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June 15th, 2024

Life In The Big City…

This was the view in my front yard just now.

There were two of them, munching away on the ground cover. Bon Appétit! My lawn cutter doesn’t do the front because of the steep hillside. Would you like dressing with that salad? Some croutons maybe?

Life in the big city…who knew?

by Bruce | Link | React!

November 4th, 2023

Crime Happens

So I think I can post about this now, within limits, because the neighbor that experienced this (I refuse to use the word ‘victim’) has posted about it on NextDoor.

Last Thursday night around 9PM a neighbor of mine experienced an attempted carjacking, just up the street from my house. Two “little shits” stopped their car abruptly as my neighbor was walking home, got out, gave him a spiel about their uncle’s car being stolen, asked him to identify his car, then demanded his keys. Some other person came by and scared them off. Of course they were wearing hoodies and masks. They went squealing rubber down Redfern to the dead end(ish) made a U turn and burned it back out. Luckily no cars or pedestrians were hit.

This comes after an event on Edgehill road, about a block away from the house. Day before Halloween I figured something was going on nearby when I heard the city police helicopter hovering and not moving. I’m trying to the the Halloween music set up on the porch and at first I think nothing of it. Then when I see it’s hovering over a particular spot I try to figure out where and it seems to be 41st, so I think, okay, an accident happened. But no. As I walk around the front yard I get a better view of the streets over there and there are police cars and yellow tape all over that block of Edgehill. 

After I saw the police tape taken down I walked over and talked to a few of the people there. Story I got was two cars, one apparently trying to avoid the other. One car’s driver ducks into the neighborhood and on Edgehill turns toward 41st street, only to find the guys pursuing him coming back toward him from 41st street. So he tries to U turn and in the process bangs into a bunch of parked cars, possibly totalling one. The guys in the pursuing car get out, walk over to the other car and one of them fires twice into that car. But apparently they weren’t good enough shots because the target drives away. Then the other two get back into their car and they drive away.

Talking to my neighbors about the attempted carjacking I learn there was an armed robbery at the corner of Redfern and 42nd Street just a day or so previously. The thinking among the neighbors is there is some crew of middle school kids (!) targeting the neighborhood. I’m wondering if there isn’t an adult or a group of adults operating behind the kids.

On Nextdoor there are the usual complaints about crime in the city and By God I’m Leaving This Hell Hole…blah blah woof woof. I was just out for lovely morning coffee walk through the 1950s rows over to the new “Luxury” townhomes and back, and I’m not having it. Brisk autumn sky, colorful trees, everything I could want on a daily basis within a short walk. Everyone does their lawns and gardens in their own way. I meet friendly faces here all the time when I’m out for my morning and afternoon walks. This is a great place to live and I’m not giving it up without a fight.

I’ve ordered new outdoor security cameras for my alarm system, and I’m going to the next Medfield community association meeting and try to get something like either a neighborhood watch or at least more eyes on the streets at night, and maybe more cameras. I hear complaints about the police doing nothing about crime here all the time but they can’t do much if the neighborhood doesn’t give them something to work with.

Maybe don’t call 911 for every little thing that makes you suspicious, but document it. Keep a record of things that strike you as out of place. Maybe it’s nothing, maybe your documentation comes in handy later. Snap some photos if you can without risk. Neighbor across the street from the shooting on Edgehill told me she had security cameras mounted for over a year and just hadn’t bothered to hook them up. Luckily another neighbor had working cameras and gave his video to the police. But…seriously??

People on my street came together over the squatter house, we can do this too. Encourage the “little shits” go somewhere else. This is Our turf.

And anyway…where am I going to live that there’s no crime? Disneyland?


by Bruce | Link | React!

August 9th, 2022

Tricksters Messing With Tricksters

You would think Blue Jays are closely related to Mockingbirds the way they mimic other birds, but they’re a different branch of the things with wings family tree. Corvidae versus Mimidae. They’re more closely related to crows, which makes what just happened outside my den window amusing.

I’m busy working on some pages for my Woodward website; I want to get our art and literary journal, The Inquiry, up. I have all the pages for the 1972 issue scanned already, I just need a web page with the links. So I’m busy hand rolling some html, when I hear a hawk calling right outside my open windows. But no…it’s a blue jay, doing a killer imitation of a hawk.

Fascinated, I watch when I should have been grabbing for my cell phone to record this. What, I wonder, is it hoping to accomplish by scaring the heck out of all the smaller birds in the area. There is, or was, a blue jay nest somewhere nearby…I know this because I could hear the noisy fledglings some weeks ago. Maybe it wants to clear the area around the cat food dishes my neighbor has put out so it can grab a snack. It’s very odd, but a bunch of birds will eat dry cat food just as easily as bird seed. Blackbirds, starlings…I try to tell them they’re cat food too but they don’t listen.

When I finally think to grab my iPhone and get some video of this blue jay mimicking a hawk, at the same time a bunch of crows start complaining there’s a hawk somewhere around here. Caw Caw Caw Caw!!!! Crows and hawks do Not get along, and I don’t think they like blue jays much either, and I’m not sure the crows are actually being fooled. But immediately the jay stops mimicking a hawk goes into alert mode over crows nearby. Jay Jay Jay Jay!!! And it flies off.

As I’m typing this, I can still hear the crows bellyaching about it, but a bit further away. Life in the city…

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 11th, 2018

City Life

Baltimore used to be a lot smaller than it is now. The little neighborhood I live in now was once a collection of small villages nestled outside the city. Hampden, Medfield, the old mills gathered by the Jones Falls river that sprang forth in what was once a settlement delightfully named Happen Chance. Eventually the city extended its borders outward and engulfed them, but the history of this place is visible to anyone with an eye to see and a mind that asks questions. Why does this street curve and bend like it does on its way down to the river? What are these old stone houses in the middle of the block? It should embarrass me that I haven’t explored more of my walking neighborhood than I have. But it takes a boy raised in the suburbs a while to suss out where it’s safe to walk alone in the city, and when.

This afternoon after work I decided to stroll down to the light rail station. But I was divided about whether or not I wanted to actually go anywhere out to the suburbs. It was coming home late after margaritas at Texas Roadhouse or Bar Louie’s I wasn’t interested in, though I like the food and drinks at both places. I took an aimless walk down streets I’d never been down before, that I’d been curious about for quite some time now. And I was rewarded.

There was an old narrow street I’d gazed down many times before while walking back from a night on The Avenue, that went straight down the long grade from Falls Road toward the river. I took a detour and walked its length for the first time, noting the randomness of the houses there. Some were stand alone homes on very narrow plots of land, next to which were one or more blocks of rowhouses. There was a low stone wall embracing a stone drainage gutter that went down into some underground darkness. I wondered if it connected to an original brick and stone drainage tunnel from back before the city borders changed. I turned this and that corner, wandering a section of the neighborhood I’d never walked in before. You could almost point to each block and tell when the houses on it were built. Some looked recent, some like they’d been there since the mills were alive and full of workers making cotton duck for the shipbuilders in Fells Point.

Up ahead of me I saw a block of new construction, new “luxury” townhomes advertised at a starting price of just  under 400k, and took another detour to examine them. I suspect nobody actually gets the just under 400k price once amenities are added on. They are four floors with roof decks and garages in that ugly new style that festoons the front with a confusing collage of different treatments to hide the fact they’re just little boxes. I wondered what the people buying them did for a living to be able to afford the mortgages. Some might say they’re out of place in this old working class Baltimore neighborhood, and yet they aren’t: the neighborhood like a lot of old city neighborhoods is an aggregate of whatever suited the times things were built in. Its history in row after row after Baltimore row with the pages all shuffled randomly. I could turn my head slightly and see a house that was probably built in the 1910s side by side with a 1940s one. A man and his son passed by gazing at the news houses in wonder, the boy telling his dad that he’d been told those houses went for a thousand a month. Oh no dear, at those prices the mortgages are likely to be several thousand a month. 

I took another detour, down another old narrow street that looked like it went all the way down to the river. Along the way I chanced on a restaurant and bar I’d gone looking for when I saw a random flyer for it posted somewhere on The Avenue, but couldn’t find because as it turned out I’d got the street number wrong. It was Chuck’s Trading Post, and the flyer said they served breakfast and lunch, and had a full service bar. The great thing about living here are all the local eating and watering spots and none of it is corporate franchise chain blah blah blah. Well…we do have Starbucks. But then, who doesn’t?

Chuck’s was located in an old building that once served as the local general store it seemed. The entire street was rich with the visible history of the place. Not too much further down was the old Clipper Mill and the Union Mill…now housing upscale industrial style apartments and a couple Very upscale restaurants and coffee shops. Gentrification. And yet Chuck’s immediately struck me as warm and welcoming, despite the vaguely city trendy feel to the inside.

I walked up to the front door just to take a peek inside. I wasn’t interested in coming in at that moment, I was in an exploration mindset. But the people inside immediately began motioning me in. They may have thought I was apprehensive about the two large dogs because when I opened the door the first thing I heard was “They’re friendly”. But so were the humans…

…and for the next hour or so I had a wonderful time chatting away at the bar with the people inside and the young woman working the kitchen behind the bar. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at home in a spot than I did there. You really felt the energy in the place and its people, and yet they and their shop were thoroughly Baltimore and Hampden and unpretentious.

This is what I am coming to absolutely love about city life here in Baltimore. Out of nowhere you find these things and they are just amazing. I’m getting spoiled to it. I may never eat at a chain restaurant again.

Afterward I took another wander down to the road by the river. Here interstate 83 runs elevated along and over the Jones Falls river. I found more local camera candy and at some point when the weather gets warmed I Have to take a camera stroll down those roads. Then back to Casa del Garrett. All within walking distance. I stumbled into an amazingly nice place to live 18 years ago and I’m still discovering how amazing.

by Bruce | Link | React!

February 9th, 2015

How About We Both Share The Road

The cyclists got a new law passed here that requires cars to stay at least three feet away from them while passing. It’s a good and necessary safety measure, but this morning I could see the coming spring downside already. In many city streets cars simply can’t pass a cyclist unless they go into the oncoming lane of traffic. And at least one cyclist I saw on the way to work this morning was taking full advantage of that fact to quite deliberately slow traffic to a crawl. Because I guess, cars are evil things and people who own them in the city deserve it.

I know the mindset, it’s why the Washington D.C. suburbs have a horribly inadequate highway infrastructure. If we don’t build the roads we won’t get the cars the thinking went. So they didn’t build the roads…but they kept on building the offices and shopping centers and condominiums and the cars came anyway. Lots of them. And now the joke is someone gets a flat tire in College Park and it backs up traffic in Tyson’s Corner.

I appreciate that continued reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable. I appreciate that bicycles have to be a big part of the solution, along with walkability, especially in the urban and residential zones where speeds are low to begin with. Mass transit is not a magic pill. Unless we’re talking about putting Disney’s “people movers” everywhere in cities like he had planned for E.P.C.O.T., his prototype city of tomorrow, urban mass transit can’t even come close to solving the problem. But having cyclists and automobiles together on the same pavement is a recipe for accidents, not to mention road rage. They need to be kept physically separated and for all the same reasons as automobiles and pedestrians need to be kept apart. It’s the simple physics of it. But at least pedestrians in the city have sidewalks. Many city streets simply aren’t wide enough to support a dedicated bicycle lane. I see those “share the road” signs everywhere now, but someone peddling along at 7 miles per hour in a twenty-five mile per hour zone and nobody can get past isn’t sharing the road, they are appropriating it.

I don’t know the answer. But I know this because I’ve seen it over and over: Americans are never more obnoxious than when we get started on moral crusades. At least consider letting traffic go by if you’ve got a bunch of it backed up behind you and you can’t peddle any faster than 30 percent of the posted speed limit. You’re not making the drivers any more likely to reconsider owning a car by bottling them up behind you. Most of them probably live in the suburbs and can’t do without a car.  You are not making them any more likely to reconsider commuting from the suburbs either.  In the current economy you go wherever the job you were lucky enough to have is. You are not making them any more likely to consider relocating to the city. You want to do that, improve the fucking schools and crime rates. Trust me, I love my city life and I have tried often to talk my co-workers into it.  And always what I hear back is yes, But…schools…crime.

God how I would love for the cities to undergo a big fat urban renaissance.  It’s so lovely…you can walk to your job, and to the grocery store and nice restaurants and bars and if you decide to go out drinking it’s no problem for the highways because you just walk back home and everyone stays safe.  I have just about everything I need within walking distance of Casa del Garrett and I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for the suburban life I grew up in for anything. Every day I am out and about in my neighborhood I find myself thinking, This is the life! I But transforming American commuting habits isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take decades and in the meantime you have to let the cars use the city streets.

Understand this if you understand nothing else: You are not saving the planet by slowing traffic down. You are keeping those fossil fuel burning engines burning those ancient forests for longer periods of time where they are least efficient. Show your concern for planet earth get off your high horse if not your bicycle and let the damn traffic get by you from time to time.

Or not. I don’t care. I normally walk anyway (and get treated like shit by both drivers and cyclists from time to time) and even if I’m driving in to work, because of the weather or I have cargo I need to transport, it’s only a mile away from my house and if you got off the bike and walked in front of my car I would still get there at the speed of walking. But I’m an outlier in the traffic bottleneck behind you. Most of those commuters probably just got off I-83. You are making them furious, and furious people do stupid things and I don’t want to have to see it when it happens.


Yes, as a pedestrian most of the time in my neighborhood, I am well aware drivers can be complete assholes too. I was reminded of that fact just today as I was leaving work, when I saw a co-worker almost get run over by a driver who just blew through a crosswalk like it was a mere suggestion. The road in front of the Space Telescope Science Institute building where I work, San Martin Drive, is within the campus of Johns Hopkins University and there are signs all over the place telling drivers to be aware of the students. Students jog that road all the time…it’s a nice road that borders Wyman Park on the other side. It has several blind curves and you can hit someone if you’re not careful. And there are raised crosswalks periodically along the road to give pedestrians some safety and to slow traffic the f*ck down since it’s a 25mph speed limit there. They have these little signs posted in the middle of the crosswalk telling drivers pedestrians have the right of way and if one is in that crosswalk you have to stop.

This lady apparently thought that was optional. She almost hit my co-worker who was In The Crosswalk (I saw it happen) and if that wasn’t enough, rolled her window down and shouted at him to get off the road. Most drivers in my experience will stop for you, but there are assholes everywhere.

Some days I think instead of telling people to Share The Road what’s needed are signs saying Don’t Be A Dick


by Bruce | Link | React!

November 5th, 2012

(sigh)…Cats! (continued…)

So this morning before leaving for work I see one of the bird feeders needs topping off and as I bring it down off the tree I see the calico watching me from under my car.   She’s seen me get into and out of it often enough now to have associated it with me and I guess that makes under my car a safe space.   Fine.   But now she’s staring at me as I’m bringing down the bird feeder and next thing I know up the stairs she’s coming and I can see where this is going: she wants fed in the morning too.

I thought we had a routine going; she gets food from me but only in the afternoon.   I am the afternoon meal.   You’re feral lady, you don’t want human companionship.   You’re on your own for the rest of the day.   That’s the bargain, right?   But of course the bargain is whatever the cat wants it to be.

by Bruce | Link | React!

November 3rd, 2012


She’s an adorable little calico and she’s feral so she won’t let anyone get too close.   But for several years now she’s been lurking around my street and occasionally visiting Casa del Garrett, to check the menu around the bird feeders, and every now and then catching something.   I keep the feeders well off the ground, in part to keep city rats from getting into them and in part to keep little calico cats away from the customers, though I suppose she, and the occasional hawk, also consider themselves that.   I’d rather she left my birds alone.   But she is the most amazing hunter I’ve ever seen and part of me respects professionalism in every endeavor.

And bravery.   I watched one day as she stalked up to the edge of a fenced in yard that usually contains two very large dogs. She would have been a bite sized snack for either one but cat sense must be far superior to spider sense as she seemed to know even though she could not see the entire yard from street level that the dogs weren’t in there.   But a small flock of birds was, feeding on some seed that had been put out. I watched her suddenly leap over the fence, run up the hill, run back down and back over the fence and across the street with a small bird in her mouth. It happened that quick.   Another time I was serenely watching the birds at my feeders from just inside my front door and she suddenly leaped over the top step (where you see her sitting in that photo) and tried to snag one of the birds that were inadvisedly ground feeding there.   What caught my attention was when she made her sudden leap her front claws were striking in the air above the sidewalk, not where the birds were, but where she knew they would be.   That time she missed but was close…one of those birds must have felt the whiff of air as a claw passed by.   I have seen the occasional feathery left overs scattered around my walkway.   Usually it was a pigeon.   She can have all of those she wants.

In a heartbeat I’d take her in, but as I said she’s feral and those cats will never accept human companionship. But somebody has been watching out for her because her coat is usually very clean and well kept and one ear is clipped (you can barely see it in this photo) which means at some point someone scooped her up and took her to the vet to be spayed and given her shots). I’m guessing the city doesn’t mind at least some feral cats prowling about, provided they’ve been spayed/neutered and topped off with anti-rabies, as they’ll help keep the rodent population in check.   And at least until recently someone must have been feeding her.   Good as she is hunting, I don’t think that’s enough to account for the her overall good condition. Most ferals I’ve seen looked pretty tattered.   He coat is always shiny and clean.   Or at least it was until recently.

In the weeks before Sandy hit I noticed she seemed a bit…disheveled.   Her coat had started to look a bit…worn.   And she seemed tired all the time.   She’s been around the neighborhood for some years now and I thought perhaps age was beginning to set in.   Or maybe one of the other ferals around here had bullied her out of her place wherever she was getting food and shelter.   Or maybe the crazy older lady everyone in the neighborhood suspects is feeding the strays had stopped for some reason.   I hadn’t seen the woman around her house for a while.   She’s easy to spot when she goes for her walks.   She’s the one who always wears a heavy winter coat when she goes for her walks, even in a brutal heat wave.   She has family that stops by regularly and I began to wonder if maybe they’d finally taken her away.

So I began to worry about the little calico.   Then Sandy barreled in.   During the worst of the storm I caught a glimpse of the calico huddled in the basement window sill and I felt frustrated I couldn’t just bring her inside.   But any move I might have made toward her just then she would have bolted into the storm which would have only made matters worse.   So I let her be, afraid the next morning I’d find a little dead kitty in front of my basement window.   But somehow she survived it.   Maybe she moved on to wherever it is she normally beds down for the night.   There are crawl spaces under some of the houses, and somewhere under one of those maybe there would be shelter and heat.   I have no idea.   All I know is after the hurricane she was gone, but later the next day she showed up again.   And the next day I did something I swore I wouldn’t.   I put some food out for her.   I knew the moment I did that I was making a commitment I wasn’t sure I wanted to be making. But I did it.   It was the sight of her huddled wet in the basement window sill and I couldn’t do anything but hope she wasn’t going to die of exposure.

A couple days later after work I got a distinctively colored and shaped bowl out of my kitchen cabinets and put it on the basement window sill where I’d seen her during the hurricane.   It had one of the cans of tuna from my winter pantry.   I had about a half dozen of them I knew I wasn’t going to finish by the sell by dates on them, so I figured they weren’t going to waste if I gave them to the cat.   The next morning I saw the bowl had been eaten from, and I hoped it was her and not a city rat that got into it.   I brought it inside and cleaned it out.   I had a plan.

The next day when I came home from work she was there on my front steps.   The front steps are one of her usual perches where she stalks my birds.   I spoke to her and she moved away, but not too far.   I went inside, got the bowl out, put another can of tuna in it and walked outside to where she could see me.   When she saw the bowl her face lit up.   There was a reason I picked that particular oddly shaped and colored bowl.   Seeing me holding it she could make a connection between it and me.   I put it down on the basement window sill, and nearby on the front porch, a smaller bowl of water.   Then I went inside, walked down to my basement art room and peeked under the curtain in front of the basement window.   There she was, eating.   When she was done, she moved away and I came back upstairs and took the bowl back inside.   I don’t want to be feeding all the neighborhood cats, let alone the city rats.   Just her.

A few minutes later I walked back outside.   It was Halloween night and I wanted to put up some decorations and attract some goblins.   As I was stringing some lights on the front steps rail, she came out from under one of the cars parked on the street, walked closer to me on the sidewalk then she ever did, still well out of arm’s reach…sat down…and stared right at me for a time, never taking her eyes off me, like she was sizing me up.   For a good five minutes she did that, as I tried talking a calming patter to her while I was stringing lights.   Then she seemed to shrug, and walked away.   The next day, promptly after work, she was sitting on my front steps, waiting.

So now we have a routine going.   And her coat is looking nicer again and she seems to have more energy.   I have no idea if that’s me or her other source of food is back online too.   But it’s good to see.   I’m too single to have a pet and this is in many ways an ironic echo of the story of my life.   It seems no matter who I take a fondness to I always get kept at arm’s length.   So in a way this is a relationship I’m used to.   But she’s lived on the city streets for years now, and the other side of that coin is I probably don’t have to worry about her too much if I go away for a while.   I might be able to talk one of my other neighbors into putting some food out for her while I’m gone.

The other day I bought some nice stainless steal cat bowls, one for water and one for food.   And some cat food.   Today she ate from both.   She actually seemed to like the cat food better then the human food.   And thus Bruce, walking the stations of life, steps into that crazy old man who feeds stray cats stage.   Oh well.   I guess I don’t mind.

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 3rd, 2011

Jury Duty – Rounding Up The Herd

If like me you are a child of the suburbs, then probably the first thing you notice about big city government buildings is how old they are.   Also, everyone back in the old days seemed to think fake Roman columns add some sort of necessary gravitas.

The courthouse in Rockville I entered during my first two terms of jury duty was a very modern structure, all flat exterior walls, sharp corners, stainless steel and tempered glass.   The Baltimore City courthouse I walk into my first morning is marble and concrete and its steps are worn.   Its doors are huge dark wooden slabs.   Placed in front of them is a statue of a man I assume is some colonial Maryland personage.    I glance at the plaque and learn it’s the second Baron of Baltimore, Cecil Calvert, founder of the colony of Maryland

George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore, applied to Charles I for a royal charter for what was to become the Province of Maryland. After Calvert died in April 1632, the charter for “Maryland Colony” (in Latin Terra Mariae) was granted to his son, Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, on June 20, 1632. Some historians viewed this as compensation for his father’s having been stripped of his title of Secretary of State in 1625 after announcing his Roman Catholicism.

The colony was named in honor of Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I.[5] The specific name given in the charter was phrased Terra Mariae, anglice, Maryland. The English name was preferred due to undesired associations of Mariae with the Spanish Jesuit Juan de Mariana, linked to the Inquisition.

As I go inside I glance back at Cecil.  From behind he looks vaguely like the character dressed up as Guy Fawkes in V For Vendetta.

There is a line going through the security checkpoint, and a sign pointing to a separate pathway to it for the jurors.   At eight o:clock in the morning that line is already long. I get behind an elderly woman and she and I begin to chat casually with each other and folks in the line nearby.  She tells us she’s just a few months away from her seventieth birthday and so this will be her last tour of jury duty.  It’ll be a relief she says, because she gets a summons about once every year. The others nod and tell similar stories. I tell them I’ve been living in the city for ten years and this is my first summons and they all look at me in bewilderment.

How’d you manage that…?

Forms are passed out for each of us to fill in.  It is the usual information…name, address, occupation, and a series of checkboxes: Have you ever been convicted of a crime where the penalty was more then six months in prison?  Are any of your close family members employed in law enforcement?  Are you currently a resident of the city of Baltimore?  And so on…

Eventually it’s my turn at the security checkpoint.  It’s a sad statement of the times we live in, but going to Disney World so often in the past several years has taught me the drill by heart.   I hand my backpack over, opening all its pockets.  Then I empty my own pockets of change and keys, place glasses, watch and cell phone in the tray.   Then I walk slowly through the metal detector.   Disney at least does not have metal detectors…for now.  Or if they do the imagineers have blended them  invisibly  into the  scenery.  I fetch back my things and follow the signs down a hall to the jury room.

I take a seat in the front, where I can stretch my legs out, and start getting comfortable.   I am expecting a long, long wait.   I see several big flat screen TVs on the wall in front of us and cringe inwardly.  If I have to just sit and  twiddle  my thumbs all day long I can do that, but I will go stark raving mad if I have to watch one or two hours of daytime television. Hopefully I can just plug my iPhone headset in, tune the TVs out with some music, and read.  I pull out my iPad and use it as a table top while filling out the form I was handed in line.  Then I check the weather.  I want to explore the city with my camera for a bit during the lunch break.

I am sitting next to the elderly lady I spoke with earlier in the security checkpoint line and we chat some more.   She is a single divorced mother of three children that she’s put through school entirely by herself.   I tell her about my own mother who did the same for me. We warm to each other.

The jury  commissioner  comes into the room and gives us a short talk about what to expect and what rules we need to know throughout our wait.  If you need to leave the room to go outside for a breath of air (or a smoke) tell the desk clerk your number and where you are going. If your number is called and you aren’t here we won’t go searching for you. If you don’t show up where you’re supposed to you will be marked as absent and a “show cause” order will be sent to you.  She asks for a show of hands of everyone who is here for the first time, and is please to see so many of us.  She says the commissioner’s office is working on getting juror lists updated so as to spread jury duty out among the population more equitably.  I’m guessing from the stories I’ve been hearing so far that the rolls might not have been updated for at least a decade for some reason.

She leaves the room and a voice on the loudspeakers gives us instructions to line up according to our juror numbers (which were printed on the summons we each got in the mail), to sign in, turn in our forms, and get our fifteen dollars juror pay.  We are called up in groups of one-hundred.  Jurors 1 through 99…then jurors 100 through 199…and so on.  The line snakes around the room and passes directly in front of me.  We area a highly diverse group of people.  Young, old, middle and working class, black, white.  A beautiful young man wearing nicely fitting low rise jeans, pink chucks, a light shirt and  denim  jacket passes in front of me, long blond hair wrapped into a bun held in place with a clip.  I try to catch his eye and smile, he walks on by without  acknowledgement, and the  loneliness  that never strays very far from my side lightly taps me on the shoulder.

The flatscreen TVs come to life and a video about what to expect if you are seated on a jury is played.  Even though I do not expect to actually sit in a jury box, I pay careful attention to it.  There is a difference between what you see on TV and in the movies, and what actually is.  Most of what this video tells me I pretty much already know, but I am impressed by the emphasis placed on individual conscience when evaluating testimony and evidence.  You should discuss your case with your fellow jurors the voiceover tells me, but never allow the judgment of others to  supersede  your own.  This is said several times in calm, measured assurance that it is not simply the right thing to do, but that it is your duty.  It actually lifts my spirits to hear this said in such a matter-of-fact, almost boilerplate kind of way.

Jurors 500 through 599 are called.  I am juror 508.  I  walk up to the register’s desk, check in and hand over my form.  Then I am directed to a pay clerk desk where I am again asked my juror number, told to sign by my name on a printout sheet, and then handed three five dollar bills and a stick on JUROR badge with my number written in the upper right hand corner.  So many people in line with me, and sitting in the chairs around me, wearing the same utterly bored expressions.  But this is the daily routine of the court clerks.  I wonder if they even see our faces.

I sit back down and almost at once a voice over the PA announces that a judge has called for a jury.  Jurors number 1 though 299 are asked to assemble in the lobby, there to be led as a group to a courtroom across the street.  About two minutes later another announcement calls for jurors 300 through 699.

Well…at least this time I’m actually going to get into a courtroom…

I gather my things and say goodbye to the elderly lady next to me.  She gives me a warm “God bless”.  Then I walk back to the lobby and a large group of us are led out of the courthouse to another one just across the street.  We go past the security checkpoint and are led upstairs into a courtroom.

We pass from the outer halls with various knots of people talking among themselves and into a place of hushed stillness, and for  a moment it feels as if I have been led into a church. There are rows of dark wooden pews facing toward a judge’s bench and attorney’s tables.  All that’s needed I think to myself, are the slots for the hymnals, communion glasses and those little cards you can drop into the collection plate if you’re a visitor.  The room looks as though recently remodeled, with new wooden paneling on the walls and an updated bench and jury box.  Yet somehow the room itself feels very old.  I make a bee line for some empty seats in the front row and sit down where I can see everything going on around the bench.

A moment ago I was part of a gathering of about a thousand people, give or take some who didn’t show up that morning.  Now I am one of about four hundred, again give or take some.  I look around.  We fill this courtroom to the brim.  I know what’s coming next and I wonder if this is the usual starting out size, or if the judge expects a lot of us to be excused or challenged before seating the jury even begins.  My number places me about in the middle of this group and I figure they’ll get their twelve long before they ever get to me.

Since this is To Be Continued, you already have a good idea how that went…

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 1st, 2011

Jury Duty

It begins with a little slip of paper, delivered to you by the neighborhood post person…

Greetings, from the President of the United States…

Er…  Okay, I never actually got that little slip of paper.  It was this one…

You are hereby summoned to appear in room 240 courthouse west. St. Paul and Lexington Sts. on Thurs, November 17, 2011 at 8:00 AM to serve as petit juror.

I’d only been summoned to jury duty twice before in my life, both times back when I lived in Rockville.  The first time I was part of a large jury pool that had simply been dismissed after lunch, when it was announced that all the jurors needed for that day has already been selected.  The second time I actually made it inside a court room for the selection process, but they got their twelve before my number was called, and the rest of us were excused.

If you’ve never been to jury duty, at least here in Maryland there is a method to the process.  It is one day or one trial and the night before, you either call a number printed on your summons or you go to a web site and you look to see if your juror number, also printed on the summons, was called.  My number was 508.  I figured I had a 50-50 chance of not even having to go downtown.  But the evening before my  scheduled  date when I checked,  I found that jurors number 1 through 999 had been called up.

They want a thousand of us tomorrow…

Ten years I have lived in Casa del Garrett, my little rowhouse here in the city of Baltimore, and I had not once been summoned to jury duty.  Now here it was.  I am not one of those who bellyache about jury duty.  Apart from voting, jury duty is one of the purest acts of democracy there is.  The state cannot deprive a citizen of their liberty without due process, and not until it can convince twelve common citizens that one of their own is guilty of a crime.  That is as revolutionary as it gets.  You can say it’s a democratic responsibility, you can say it’s a civic duty, I say it is something we should be grateful for.  If the blood of so terribly many Americans was shed defending anything, it is this.  And the ballot.  Jury duty is the cost of that liberty and justice for all thing.

So…my number is called.  Fine.  The next morning I get up super early (for me) and pack a couple sandwiches, a bottle of ice tea, some books and some magazines.  I check to see if computers all allowed and they are, so I also pack my iPad. The iPhone also comes along.  I figure actually using the cell phone functionality won’t be allowed, but listening to music and checking Facebook, Twitter and Google News would be okay.  Also I pack a 35mm camera, the Nikon F2 I bought recently, its 24mm lens and some extra rolls of Tri-X.  I knew cameras wouldn’t be allowed in the courthouse, but  I have lived in this city ten years now and still haven’t explored the downtown area very much, so I figure at the lunch break I would wander around for a bit with the Nikon.

I double-check the location of the city courthouse on Google Maps, and plot a course.  At 7AM I hit the road to get downtown before traffic on I-83 gets bad.  At that time of morning traffic flows easily into the city, and I find a good parking spot on the first floor of the Mercy Hospital public parking garage, just around the corner from the city courthouse.

I pull the camera and film out of my backpack and leave them in the trunk.  Then I swing the backpack on and walk outside.  It is chilly but sunny as I walk toward the courthouse.  The sidewalks are full of other pedestrians; it seems the city had already woken up some hours before.  I am in the middle of downtown Baltimore, the tall buildings driving home something I keep forgetting, living as I do in my quiet rowhouse neighborhood close to the university:  I live in the big city.  I gawk like a tourist at the skyscrapers surrounding me…old and ornate brick and concrete next to gleaming new steel and glass.  It is early morning and their top floors glare down at me in bright morning sunlight that hasn’t as yet found the streets.  Down here it is all shadow and early morning coldness and traffic noise that echoes off the concrete walls.  Everyone is busy going somewhere.  I walk along with them, watching as they  navigate  the crosswalks, figuring they’d know the traffic flow here better then I could guess it.  I make mental notes of the stores and eateries I see along the way.

I enter the courthouse.  I know the drill…walk in, show my summons, go through security, find the jury pool room, take a seat and wait for instructions.  Probably I’ll have some forms to fill out.  I am pretty sure it will end up being the same experience I’d had before back in Rockville: a lot of sitting down and waiting…maybe get led into a courtroom…and then ultimately being sent home.

It wasn’t.

[To be continued…]

by Bruce | Link | React!

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