Jury Duty

I was excited to be summoned to jury duty.

Most people don’t say that. It’s a pain in the butt. There’s no fame or fortune linked to it. The $9 a day isn’t enough to pay for parking, let alone lunch, in downtown Pittsburgh.

I’m an old reporter and I thought it would be exciting to be in court again.

And the irony wasn’t lost on me when I took an oath to be impartial in listening to evidence senators acting as the jury in President Trump’s impeachment trial were being asked to do the same.

Allegheny County’s criminal courts are in a beautiful ancient Romanesque building centered around a courtyard and linked to the old county jail by a bridge my mother called the “Bridge of Sighs,” when she worked there as a nurse in the 1970s.

Entering the courthouse is like going into a dungeon. All dark with old signs that haven’t changed since the 1930s.

The jury room is up several floors in a big courtroom.

We jurors entered the room like we were entering a church for a funeral, except there was paperwork involved. No one spoke to each other and if you did it was quietly, respectfully. Except for the girl behind me complaining that this was her fourth time in two years she’d been summoned.

Paperwork  signed, vouchers handed out, we awaited our fate. It’s a roll of the dice. One day or one trial.

Courts in New York state where I worked for 30 years are very simple, there’s no romance to it.

The court clerk begins the session saying “All rise. This court is in session the Honorable XYZ presiding.”  Blah, and business begins.

Pennsylvania is a commonwealth, a more English definition of government.

“All rise,” sang out the court clerk. “The Court of Common Pleas is now in session. The Honorable Judge Edward Kozlowski presiding. All those with business before the court draw near and be heard. God bless the court and God bless the Commonwealth.”

The judge sat down. Then we sat down.

The judge explained what was expected of us and left. I read one of four magazines I brought with me. (I  knew it was going to be a long day.) I could see a woman in front of me knitting. (Man, why didn’t I bring mine along.)

The young man next to me looked bored. I handed him a magazine. He told me he was worried about his job working in a warehouse. He earned about $15 an hour and he wasn’t sure his bosses would pay him for the time off if he got picked to be on a jury. Nine bucks a day in jury pay wasn’t going to cover him.

About 15 minutes in they called the first 20 of us to a separate room for jury selection. I was juror 20. We filed into a room where two defendants and their defense teams and prosecutors looked us over.

This was jury selection for a big trial. The clerk read the charges. The two were accused of a mass murder that killed five people and an unborn child at a backyard barbecue.

I vaguely remembered something about it. We weren’t living in Pittsburgh when the shooting took place in 2016. It was obvious everyone else in the room knew exactly what case we were being asked to sit on. https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/after-4-years-wilkinsburg-mass-shooting-case-comes-down-to-3-week-trial/

The clerk handed out a four-page single spaced witness list that had more than 100 names on it. It looked like cops in three municipalities would testify.

The judge warned us we would be asked to serve 10 to 15 days on the jury.

The judge, defense and prosecutors left the room. They called the first juror for questioning. Fifteen minutes later they called the next juror, the young man I’d been chatting with.

We waited some more. I fidgeted. I had a blood test and treatment scheduled for next week. I flagged down the clerk as she collected the witness list.

I’d be more than happy to serve on the jury, I told her. But I have stage 4 cancer and treatment next week. If you could tell me when the court’s day normally ends, I could call and reschedule them to later in the day?

She patted my hand. There’s no problem. They won’t let you miss your treatments, she said.

A little while later they sent us out to lunch with orders not to go to the courthouse’s fourth floor and not to say anything to anyone about the trial.  We wandered out, smokers lighting up when they hit the sidewalk.

An hour later, we were back in the room looking out at downtown through the big windows and trying to figure out how to pass the time.

The clerk returned. Turns out they only needed two more jurors. You’re free to go. Thanks for your time. Your check will be in the mail.

The chatty young man had never returned to our room.

The trial lasted almost three weeks. The charges against one defendant were dropped the day the trial began and the jury acquitted the second. It’s a big scandal. People want justice.

I wonder if the chatty young man still has a job.

We’re grounded

20181217_101051That’s right.

Joe and I will be spending our winter in Pittsburgh. Not a bad place to be, but not the sunny Texas gulf shores we had planned on.

Here’s how we got here.

After being on his feet for more than 30 years are as a retail manager and then a teacher, Joe has varicose veins.  This fall they started acting up while we were on the beach in North Carolina. He went to a doc in the box who recommended he visit a vein clinic.

He put it off. We were already scheduled to spend three weeks in Pittsburgh around the holidays where we had doctor appointments scheduled.

The doc at the Pittsburgh vein clinic evaluated Joe’s legs and recommended an out patient procedure. He could do it and Joe would be good to go in a week. But, that old ugly insurance raised its head.

The insurance company wants Joe to wear compression stockings for 12 weeks before it will even consider the surgery.  And the doc said the clotting in Joe’s legs is so severe he doesn’t want him to drive long hours.

That means we’re grounded, in a campground, in Pennsylvania, in the winter.

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We could skirt the camper with sliver insulating panels and buy lots of propane. I could wrap my self in throws and sit in the dark with the shades pulled to keep warm.

I mean, we could do it. But I wouldn’t be happy.

Joe’s mantra has always been “Happy wife, happy life.”

So we began looking for a short-term rental apartment, an expensive proposition. We found one in the city, near a park and children’s museum. It had a gym and  dog park. It would even take Nikki and Pocket, for a fee.

We put down a deposit and paid an application fee. Then the nice young rental agent wanted a picture of the dog, for the insurance company. The complex restricts dogs. They don’t accept “lock jaw dogs,” like pitbulls.

Nikki is a lab mix rescued from the pound. She has blue eyes, which makes us think she has some husky in her. She’s also 13 years old, sleeps a lot and is such a scaredy cat she runs when you jangle your keys.

nikki

 

The insurance company wanted us to guarantee her breed. There was a lot of faxing and phone calls back and forth with the vet. Bottom line, no one can tell you what the mix is and we’re out of an apartment.

Plan B.

Luckily, my son-in-law is part of a co-working space co-op called Work Hard Pittsburgh, which has an apartment above its space. The tenant is scheduled to move out Jan. 1. The co-op has kindly allowed us to rent the apartment for a short time and they don’t care what kind of dog we have.

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We’re three minutes away from my daughter, who has gym equipment and a washer- dryer in her house. There’s a park near by. And my cousins have graciously said they will allow us to park the motor home on their horse farm.

So, Jan. 1 we move in above an old hardware store. We’re reliving college. We don’t have a bed, a couch, a table or a lamp. We’re buying a futon and borrowing the rest.

We’ll be warm and close to family. If you have to be grounded, there’s no place I’d rather be than Pittsburgh.

Happy wife, happy life.

 

 

 

Lincoln, Starry Night and Route 66

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We took a wrong turn in Pontiac, Illinois and ended up viewing art work worthy of public art in New York, Chicago or Philadelphia.

The three tall metal sculptures called “Seasons of Life” were located in a playground in this small city in Central Illinois. They depict three eras of life: childhood, young adulthood and old age. We wouldn’t have seen them if we hadn’t stayed in Pontiac for three weeks.

We were in Pontiac to work with NOMADS, a Methodist mission group that travels around the country rebuilding churches and camps or doing disaster relief. We were in Pontiac to repaint a senior citizen’s facility.

That’s one of the things I like about our new lifestyle. We travel to new places and stay long enough to get to know a community with all its little quirks.

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I doubt there are many places like Pontiac, a city of just 13,000. You reach it either by driving on Interstate 55 or on two-lane roads stretching for miles through corn and soybean fields, which is what we did. Two-lanes give you a real feeling for just how far out there the middle of America is.

The city doesn’t look like much. There’s a Caterpillar plant and the county court house, a couple of restaurants. But this little place supports four museums, all free, plus several house museums. That’s a lot of museums for a small town. There’s even a free trolley to take you around, but really it’s so small you could probably walk it.

Route 66, in all its forms, runs through Pontiac, and the town capitalizes on it big time.

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It hosts a Route 66 Museum and Hall of Fame, a Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum and Resource Center and The Bob Waldmire Experience (celebrating a man who traveled Route 66 handing out literature).

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The Livingston County War Museum and the Life in the 1940s Exhibit are in the same building.  I was drawn to the dozens of newspapers from around the world that showed the run up to Pearl Harbor and its aftermath. And for some odd reason there is a recreation of an old radio station.

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The city also hosts a Museum of Gilding Arts, which is the art of pounding gold or silver into into extremely thin sheets that are used for decorating.

The city boasts Murals on Main Street where people have also installed kiddie cars painted to look like Transformers, Lincoln and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

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We walked part of the Lincoln Trail,  which goes from the courthouse where the president practiced law as a young attorney to the house were he stayed for two weeks after a snow storm stopped the trains from running and kept him from returning to Springfield, Illinois.

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And we walked across one of the three antique swinging bridges across the Vermilion River that used to bring workers from their homes on one side of the city to jobs on the other.

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Then on the last day a wrong turn took us to the Seasons of Life Statues, public art worthy of the Met in a playground.

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What odd things have you found on your travels?