Monday, February 6, 2006

Birminghell, Judgment, Sin City and Suduko

I know it’s been a long time since my last post (sounds like the beginning of a confession—give me 10 Hail Mary’s and let’s call it a day), but I’ve been on the road a lot this month. I have many bits and pieces of things to share, so hold on, it might be an interesting ride.

First stop—Birmingham, AL. I was dreading this trip, thinking it would be an awful place to go, nothing redeeming about the city, etc. but I was pleasantly surprised. B’ham is quite hilly, though I’ve never been to San Fran I can only imagine they’re comparable in the number of hills. The hotel I stayed in was the last place Hank Williams Sr. stayed, little bit of history for you. It was the first time I’ve ever stayed in a hotel where they call you at 7 a.m. to ask you if you want your room cleaned (and then they didn’t). B’ham residents are apparently on a health kick because during the two-day trip I saw no less than a kabillion people jogging. Don’t they work?

After B’ham and Atlanta (nothing noteworthy happened on that trip, except that after two days of navigating around B’ham and then driving to Atlanta without incident I almost got clipped by a stupid truck a block away from my hotel) I was home for a little while. During the respite I had the pleasure of serving jury duty.

The first day I sat in a room with other would-be-jurors waiting to be called or let go. I read. I worked crossword puzzles and I silently fumed at the man behind me who insisted not only on doing business over the cell phone in a room full of people, but actually telling each person he talked to that he was sitting in a room full of people and probably annoying them. Hello, if you realize you are doing this, why continue? He worked for some copier or software company. By 3 p.m. I assumed I was home free, but alas my number came up and I was called back. We were informed we were possible jurors for a DUI case and the jury selection began. More than ½ a dozen people were excused because they’d either been convicted of a DUI or knew someone who was a victim in a DUI case. One man was excused because his wife was expecting twins any day. Another was excused because he’d not only been convicted of a DUI 20 years ago but he’d also been a witness in a racketeering and murder trial where he’d plea bargained to get a lesser sentence if he testified. I was beginning to question the morals and ethics of my fellow man.

By the end of the day we had 12 jurors and an alternate and the assistant DA started her questioning. By 3:30 the second day the attorney’s had made their closing arguments and we were sent in to deliberate.

In a nutshell, the defendant had been found in a vehicle on the side of the road (skid marks and vehicle damage showed he swerved several times before running off the road and rolling his jeep a few times), sitting in the driver’s side, slumped over into the passenger side and he agreed to a blood alcohol test (which came up .14 and the legal limit is .08). His lawyer tried to make us believe that he wasn’t necessarily the driver, that he could have been thrown from the back seat or passenger’s side into the driver’s side during the wreck (thankfully no other cars were involved) and that the driver left the seen. He also wanted us to believe the man was so incoherent that he didn’t agree to have his blood taken and that once the blood was taken it was tampered with at some point.

Now, the problem with being on a jury is that I don’t know how not to form an opinion. The cops didn’t do such a bang up job on their paperwork and following up on things, it was the assistant DA’s first trial and there were some holes, but I knew the guy was guilty; he said he’d been drinking and ran off the side of the road. Anyway, we deliberated until 5:30 because we had a foreman who was a court TV addict and just could not wrap her brain around the facts. She took pages of notes.

We convicted him. He was a truck driver, this was his second offense (he’d lost his license in AL four years ago) and this was an appeal, so a judge had already found him guilty. Though he did not take the stand, during sentencing he said I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have done that. DUH! His punishment was 7 days in jail, a year’s probation and loss of his CDL. Thank God I wasn’t on a more serious trial. Being a juror is harder than I thought.

Last stop—Las Vegas. It was my second time in Sin City; I remain under impressed. The best thing about Vegas is the fountain at the Bellagio. I tried my hand at the slot machines. I played for about 20 minutes, lost $4 and gave up. You don’t win coins in those machines anymore, just a slip of paper that you take to the cashier. Don’t they know it’s the instant gratification, the sound of the quarters clanking on the metal, the cup full o’ coin that makes slot players (at least this one) happy?

When I’m in Las Vegas I’m always looking around for the mafia, you know like they stand out like they do in the movies or something. I was sure I’d spot Robert Deniro or George Clooney, maybe even James Caan; I didn’t. I’ve heard all the hype that they’ve cleaned up the city and it’s not like it used to be, but you can’t help wondering. Can a city really clean up its act THAT much?

During my stay, a police officer was killed; first one in 18 years. He’d been called out on a domestic violence case (eerily enough we witnessed the cops heading to the scene though we didn’t know it at the time). When he arrived the man was beating his wife with a stick, right in their front yard. He fled into the house when the cops arrived and when the cop knocked on the door he shot him with a semi-automatic gun. Other cops swarmed the area; the husband shot another cop in the leg before the police finally shot and killed him. The man was a 21-year-old would be rap star; he’d fired 50 rounds of ammunition. The cop that was killed was 30 something with a wife and two young daughters. You see stuff like that on the news all the time, but I’d never been that close to it and was quite surprised that’s the first time in 18 years a cop in Las Vegas was killed in the line of duty.

Good things about the trip—I did get to see the Bellagio fountain again, simply graceful, incredible and breathtaking. Flying in I saw the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam, both of which did not look as big as I thought; of course everything looks smaller from an airplane. I also went to see “O”—the Cirque du Soleil water show. Tidbits about O: 85 acrobats, synchronized swimmers, divers and characters perform in, on and above a 1.5 million-gallon pool; "O" required more than three years of development, including 12 months of intensive rehearsals; nearly a dozen performers from "O" have taken part in the Olympic Games; some are gold medalists; all of the 150 technicians and 85 cast members have scuba certification; 14 technicians work underwater during every performance; the water is kept at a comfortable 88 degrees; the pool takes 12 hours to fill and the sophisticated filtering system cleans all 1.5 million gallons of water three times a day. I wish I was a better writer and could actually describe how magnificent this show was, but I can’t. It’s acrobats and synchronized swimmers and music and a love story (at least by my interpretation) and drama and comedy. Engaging.

Finally, if you haven’t heard of or seen Suduko, a new puzzle, find one and try it. They’re in most newspapers now. Despite my aversion to numbers, this game is addictive.


Anonymous said...

I love Suduko, I love Suduko, I love Suduko.

Vegas is ok.

creative kerfuffle said...

I only recently learned about Suduko, actually on the plane on the way to Vegas. I don't like the ones in the newspapers though because I do sometimes have to peek at the answers when I'm stuck.