Friday, November 20, 2009

I am a people watcher.  People-watching is one of my favorite hobbies and one of the reasons I love going to airports, malls, and Las Vegas casinos (What?  Why did YOU think I liked those?)  People are fascinating.  So much of human emotion and behavior is on display everywhere you go.  There's so much to learn from humanity!

For instance, I remember a time my family was visiting somewhere and headed over to use the public restrooms.  Waiting on a bench outside, my mother, sisters, and I saw my brother emerge, wiping his hands on his pants.  He looked at us sheepishly and said they were all out of paper towels in the men's room, and they didn't have air dryers at all.

My mom got a mischeivous look on her face and pointed out that if we sat there a bit longer, we would know which men had washed their hands and which hadn't.  It was a grand people-watching that has made me never want to shake hands with men again.

That experience pales in comparison to the one I had this week.  I accompanied my husband to traffic court to act as moral support (and play a game I'm calling "See if anyone mistakes me for a lawyer"). I soon found I had stumbled upon the ultimate people-watching venue.  If you are a people watcher, you must go to traffic court.  Traffic court is the Everest of people-watching.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the courtroom (after the obligatory metal detector scan) is that movie courtrooms are complete crap.  Movie courtroom scenes occur in large rooms filled with character, mahogany benches, and a judge's bench that towers above the floor.  This room had all the character of a dinner plate.  We sat on folding chairs and faced a judge's seat that was barely two inches above us.  There wasn't even a gavel.  What's up with that?

But I should get to the people.  Let's see...There was the bailiff, all bluster and authority and, "Turn your cell phones off or I'll start taking them!"  Ok, Officer Bailiff Deputy Constable Buttkicker.  Will do.  Now, can you turn it down a notch?

Then there was the judge.  I'll call her The Honorable Judge Patience McTolerant because she didn't spontaneously combust from sheer frustration during the course of her duties.  She was middle aged and looked tired.  She wore no make up, and her hair had a decided frizz to it, like she'd just jumped out of bed, thrown her robe on over her pjs and run a brush through her hair on the car ride over to the courthouse.  I can't blame her.  I wouldn't try to control my frizz or flyaways if I had to face a room full of people who couldn't understand simple instructions.

Example: Upon check-in, everyone was handed a set of papers to fill out.  If you planned to plead "not guilty" for all your charges, you filled out the first page.  Any plea of "guilty" and you had to fill out every one.  This was explained on the paperwork, by the bailiff, by a court appointed interpreter, and by the judge.  This instruction was followed by exactly 0.09 of the defendants pleading guilty.  My hair is frizzing up right now just remembering it.

My favorite bit of courtroom drama occurred when a small, confused woman approached the podium and The Honorable Judge Patience McTolerant read her charges.

The Honorable Judge Patience McTolerant: You are charged with driving without a license, driving an uninsured vehicle, leaving the scene of an accident, and causing a collision.  Do you understand these charges?
Small, Confused Woman: (heavily accented) I'm very sorry.  I made a mistake.  I...
The Honorable Judge Patience McTolerant: Wait, wait.  I'm only asking...
Small, Confused Woman: Guilty.
The Honorable Judge Patience McTolerant: No, no.  We're getting ahead of ourselves here.  Do you understand...
Small, Confused Woman: How much?
The Honorable Judge Patience McTolerant: Uh, how much?  Well, the fines are $895, but...
Small, Confused Woman:  Ok, I can maybe pay in December.  I get Social Security.
The Honorable Judge Patience McTolerant: Okay, we're going to schedule a pre-trial conference and I'm going to appoint you an attorney...
Small, Confused Woman: Or maybe if my kids give me some money (nervous laughter)...
The Honorable Judge Patience McTolerant: Okay.  Why don't you have a seat over there.  No, over there.  Yes, right there.
(Officer Bailiff Deputy Constable Buttkicker leads the small and confused witness to her seat, then scowls at all of us, no doubt looking for cell phones.  Small confused woman smiles placidly and wonders if Jimmy Carter won the election.)
Richard: I would have a nervous breakdown right in the middle of the courtroom if I had to be the judge.
Sarah: I think we should come here every week for a date!  This is GREAT!

For a people watcher, court is nonstop excitement. What are his charges? Will she plead guilty or not guilty? Did he really think those photos were going to make a difference? Did she really just say, "How do I get a driver's license?" If I throw something to startle that man and prove that neck brace is phony, will they give me a medal?

A few other notable examples of humanity: The woman who had been to court so many times the judge smiled and inquired about her children.  The 70 year old man asking for leniency as this was his first his entire life (The Honorable Judge Patience McTolerant couldn't give him any, though it looked like she wanted to after her encounter with Small, Confused Woman). The court reporter who didn't even show up until the third defendant was at the podium and who looked, for all the world, to be playing solitaire behind her computer screen.

Richard was called up about and hour and a half into the proceedings, pleaded not guilty, provided his documents proving his traffic court innocence, and that is where my people-watching ends.  I managed to not jump to my feet and shout, "I object," even though I really, really wanted to.

I plan to go again next week. I'm bringing Small, Confused Woman just for the heck of it.


Jenn said...

LOL! I've never been, but I hope I wouldn't be too freaked out to see in the humor in it, if I did.

Beth said...

I love your writing!!! I can't wait to read the rest of your blogs.

Millionaira said...