well. The last time I did this people were sitting at tables, doing jig saw puzzles provided for their use, playing cards, chatting, being human. Now it is like a morgue, but the bodies are still alive. I think.

The nice lady in charge tried, asking people to introduce themselves to the person next to them, to make friends, to have fun.  You could hear the quiet thud of conversations dropping all over the room.

I introduced myself to the woman next to me, and she tried, for a bit. She asked why I have two wedding rings.  I have one that represents Susan, and the other is for our children and grandson.   Oh.

In turn, I asked her what she did when she was not on jury duty.

She sort of shrank into herself, and said “Not much.” Pause. “I’m a home maker.” Pause.  “And I volunteer some.”   Wow – what a summation of your life. Or lack of it.

I tried again later in a different spot and did not do any better. I did see two gentlemen in a lengthy chat that was evidently amusing, and restrained myself from trotting over and blurting out “Can I play?”

The leadership woman announced she would be calling out 20 names for a trial that had started yesterday. They had been unable to seat 12 jurors (and a spare) from the first 40 people.  

“Ding ding ding!” Alarms in my head. To me, that means an “icky” trial that would probably go on for a week or two. Or more. I got out of one of these twenty years ago because the judge explained that it would be a long trial involving serial abuse of children, and that teachers would be excused. I almost dislocated my shoulder raising my hand. Now I have no such excuse.

I waited with bated breath (“bated” is correct, by the way, not the more commonly used “baited.” Bated means halted).   She called out 19 names and said, “Just one more.”   Oh no.  But wait… Not me!

Back to another hour of silence. Then a call for 20 more jurors.   Not me again. Another 30 minutes of silence, and then we were all excused for the day. Did not see that coming.

That is when I realized there are many buses going in to Seattle in the morning, and many more coming out in the late afternoon. But none now.

I took off in the wrong direction for my bus stop, and walked about a mile due to my inability to analyze the tiny map. But I needed the exercise. And I had the time.  I walked by the old Union Street station, which brought back fond memories of a day there in 1992 where I hung out with Melissa Gilbert, who was filming a made for TV movie there, and my daughter had a miniscule part in it.  As in two seconds of screen time.  That section of the movie was ten seconds on the screen and an entire day of filming.  At one point the director introduced himself and thanked me for bringing my daughter. He asked if I wanted to be in the next scene!  Sure!  I was instructed to stand on my “marks” in the center of the room.

The assistant director explained that the camera was behind me, and when she said “Action” I was to walk toward the doors. As I did so Melissa Gilbert and my daughter would come through the doors and brush by me.

I couldn’t resist my college theater training. “What’s my motivation? Should I have an angry walk, an eager walk, a nervous walk?”  She shot me a look that would have turned a lesser man to stone and said “Just walk toward to door.”

That did not make it to the screen either.

The next year that was the venue for the prom of the class of 1993, where I served as the class advisor. Fantastic class, and a lot of good memories.

 I walked up 4th avenue passed more changes. Downtown Seattle is now a vast camping area. There are tents on sidewalks and in doorways, and any small park is overflowing. Sleeping bags in many doorways that do not have tents.  Sort of like a scout jamboree, but the scouts are older, not as well dressed, and have an air of resigned hoplelessness.

The homeless.

This has a dire effect if you’ve come from a suburban home with a yard, food, heat, three bathrooms, two refrigerators, two cars, and a motorcycle. We are not the 1%, but we’re probably the 8% or so.  We “make” more from retirement and Social Security than these folks will ever see. Sobering.

I have no solution.

And smokers! In the ‘burbs smokers are now so rare it’s almost refreshing (to me) to someone light up. Sort of a last stand of defiance against the mass wisdom.  And I Iike the smell of tobacco.  Your results probably differ.  In downtown Seattle smokers are everywhere. Not just the poor, but many office workers and attorneys and such. Amazing.

I had time to have a regrettable lunch at an eatery in Columbia Tower. How many times will I have to be taught the lesson that you should never go to the place that has no waiting line? No lesson can be taught so well that a student cannot find a way to ignore the obvious.   As I have proven.

Eventually it dawned on me that almost any bus with an east side destination would do, and Susan could pick me up. And so I would up in Redmond, and then home.

As Susan drove me home I discovered what I had suspected – there is a stop for the bus I want about 100 steps from my front door.

Let’s see how I do tomorrow!


Copyright 2016                               David Preston

About david

I am a 73 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020) and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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