Friday, August 31, 2018

No Drudgery in Jury Duty

Nobody wants to get a jury summons, but my six hours serving democracy this week was an invigorating experience. 

I rode public transportation, a slow but painless way to get into downtown Denver with no hefty parking fee.  Fellow passengers were considerate of those in wheelchairs and the elderly. I saw enough feet to get an idea of what’s hot in young women’s shoes. I admired a young businessman’s dark blue suit with those skinny pants my husband will never be willing or able to wear. 

I enjoyed a brisk walk in good weather to the courthouse.  The line for security to get inside was just like the airport, except I didn’t have to remove my shoes (which were not stylish). I made it through the check-in line a few minutes late, but I wasn’t the last.  

I always appreciated the massive marble old courthouse with its worn down steps, wide hallways and brass railings. It felt elegant and historic.

The new court building is sleek, sunlit, and appealing. Look at this east facing wall. I couldn’t  figure out how the plastic tubes carry color when they appear clear and colorless.

I held my breath through four rounds of jury selection. In between roll calls I reread my current writing project's first draft. It's so rough I felt the splinters. 

My number was called for the fifth case. At least forty of us were called and promptly excused because the trial had been dismissed. Yeah! Duty done for this year. 

Enroute to my bus stop I enjoyed the public between the art museums. This was a series of alternate facing tropical colored chairs of woven plastic tubing. When rocked, the chairs chimed. 

Fun for seniors and kids. 

Time to spare, I stopped in at Denver’s massive public library and got a new library card. In the ladies’ room, a pair of young women were washing up, brushing teeth, and changing clothes.  I’d heard that the library had been overrun with the homeless. I hope the girls weren’t part of that group. 

I misread the bus schedule and had plenty of leisure to sit on the shady bench at my stop and read.  

The book, Factfulness by Hans Rosling is challenging, fascinating, and encouraging. He masterfully uses graphs and photos of four levels of economic development to explain “ten reasons why we’re wrong about the world”. But this physician/explainer-of-trends uses numbers unlike any statistics professor you’ve ever heard of. Each chapter starts with related anecdotes that made me chuckle, particularly the one about being served grubs—chapter 6, “The Generalization Instinct.”)

The more than half a day serving wasn't the drudgery I expected, but stimulation I enjoyed.

Thank you, Denver judiciary. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Out in the Middle of Nowhere

One of our young friends was moving. His roommate said, "Don't move to St. Louis! You'll be out in the middle of nowhere."

"Look at a map" I retorted. "Living in Denver, we are in the middle of nowhere." It's 520 miles to Salt Lake City,  392 to Santa Fe, 554 to Kansas City. And heading north, there's nothing bigger than Cheyenne until Canada. 

The conversation came back to mind when we headed out of town to the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, and pure nowhere. 

Which reminds me, on another trip in the southern part of the state, there is  a dot in the road named Saguache (pronounced Sawatch) whose motto is posted as "We've got a whole lot of nothing'."

Being in the middle of nowhere is a plus--fewer emergency sirens, far fewer vehicles on the road, and the stars are likely to be visible. 

So last week we headed for "nowhere". Once past Vail the people disappeared and the vegetation dried up. This vista shows the mesa, the flat table top of the mountains, stretching toward Utah.  

Bill said "This reminds me of Surry County, only more so."

"How so?" I countered. 

"Even less cars." 

 Less of everything, actually: people, houses, cars, and water. 

We laughed at this sign, because there weren't any green leaves to be seen, just dusty needles. 

Another road sign said "No Passing." No passing cows?  UFOs? 

 I bet a geologist would be able to explain the layers and vertical fracturing of the rocks. Interesting, but not my idea of beauty.

Our destination was Colorado's wine country. More literally, Colorado's wine town. Palisade, population around 3000, is in a small valley next to the Colorado River. Hard to believe, it hosts at least twenty five wineries. In addition to traditional wineries there are specialties: fruit wines, mead, or port. 

The few we made it to had something distinctive about them.

Plum Creek Winery displays art by sculptor Lyle Nichols.  He transformed found objects into this chicken. Observing closely was like being on a scavenger hunt. 

The art was more refined than the wine, but we did like a white blend.

Colterris, meaning, of the earth of Colorado, had a sophisticated dispensary of their wines. Bottles faced stood in a glass fronted shelf. They were side by side from the whites through rose to the heavy reds.  We bought a bottle for a gift.

Greystone was a cute building that boasted prize winning port wines behind a purple front door.


Under a surprisingly large weeping willow tree we enjoyed a lovely lunch at Maison La Belle Vie. They produce a merlot blend that I liked very much and wish I'd bought. Maybe it's available locally. 

The next day we headed higher into the mountains to Grand Mesa National Park. Unlike the mesa, there were many lakes, ponds and streams.  Kayakers and fishermen were enjoying the water despite the chilly air. 

From the ranger station we took a quick self-guided hike that explained some aspects of the ecosystem. This stand of aspen trees lets in light for various pines to start.

I noticed that the underbrush was much more varied than I usually see in Colorado forests. It must be the higher water content from snowfall. 

This was my favorite view. No houses, no sounds except wind in the trees and birds, but plenty of green. Out in the middle of nowhere, just the way I like. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Engaging a Homeless Man called the King of Norway

"When I was born they named me the King of Norway."

On the way to the middle of the bridge. Notice the slope.

My granddaughter and I were crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge  on foot when we approached a homeless man. Em was nervous about stopping to offer help. But he wasn't muttering to himself. And his person and clothes were clean. 

The man looked to be in his 60's,  grey hair cut close to the scalp, shaved. He was lean and muscled, browned by the sun. Missing several teeth which had shifted to fill in the spaces, he reminded me of a popular childhood TV puppet, Ollie the dragon.  

 His belongings were neatly loaded onto three connected carts, fastened with duct tape and bungee cords. Strong as he appeared to be, it was a tough go uphill.  He was glad for the offer. He showed me where to grab the handle on the middle cart and my granddaughter pushed the last cart while he pulled the train backwards. 

It was hot, and even with our help we had to stop frequently. It gave him a chance to talk. I got pretty confused as he talked about various times when he served in multiple branches of the military. And when he pointed to an alder tree he launched into a little lecture about bio-organisms that he believed were being spread by the government from certain labeled transmitters. At that point I realized there was some mental disorder.

We walked, stopped again, chatted. He pointed out his well-maintained chain saw which he used to earn cash. He opened the case with pride and showed us  the tools, and the sharp chain, ready for work.

We pushed on, stopped, and he pointed out two clear indentions in his head "from bullets in the war." He didn't specify which war. 

By the time we reached the crosswalk my husband caught up with us. He heard the tail end of the conversation and asked "Do you mind if I ask how old you are?"

 "98. I'm one of Howard Hughes' sons." And then he added he had been named the King of Norway at birth.

I was so sad to think of this man, apparently able to take care of himself, so disconnected from reality. I glimpsed the terrible damage done by PTSD, or traumatic brain injury, or some other set of factors. 

I haven't talked to a homeless person in years. When I drive I ignore panhandlers at the corners with their signs. When I walk I cross the street to create a lot of space between us. 

This man carried himself with dignity.  I'm glad my stereotypes were challenged, and we got to meet the King of Norway. 

the view from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge