In my imagination, I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. When the unexpected happens, I quickly adapt. I admire adventurers and undercover operatives who throw themselves into dangerous, uncharted situations and find a way to improvise new game plans. One of my heroes is the 19th century explorer Richard Burton, who passed himself off as a Muslim and risked his life to see what Mecca looked like. Later, he endured incredible hardship in Africa as he sought to uncover the source of the Nile River.
In real life, I am rather the opposite of my idealized self. I’m not keen on change. I devise elaborate routines and find security in anticipating exactly what may lie around the bend. When I decide to travel, I do so with full knowledge that I’ll be on edge for days in advance. I try to anticipate whatever I imagine might happen. I carry peanut butter with me on all occasions, because one never knows what the foreign food supply will be like.
In the five years of my retirement, I have developed a fixed daily routine. I like knowing what I’ll be doing from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. I take an early afternoon nap, something I started 35 years ago when I became a swing-shift worker in the newspaper business.
Now, my routine and nap have been thrown into disarray by a call to civic duty. Since last Thursday, I have had to drag myself down to the Sacramento County Courthouse and sit through jury-selection process. The past two days, I’ve had to get to the courthouse by 9 a.m. and wasn’t released until 4:30 p.m. Today, I start at 9:30 a.m.
After 18 hours of court proceedings, a jury still hasn’t been selected. Late yesterday afternoon, the original pool of about 70 potential jurors ran dry. Eleven of us were left sitting in the jury box. New recruits are coming this morning. The two defense lawyers and an assistant district attorney have been playing mysterious mind games as they exercise their peremptory challenges.
In my working days, I was deselected as soon as I said I was a journalist. Years of professional objectivity and a commitment to fairness, balance and facts were deeply suspect. I wasn’t picked for a jury until I retired. Maybe that says something about the state of the news business. My former occupation doesn’t seem to set off alarm bells.
Unfortunately, this is not the case at the entrance to the courthouse. Every morning and afternoon, my replaced left hip sets off the metal detector, and sheriff’s deputies eye me with suspicion.
“Keys, wallet?” they ask.
“Hip,” I say, patting my left side.
Sometimes the deputies pull me aside to let the court crowd continue on its merry way. Other times, they keep me standing in the narrow passageway while they wave their magic wand over my body, front and back. I can feel the eyes of anxious defendants who are presumed innocent, their lawyers and dozens of prospective jurors upon me. They are not thrilled by the delay.
After that, I go to the conveyor belt and pick up my backpack, which is crammed full of survival items. These include peanut butter sandwiches, snack crackers, water, coffee, hand sanitizer, magazines, a Kindle, reading glasses and pens. I am in uncharted territory and must be ready for whatever lies ahead.
Stay calm and carry on, I tell myself, perhaps echoing the very words of Sir Richard Burton.