Friday, December 7, 2007

Jury Duty

This past Monday and Tuesday, I had jury duty in the wonderful city of St. Louis.

It started at 8:00 sharp at the Civil Courts building downtown. The weather had suddenly turned bitterly cold that morning, so the five-block walk from the free parking garage to the courthouse was a bit nippy, especially given my inability to find either of the two (2) winter hats I bought just last year.

Once inside the front doors, I went through "airport security" (metal detectors, X-rays, etc.) before being admitted to the jurors' holding tank. This was a huge room full of bolted-down chairs, taking up the whole north end of the building on the ground floor, plus a similar room two flights up called the "mezzanine," plus two upstairs "lounges" with vending machines, tables, and chairs - one for smokers and the other for non-smokers.

I was directed to the mezzanine, where I sat down and began to read one of several books I had wisely brought along. After perusing the jurors' manual and watching an instructional video that covered the same material, I pretty much did nothing but read all day. My reading pleasure was only interrupted by the intercom, on which the courthouse staff periodically called out lists of numbers corresponding to the juror's ID badges. Those whose numbers were called - 30 or 40 at a time - were then taken somewhere else to be impaneled, questioned, and either dismissed from duty or sworn in as a jury.

My number never got called. I read all morning. They let us go out for lunch from 11:45 to 1:15 - I visited a nearby restaurant called Maurizio's, which serves an excellent anchovy pizza on a good, honest, doughy crust - then I came back and read some more, and listened all afternoon for my number to be called (it wasn't), until they dismissed us for the day.

The mezzanine went from standing-room-only to almost empty by the end of the first day. It was very quiet and relaxing. Only two thoughts crossed my mind all day: A) I must never play the lottery; and B) This wouldn't be a bad life, if it paid more than $12 per day.

The only other interesting thing that happened on Monday, besides my reading a whole novel, was my attempt to buy a pack of Starburst Fruit Chews from a vending machine that wouldn't take $1 bills (which I had just obtained for that purpose during my lunch break). The machine kept spitting out my bills and demanding exact change. Exasperated, I asked the 20 or so people in the lounge if anyone had change for a buck.

One guy offered me 50 cents. I really should do something about looking as stupid as I must have looked at that time. I was so staggered by the magnanimity of the offer that I was unable to come up with a sarcastic retort. Only the fact that my intended snack cost 80 cents saved me from considering the offer.

So I had to enter the smoking lounge - which was surprisingly like plunging into a tank full of toxic fumes - and use their snack machine to buy my second choice, Peanut M&Ms. It took me 24 hours to get the stench out of my lungs. I'm not talking about the smell of Peanut M&Ms.

Experiences like that - as well as the sight of the motorist ahead of me throwing his still-burning butt out his car window - continually remind me how little smokers are aware of what a filthy, filthy, filthy habit theirs is.

Tuesday I came back for a second day of prospective jurorness. I didn't have to arrive until 9:00 this time. No numbers were called all morning. It was quieter than ever; I read another half of a book. Sometime shortly after 11:00, they dismissed us for good - so I didn't even have to blow my day's pay on lunch! And that was it for jury duty.

I happened to mention my jury duty experience to some members of my church choir on Wednesday night. Turns out one of the choir members had jury duty at the same bat-time, same bat-channel. He even remembered seeing someone who looked "just like Robbie F." walking by on his way up to the mezzanine on Monday morning. I never saw him, though. His number got called, but he wasn't picked for the jury and that was it for him. So, it may be a big city, but it's a small world!

IMAGES: Various views of the Civil Courts building in St. Louis. What is the deal with that Greek temple/pagoda thing at the top of the building?

EDIT: A couple years after this, I was called up for jury duty again – same drill. On that occasion, my service as a prospective juror was even briefer. I heard my number called among 30 or 40 others. Our group gathered in a downstairs room where jury panels were sworn in. Instead of swearing us in, the court clerk told us they were releasing us from jury duty and asked us, as we departed through the prospective jurors' waiting room, not to tell anyone we were leaving. I didn't even finish a whole book that time!

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