driving

A Week for Jury Duty, Fire Smoke and A Bomb Threat

A month ago I got a jury summons for the week of October 10th (Monday was Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day). This was the first time that I ever got a jury summons. If you have a driver license and/or vote (I have the former and do the latter), you eventually get selected for this public duty. As a writer I was eager to participate and learn about the process. As a worker I was anxious since my employer only pays for three days of jury duty and the court pays only $15 per day. The average length of a jury trial in Santa Clara County is five days, but a murder trial could go on for weeks. A short trial I could put up with, a long trial would be a financial burden. The week itself was a trial by fire from jury duty, fire smoke and a bomb threat.

The daily routine for a potential juror is to check the juror reporting website twice a day (11AM and 5PM for my group number). The Tuesday groups reported to the Palo Alto court location. The Wednesday groups reported to the Morgan Hill and downtown San Jose court locations. The Thursday groups reported to the Civic Center location (outside of downtown San Jose). The remaining groups weren’t called in for Friday.

There are three sets of group numbers: 100’s (San Jose), 500’s (Morgan Hill) and 600’s (Palo Alto). My group number was 162. Based on the previous week’s group callings, I expected to report in on Wednesday. A dozen groups reported in on Tuesday. Three dozen groups got called in on Wednesday, raising the counter for the 100’s group to 142.

Wednesday was a very long day.

Smoke from the Sonoma county fires circulated throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, making air pollution worse than a typical day in Beijing. I’ve watched wisps of smoke drift pass my office window in Palo Alto. The afternoon sun was a bright orange orb in the gray sky above. Coworkers at the bus stop claimed to have never seen air pollution this bad before. Like most government workers, they come from all over the United States and few are Californian natives. The 1985 Lexington Reservoir fire that burned 14,000 acres blotted out the Silicon Valley for three days, making the summer sun a blood-red orb in the sky and covered cars in ashes.

When the express bus to San Jose didn’t show up, I took the 89 to the California Avenue Caltrain station. That ended up being the scenic route through Palo Alto. Police and emergency crews closed Page Mill Road between the 280 and El Camino Road, diverting traffic across Page Mill Road to a different street that exited out on Stanford Avenue. With reports of grass fires starting in Berkeley, Oakland and Livermore, I thought there was a nearby grass fire in Palo Alto.

Conversations on the bus quickly turned real estate prices on Stanford Avenue, where the bungalows on tiny lots go for millions of dollars. A brand new house under construction won the “money to spend” award for having the second floor overhanging the first floor by two feet on one side. Like tourists on a tour bus in Hollywood, we gawked at the expensive home and shook our head in disgust.

The next morning I found out from a fellow passenger on the express bus that someone called in a bomb threat at HP. With most of the HP buildings on or just off of Page Mill Road, police shut down the whole street to check each building for bombs and snarling the afternoon commute for hours. It took me an extra two hours to get home.

I didn’t get called in on Thursday. The website that morning told me to check that afternoon, and then to check back on Friday morning. The next morning I checked the website at 11AM to discover that I’m released from jury duty and received a one year exemption from being summoned for jury duty. It’s one less thing to worry about for the next year.

Watching Joan Jett At The Mountain Winery

Joan Jett Unvarnished 2013I’ve been teasing my friend about going to see K.C. and the Sunshine Band and the Village People at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga next week, as KGO-Radio (810 AM) was giving away tickets for a week (his response was “No!” and “Hell no!” to seeing the 1970’s bands). When I checked the ticket prices, I noticed that Joan Jet & The Blackhearts was playing on Saturday, 9/7, and found a pair of reasonably priced tickets. We didn’t hesitate to see her play this past Saturday.

I was never a big music fan growing up. My older brother and his Fleetwood Mac albums got kicked out of the house when I was still a young child. My mother bought me an old record player and a set of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley 45’s from the Goodwill Store. My father’s truck only had two radio stations, country and talk. That didn’t help me as a confused teenager in the early 1980’s, listening to the Beatles when everyone else was listening to Michael Jackson, Duran Duran and Boy George. I did pick up Joan Jett’s single at the time, “Crimson & Clover,” but I didn’t become a fan until I heard “Bad Reputation” in the first Shrek movie.

Getting to the Mountain Winery was a special challenge. Although the directions for getting there from the 85 was clear, it was less clear once we got into the mountains above Silicon Valley. We caught the right turn from Highway 9 that was a sharp U-turn on to the road that went past the winery, but missed the similar left turn into the winery that was also a sharp U-turn. That became obvious when I drove past a sheriff cruiser and the uphill drive went downhill from there. After making a wide U-turn at a four-way stop, we drove back through the entrance to start the steep climb with multiple turns on a narrow road. This was rough driving for my 1999 Ford Taurus that caused the engine to overheat and the coolant to boil over.

The Mountain Winery is literally on top of the mountain with a spectacular view of Silicon Valley. More so after the sun goes down and the street lights turn on to surround the tall buildings of downtown San Jose in a brilliant sea of orange street lights. Despite the views, we couldn’t escape the wildlife. Flies aimed for the eyes and nose to lay their eggs. As the evening cooled down, a bat came out to eat the flies. Marijuana smoke and alcohol fumes whiffed through the air.

The opening act was Survival Guide with Emily Whitehurst and Jaycen McKissick. Their music was quite different with a techno beat. Jett dived into a set list that featured a selection of songs from the new album and the classic songs she acknowledged that we all love and know so dearly, performing 18 songs in 90 minutes almost non-stop. The audience was mostly baby boomers who outgrown being young punks. A memorable performance.

Becoming A Registered Democrat Again

The American VoteI got a DMV notice in the mail to renew my California identity card. That’s weird. I surrendered my identity card to the DMV in 2007 when I got my driver license at the tender age of 37. (Yeah, I’m a late bloomer.) Both my identity card and driver license have the same identification number. When it came time to shop for car insurance, AAA charged me $420 USD per year for minimum liability and no collision because of my unblemished driving record that dates back to my teenage years.

No sense in renewing my old identity card now. Looking through the paperwork inside the DMV envelope, I came across a voter registration form. The last time I filled out one of those was when I moved into my apartment almost eight years ago.

I was a flaming liberal as a teenager, growing up on the various political scandals during the Carter and Reagan administrations to become a political news junkie in the 1980’s. If the Internet was available ten years earlier and I wasn’t 20 years behind the times, I would have blogged those Republican scandals to death.

My first election was in 1988. I voted for Governor Mike Dukakis (D) who lost to Vice President George H.W. Bush (R), which my mother cruelly jeered me because my “wasted” vote didn’t count towards the winner. But I also voted for a state-wide cigarette tax initiative that forced my father to quit smoking because he couldn’t afford to buy his weekly carton.

After becoming a Christian in college in 1992, my political views became more conservative and I eventually registered as a Republican. I voted twice against President Bill Clinton (D) after he defeated H.W. in 1992 and Senator Bob Dole (R) in 1996. Although the Internet came about in the late 1990’s, I was still 20 years behind the time and didn’t blogged those Democratic scandals to death.

I was working at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises) during the 2000 election, being the only fat white boy Republican in a QA department filled with Democrats. Everyone gave me a hard time for voting for the “losing” side. The mood turned ugly when the Supreme Court anointed Governor George W. Bush (R) over Vice President Al Gore (D) as president a few months later. No one was a happy, and, being a Christian, I couldn’t gloat about my “winning” vote.

I voted for Senator John Kerry (D) in 2004 after W. ignored the real war in Afghanistan and dragged the country into an unnecessary war in Iraq. I voted twice for President Barack Obama (D)—the best conservative president that the Democrats ever nominated—after Senator John McCain (R) in 2008 and Governor Mitt Romney (R) in 2012 led the Republican Party down the rabbit hole into political extremism.

With the registration form in hand, I filled it out to become a registered Democrat again to match my recent voting record. I still consider myself a moderate conservative. This comes after the Supreme Court announced their 5-4 decision to gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act that protects all Americans.