I got dressed, bought a big coffee, and got out the door. I wanted to arrive an hour early so I could park in one of those places only someone who frequented College Hill coffee shops would know. Then, I’d walk to court for my jury duty from there. It would be a nice hike on a cold, December day.

A lot had changed in the parking department from my wanna-stay-in-college-forever times. I’d sit in coffee shops pretending to study for GMATS (holy shit, this stuff’s about finance?), LSATs (Law school is too expensive) and GREs (who needs to study for this–either you know it or you don’t), drinking coffee for hours. Since then, Providence had metered the whole grid. Every. Single. Spot.

A person can’t just sit in a coffee shop like an anachronistic beatnik anymore, you need plenty of quarters. Since real college students don’t have quarters–they’re reserved for laundry once a semester or when people start sitting at least five rows away–only College Hill tourists can afford to loaf in coffee shops.

I can afford the quarters. I’m willing to donate to the cause, be it corruption, fixing potholes, subsidizing the Providence tax base since there have been so many “deals” to bring in big business the average property owner can’t afford the rising tax burden…I’ll give a few bucks to help.

There’s a problem, though. There are no spaces longer than two hours. There is a very small strip of parking rated for 3 hours. I’ve seen the meter maid. She’s no idle threat. She has the full authority to send a violator to Guantanamo.

I gave up and parked across from the court. I’d been fairly excited about jury duty until I tried to park–two days to read books without anyone saying, “Mom, Mom, Mom…?” Sounded like a reward for good behavior to me.

“Excuse me,” I interrupted a put together woman heading for the court building. She had a court employee look about her. I asked her about parking.

“Well,” she said. “We park in those three-hour spaces. The meter maid usually leaves us alone until noon, and we move our cars. There’ll be a lunch break for jurors.” I say this doesn’t sound like employee efficiency and I don’t know exactly when they’d give me a break.  She said they’ve rallied around this cause and no one would fix it. Other than that there’s a $12 lot. She described a place I’d never find in time.

I was lucky. My job was paying me. What about a person losing their two days’ pay at Christmas time? Thank them, then give them a ticket? “How much is the ticket?”

I was doing a cost-benefit analysis in my head. Could Providence pay a school teacher with my ticket? Fill a pothole?

“Thirty dollars,” she said. That was too much, especially if I got more than one ticket. I went inside to ask the sheriff.

“Court doesn’t open until 8.” I checked my watch. It was indeed 7:54. Being someone who routinely helps people at work even before and after my scheduled hours, I pressed ahead. “Could you give me advice about where to park so I don’t get a really expensive ticket for serving jury duty?”

“You should have read page two of your letter.” Little did I know if I’d told him I couldn’t read, I’d have been disqualified from jury duty immediately and sent home. You have to be able to read. But I didn’t like his tone, so I responded that indeed I’d read the letter. I gave him a big smile, showed him my one-page stuffed envelope and said the guy who stuffed the page twos must’ve been on furlough that day, and that the court website didn’t give these small details.

Sheriffs can send people to Guantanamo, too. I took two deep breaths and smiled again. I didn’t want to go to Guantanamo for jury duty. The sheriff gave in, the way people who realize they’ve been too harsh tend to do.

“You take a left, go across from the State House, and in that neighborhood, you’ll see a little church with a parking lot.”  I told him I wouldn’t find it in time and asked for a street address. He gave me one for the State House itself. Maybe he’d reserved the Governor’s spot for me?

The long and short of it was that there was a very nice shuttle with free parking two neighborhoods away on a one-way street near a church I’d forgotten was there, somewhere off the beaten path. I found it by accident but I’m sure the directions on Page Two would’ve been wonderful.

“Glad I found you,” I told the shuttle driver. I appreciated her.

“I wasn’t lost.” She shuttled me two neighborhoods over to jury duty, where I read three books and enjoyed the silence.

“We thought we’d need you,” said the jury commissioner at the end of day two. The case had settled, the way most cases do. One hundred people’s lives are interrupted to impanel juries, most of which stand at the ready as threats to a legal system largely out of control, where we’ve failed to handle tort reform, have the largest incarceration rate in the civilized world, and boast a criminal industry that fuels jobs more than small businesses, which we tax out of business.

My case would have been an extremely difficult criminal case, the kind of which no one wants to hear before Christmas. The offender confessed to the crime, plea bargained, and was being sentenced directly by the judge, saving the tax payers tons of money and several weeks of my time.

I gave a silent cheer and left the room.

Then I was sad. How dare I cheer? Things hadn’t changed for the poor victim. The victim in the case I would have heard had suffered. That victim needed the court, and I wasn’t going to hear a little civil case where the Hatfields and McCoys decide to share in the end. I’d have helped find “justice” for a person for whom incarcerating the offender wouldn’t take away the pain.

I got shuttled back to the lot two neighborhoods away, and found my car. I went home leaving the victim to suffer, the offender to be sentenced, and the status quo in tact.

Today, I’ll go back to my students. I’ll tell them I’ve missed them and try to pick up where we’ve left off.

My world will be largely the same.

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