Published Nov 30, 2006

What did you do at work today? Did you enjoy moving pieces of paper around your cubicle? Today, our society deemed I was skilled and wise enough to make potentially life-altering decisions for my fellow man. Today, society told me, yes, we just might put someone’s life in your hands. Today, I was: a juror.

No, really, today was one of those days: everything started out looking all grey-skies but at the end the silver lining coated everything in an argyric sheen. Morning started early, with my alarm clock blaring its klaxon until I roused myself for a hot shower and then off to jury duty! Somehow I lucked into being called to the Beverly Hills courthouse, sparing me a long drive downtown with the rush-hour traffic. By 8:30am, modulo a detour through extremely uninterested security1, I found myself in the grey-carpeted juror assembly room.

Jury duty shares something with delayed flights. Everyone waiting at the late plane’s gate becomes fast friends, sharing their stories of missed dinners and meetings and passing around information about rumored departure times and mechanical failings; everyone waiting at the jury room shares stories of missed orthodontists’ appointments, lines at Starbuck’s, and indignance at the justice system. It’s a cute little family, at least as long as you don’t consider what the consequences of everybody wanting to avoid jury duty are to a free society.

After checking in, I took a bathroom break and returned to every eye staring at me. “Are you Wade?” a fellow juror asked, and I answered yes2. They directed me to the check-in window, and everyone started to chuckle. Turns out I was two minutes late for roll call, and they’d already called everyone’s names. The nice check-in lady had said “last call for Wade!” at least twice, and I came in seconds after that final final warning. So I made it at the last possible moment to get recorded for actually having done jury duty today.

And then the payoff: the nice lady announced that the computer system had, in fact, screwed up, and that there was no need for jurors today at all. But, since they got us all there, we had completed our service for the year and could go home. So I went home at 10am and provided no value whatsoever to society.

On the way home, my check engine light came on. Since I’d already spent a remarkably large amount of money getting every oxygen sensor in my car replaced during the spring, this made me unhappy — check engine lights generally come on either because:

  1. The emissions control system is broken (this is the most common cause, at least in California)
  2. The whatzit what makes your car go, you know, the engine, it’s broke3

Since #1 was now extraordinarily unlikely, #2 became the probable outcome. I took the car to my friendly neighborhood mechanic and planted myself in his waiting room until he figured it out. Fortunately, I’d brought roughly twelve hours’ of reading material to jury duty, in order to stave off boredom, so a stay at Westside Brake and Tires would be little to no added inconvenience.

About forty minutes later, William, my mechanic, came in with a confused look on his face. “The computer’s giving us six error codes, which means six things are wrong. This is kinda unlikely. We’re trying to reset it ‘til all the errors go away and then see if they come back. If they don’t, it’s an error in the errors — maybe you lost power for a second, or maybe something nasty in the gas, but nothing serious. I’ll be back as soon as we get it reset.”4

Fifteen minutes later, William’s back: they got everything reset, ran the car for ten minutes, took it around the block, no check engine light. I should take it home and not worry about it. No charge for the diagnosis. Did I want to stick around for the lunch truck?

Somehow, after two computers5 had dragged me a quarter of the way around the Westside for no particuarly good reason, I became inspired to go home and spend time on my laptop. So I fled the auto shop, put my moment of juridical near-power behind me, and returned to my little house to knock a few things off my to-do list. Just like every other day.

1 The lady in front of me set off the metal detector; they didn’t even wand her, they just made her lift her pants so that they could see her ankles. Ankles? I didn’t feel safer.

2 I, in fact, am Wade.

3 I leave to the reader the act of pronouncing judgement on a user interface design that provides one single alert message for both a trivial error and a disastrous error requiring immediate user intervention. Oh no, wait, I don’t; that’s a crappy decision, guys.

4 Of course he said that all in a nice Dogtown Latin accent, so you should go back and re-read that paragraph with that sound for the full effect.

5 That is: the jury duty computer, and my engine computer. Thanks for playing.