Jury duty, one of the most predictably unpredictable parts of U.S. citizenship. I have been more fortunate than some, every time I have been summoned I have worked for a company that paid me for the time. I was chosen for a jury once. We were told we would be deliberating on the amount of damages to be paid. In the jury room we introduced ourselves to one another. There seemed to be a consensus that, when the time came, I would be the top candidate for jury foreman. Despite my lilliputian stature I suppose, at least that day, I possessed a commanding presence. The judge had warned one of the people involved in the case that if they appeared late one more time the case would be dropped. They were late, we were released and I found myself with the majority of the afternoon free to do with as I pleased.
It was Valentine's day. January and February had been unseasonably mild. I boarded the bus and headed downtown where I would connect to a bus headed southwest to the courthouse. The ride along Michigan Avenue during rush hour reminded me of what I missed working in the suburbs the last 4 years. Namely, people, everywhere, all shapes, ages and sizes. Often in the suburbs I am the only person on the street. There I dodge cars, their inhabitants seemingly amazed that I am walking and therefore in their way. I transfer and head west. A line of beautiful, classic, art deco buildings line the Chicago river as it splits north and south. Further out venerable warehouses have been converted to apartments. As I traveled still further out industrial areas mixed with neighborhoods of turn of the 20th century row houses. steps leading up to their front doors. The streets seem spare, less lush and tree shaded than those in my lakefront home turf. The courthouse comes into view. It is unmistakable a courthouse. A mash up of Greek and Roman influences. Columns rise up the facade, the space under some windows decorated with bas reliefs of swags and flower baskets. The cornerstone reads 1927. Next to it sits a nondescript late midcentury building. This is where the trials are held and the jurors check in.
In an attempt to keep our country safe I encounter chaos. Too many people, too few employees, metal detectors and x ray machines. The frazzled civil servants shout instructions above the din. I set off the metal detector and am patted down, including my ass, the first time that portion of my anatomy has been checked in an official government manner, even by the most through TSA employee while entering an airport terminal. Directional signs are non existent but I somehow manage to find my way to the third floor and a somewhat less chaotic check in line.
The jury holding room is a space of dropped ceilings with fluorescent lighting, bare walls and tattered furniture. Although the jury cattle pen is only on the third floor it does afford, over the parking lot across the street, through ample windows I was grateful for, a splendid view of Chicago's elegant yet muscular skyline.
I begin to read the collection of science fiction short stories I plucked from my bookshelves before I left home. I read, wrote, texted and generally whiled away my time. By early afternoon we were told that they had overbooked jurors for that day and we were free to go. I walked out into the bright afternoon sunshine and got on the bus knowing that I was free of this civic obligation, at least for the next 12 months.