Monday, March 15, 2010

Fury Duty, Part 1

  None of us, of course, are ever completely thrilled when we receive a jury summons in the mail. Even those people who rightly consider jury duty to be a responsibility that you should embrace (and I do), there’s still that sinking feeling when you flip past the electric bill and the exuberant credit card offer to find the official letter with the county seal.

  I got that sinking feeling a few weeks ago. And this morning I carried out my civic duty. Which means, of course, that it ends up in the blog. You latch on to material whenever you can find it, right? And what could be more interesting and fun than a running commentary on governmental action? (Perhaps you don’t need to answer that, just keep reading.)

  I’ve had my fair share of experiences passing judgment on my supposed peers, including a few cases where we ended up (gulp) actually sending someone away to prison for an extended visit. Despite the strength in your belief of the defendant’s guilt, there’s still an odd aftertaste when you make a decision that so strongly affects another person’s life.

  This particular session, however, proved to be a little different from my previous frolics in the court system pool. For one, this was a summons to “Municipal Court”, rather than the “Criminal Court” flavor I had tasted in the past. Frankly, I had no idea what the difference entailed. Somewhere, my junior high Civics teacher is shaking his head in shame. (I’m sorry, Mr. Gatewood. It’s just that there’s been a lot of beer consumed since my over-achieving days as an eager student. Things happen.)

  Adding to the Municipal mystery was the realization that I was expected to report for duty at a building that I did not recognize at an address that was not familiar. So I get online for some research, and find that I will be reporting to a structure smack in the middle of downtown Dallas.

  I quietly groaned.

  For those of you unfamiliar with this beast, one does not just go wondering into the heart of urban Dallas without some kind of plan. It’s a crazy place, what with all the one-way streets that do not run in straight lines, instead wandering all over the map, presumably the result of somebody pouring asphalt on top of ancient cattle trails that made sense to livestock but not actual people.

  Then there’s the particular flavor of the area, a sensation that is not necessarily unique to Dallas since I’m sure the same thing has happened or is happening to any number of large cities across the nation. Downtown Dallas went through some hard times, with many big companies fleeing for the suburbs, once-stately buildings falling into disrepair, and a growing avoidance of downtown by well-mannered people who did not wish to endure the striking image of bums peeing in the streets.

  But after years of hard work by well-intentioned leaders and average citizens, downtown Dallas is making a very respectable comeback. There are actually many sections that have been deemed hip and trendy, with condos in fabulously-restored buildings selling for outrageous amounts and upscale eateries throwing open their ornate doors.

  There are still some rough spots, questionable areas that are not only dirty but potentially dangerous. Which is why you have to pay attention to where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there. I cannot stress this enough. It is critical to your survival, or at least to your arriving at the new sushi joint without a distracting mugging as an appetizer.

One minute you can be rolling down a very pleasant thoroughfare, with intriguing shops and fascinating architecture and clean-smelling people. The very next minute, after an ill-advised turn, you may find yourself on a crumbling street lined with crack-houses, poorly-trained prostitutes, and rude people who yell, throw things about, and aggressively solicit donations to questionable charities, namely themselves. Not an appealing scene, unless you’re Quentin Tarantino, scouting location shots for his next movie, “Carnage with an Attitude”.

  So after reviewing the online maps and realizing that my jury-duty destination was in an area where available parking might be in short supply, I decided to take the DART Rail to the stop nearest the courthouse, and then hoof it along what looked to be four blocks. I vaguely recognized some of the streets as being part of the theater district. Great. Surely there would be a pack of queens that would protect one of their own should trouble arise. I could now submit my flight plans and prepare for departure.

  Early this morning, I reported to the nearest DART rail station. Luckily, this is only a short distance from our house. As I pulled into the parking lot, I wondered for the hundredth time why we don’t use the rail system more often. The station is close, the rail lines are fairly extensive with a surprising number of strategic stops, and the rail cars are generally well-kept. And it’s cheaper than driving.

  It did not take me long to remember why we avoid the trains, instead choosing to remain in our personal vehicles, sealed off from humanity and polluting the environment.

  It’s the people on the trains, not the trains themselves. These folks are annoying, especially since they’ve got to realize just how annoying they are, and yet they continue with the annoyance anyway. They seem intent on ratcheting the Irritation Factor into the stratosphere,  hell-bent on some personal, demonic need to piss of the entire planet with their very existence.

  Then again, perhaps these miserable excuses for human beings really don’t understand the unattractiveness of their words and actions. I suppose that’s possible. Maybe they were raised by wolves, somehow, despite the amazing depletion in wildlife in our country after a couple of morally-reprehensible reigns by Secretaries of the Interior, hired despite dubious qualifications, who then proceeded to destroy the very thing they should be protecting. (Wow, that Norma Rae moment came out of nowhere. Still mean it, though. Word.)

  If that’s the case, then, where we have idiots that just don’t understand how to behave in a social setting, let me offer a few guiding principles. We’ll call this manifesto “What One Should NOT Do Whilst Traveling By Public Transportation”.

  1. As you wait for the train to arrive, do not take up a position right next to decent people who have already selected a waiting spot. There are plenty of places on the platform to stand. Go choose one that’s a little bit further away from me. I don’t want you in my personal space. If my elbow can possibly bump against you when I check my watch, you’re too close. Otherwise, I’m going to learn things about you that I don’t need to know.

  I don’t need aural confirmation that you have breathing issues, whether it’s just severe chest congestion or that fact that you haven’t done any cardio in the last twenty years and the short walk from the parking lot to the platform nearly killed you. However you got that way is not my responsibility. I don’t want to hear it.

  Likewise, you have complete ownership of your own hygiene routine. If you have failed in your supposed attempts to even hose yourself down every once in a while, other people should not have to suffer. Go stand downwind where there is less of a likelihood that you will commit involuntary manslaughter by raising your arm and sending a noxious wave of death billowing towards those around you. Better yet, go back to the third grade and watch those health films that you apparently didn’t take seriously the first time.

  And don’t you dare ask me for money. I will shove you on to the tracks with no guilt whatsoever. I do NOT have a solid quarter.

  2. Rule number one also applies once we are on board. If there is an available seat anywhere on the entire train aside from the vacant one next to me, go find that other seat. It doesn’t matter if you have to traipse through several cars to find it. Besides, you obviously need the cardio. In fact, might I suggest that you just keep walking back and forth and get a good heart rhythm going. (And don’t worry if you do so and then suddenly find moisture on your face. It’s called sweat, and it’s good for you on a regular basis.)

  3. If there are no available seats, forcing you to stand and grip one of the hand rails, do so with discretion and at least minimal skill. Do not glare at me in my comfy seat. I can’t help it if you were slow and wandered on to the train at the last minute. Perhaps if you hadn’t been yakking on your cell phone instead of noting train arrivals, you wouldn’t be in this position.

  Once you’ve selected a pole to grip with your dirty little hand, keep your body under control and watch what you’re doing. I don’t need your butt in my face. YOU might be proud of this particular part of your anatomy, but the rest of the train is not. Especially if said hiney is encased in some shiny material that is clearly under severe stress.

  And this might come as a shock to you, but you know those moments where the train suddenly slows down or speeds up? This is the part where you tighten your grip on the pole. I know it’s a little confusing, since you think that “physics” is ebonics for Filipinos, but trust me on this. It’s going to happen, and you should remain alert. If you stupidly lose your grip and bust your shiny ass, you’re on your own. I will ignore you and let you writhe in the grime of the floor, and then calmly step over you when we get to my stop.

  4. This is not a slumber party. We’re all tired, and the trip can get a little boring. This is not justification for you to lean your head against the window, stretch your feet across the aisle, and then start sawing logs, pawing at your crotch as you dream about lascivious activities with people who would never want you in real life. This is too personal and extremely annoying.

  5. If you insist on bringing small, excitable children with you, do your best to maintain the illusion that these rambunctious urchins were raised in a suitable manner. Don’t let them repeatedly shout the same phrases, such as “Is THIS our stop?” or “That lady smells” or “I saw Daddy’s thingie!”. These are phrases best saved for group therapy sessions. If necessary, administer calming medication to regain control of the situation.

  6. Pay attention and be prepared to exit the train in an efficient manner when it’s your time. Don’t leap up at the last second, as the doors are closing, screaming for someone to hold said evil doors while you gather up all the pointless things you brought with you. This is unacceptable. The soothing Announcer Lady tells you what station is next. There should be no surprises. It’s not a roulette wheel where you don’t have a clue about the next stop.

  7. Don’t play the innocent game when they do those random checks for tickets, getting an attitude while pretending to search for your stub. We know you didn’t pay. Get the hell off the train.

  8. Do NOT push the “emergency” button when you’re ready to get off. It’s not your personal hotline to the conductor. There are no alterations to the route. The train stops in the same places every time. That’s why those places are called “stations”.

  9. Use your Inside Voice. There’s no need to yell out the sordid details of your boring life, babbling about people who are dealing with surprise pregnancies, blocked bowels, employment terminations or the amazing realization that bill collectors mean business. The people right next to you can hear you just fine if you speak in a normal tone. And if your immediate neighbors are not the focus of your grating vocalizations, then go sit by your intended conversation partner and whisper quietly. Better yet, just shut up.

  And finally…

  10. Don’t even consider talking to ME. Ever. Even if I know you.

My ranting thoughts are interrupted by a train pulling into the local station. As the chaos of stupid people bubbles around me, I climb aboard and begin my journey into the Heart of the Dallas Darkness...

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