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Jury Duty Duty

Juror 4067

Juror 4067

I prayed for more snow and school closures. Dismayed there were only 2 inches of snow at 11 p.m., I reluctantly set my alarm for 6-ish a.m., knowing I’d snooze it after tuning in to WBAL radio to learn if the City Courts would be closed. My first Jury Duty in Maryland loomed ahead in the morning—a morning after Baltimore suffered an attack of snow.

Handicapped Ramp looking north, uphill, to St. Paul Street

Handicapped Ramp looking north, uphill, to St. Paul Street

Baltimore does not react well to snow. Whether it’s due to being full of Southerners who become panicky at the first flake of the white stuff, or the fact that people are used to driving recklessly (i.e. ”normally”) and get frustrated because icy conditions force them to think twice about passing a right-turning vehicle on the right for a change, driving here after a storm can be fraught with danger and obstacles. Although I thought I’d built in enough travel time to arrive at the Courthouse—after finding the parking garage—by the 8 a.m. call time, I did not factor in how impossibly choked the beautifully plowed I-83 would be at that hour.

Woe, how naïve l am. I’m glad I had a thermos of strong coffee in the car.

“Accessible Entrance on Fayette Street” sign

Jury Duty was still ahead of me and I was worn out from the trip! Less than 10 miles from town, it took me the better part of an hour to get to the parking garage. Waze failed finding an alternate route; actually my phone is on its last leg (phone fail imminent!) and kept shutting down mid-calculation. Fortunately I’d looked at the original directions before leaving home so I wasn’t entirely lost. That is, I wasn’t lost until I started heading toward the Courthouse. I pulled up a map, and intrepidly started the trek … only to find myself four blocks northwest of my destination and panicky because it was 8:35. LATE! will I be fined? Jailed? Told to come back another day?

And then the phone battery died. Again. Time for a new phone, for sure.

Drizzle dappled my non-compliant phone screen. Happily a woman told me which way to walk as her son had been on jury duty last week.

Limping due to a sciatica flare up, I found the building and the Fayette Street entrance with a ramp (which the Jury Summons instructed to use; the building’s address is on Calvert Street). The clerk told me to go out, walk up the block and around the corner, to the St. Paul Street entrance.

St. Paul Street Courthouse Entrance

St. Paul Street Courthouse Entrance

A statue of Cecilius Calvert, Baron Baltimore, etc. (see link for entire title), graces the St. Paul Street entranceway. So does a familiar blue Handicapped Entrance sign—at the bottom of a dozen-or-so steps—directing one to the first entrance I’d tried! I pulled myself up the first flight using the cold, wet handrail. My coat’s belt set off the metal detector, but luckily the sandwiches in my bag passed. I muddled anyway to the jury assembly room at 8:50. I had arrived!

The Jury Summons had assigned me Reporting Number 4067. Happily, by the time I entered, 4000 through 4100 had been invited to line up, check in, and get paid. $15 will cover the parking and the $1.50 diet Pepsi I bought from the machine in the Jury Assembly “Quiet Room.” With a bad case of “dead phone-itis,” I whipped out my extra-long phone card and charger I’d thoughtfully packed, found a plug, and settled down. Hmmm, no wi-fi. Sigh. Now that my “duty” had been done, I was ready for Jury Duty.

Or was I, I wondered?

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Cacophony

Just viewing the photo makes my ears ring! The cacophony of car horns, traffic, and the swirl of people on an average day in midtown Manhattan makes me woozy. It’s too much: too much noise, too many people, too much aggression, everyone vying for their place.

NYC at Noon

NYC at Noon. © JustHavingFun

When I lived in New York City I learned to walk with arms akimbo, elbows out, so I could have my own space on the sidewalk and not be run over by some mindless drone looking at his cell phone screen while zooming down the street.

The endless jockeying and competition, the noise pressure, and the thump thump heartbeat of the City are a siren song for some but alas, not for me. When crossing the street became an art form as skilled as ballet, when maintaining my four-square feet of personal space became an obsession, when the subway became my greatest source of entertainment, I knew I had succumbed. I was indeed a New Yorker.

Ya gotta love it! Or hate it! But nobody can stay neutral about it: New York. Everywhere you look something new pops out. One day you may see performers, the next day pigeons, then the glitz of Broadway and Times Square, and the next day homeless people, but something always catches the eye.

But oh, the sounds! The noise. The cacophony of car horns and trucks backing up, scratching against the strains of street performers and buskers. The subway cars that sound like the opening strains of “Somewhere” from West Side Story: There’s a place for us…. Yes, there’s a place for us going uptown.

I took my fingers out of my ears and held up the decibel meter when the train approached the platform. It routinely topped 85 dB. “Mom, you look silly,” my children decried. “Nobody does that.” “I do,” I countered. My hearing and tinnitus thank me for blocking some of the extraneous sound.

Nowadays, out of the New York zone, I swallow fewer headache remedies, don’t need earplugs except when running my blender, and my ears are buffeted by the sound of rain drops hitting the pavement on my porch…

…and fire engine and police sirens of the uneasy urban soundscape which comprises Baltimore’s night.

Awkward Geography

Maryland holds the dubious distinction of being the First Candidate for the state with the most “Awkward Geography.” (Hawaii, a collection of islands, doesn’t count.) A spindly, sickly state, Maryland cants heavily to the east—despite Delaware’s rude surgery and squared corner in Wicomoco County. West Virginia bit a huge chunk out its western regions and Virginia eviscerated the center. Even the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., self-aggrandized with bloviators, gnawed a square-edged, thumbnail-sized chunk out of Maryland’s gut.


Map Courtesy of Digital-Topo-Maps.com

Furthermore, the Chesapeake Bay cleaves the east into two cruelly misshapen legs. Some oceanfront beaches tantalize crowds with promise of crabs galore, but sadly, Virginia in a mad coastal land grab truncated Worcester County’s coastline to the south, leaving poor Maryland with a measly 31 miles of ocean coastline.(1)

Then there’s Baltimore, another square-edged nibble into Maryland’s land. To clarify, I mean Baltimore City, not to be confused Baltimore County of which Baltimore City is not a part.(2) Confused yet? I am.

Nicely delineated states like Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico (except the ruffled border with Texas), have beautifully-drawn borders, ruler-straight, and comprehensible. Semi-natural states rely upon natural boundaries such as rivers to define their territory. Iowa, bordered by the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and having horizontal northern and southern borders, pleasantly represents this category.

Poor Maryland. Awkwardly drawn, ripped apart by waterways. It’s a wonder it hasn’t melded with the surrounding states. It suffers from lack of orientation. Is it an east-west state? Or a north-south state? From my perspective, it’s leaning: head at NNW and foot at SSE (as much as a state so oddly shaped can have a head and a foot). It’s like a traffic barrier between the North and the South, hastily erected and somewhat malleable. Here, take another chunk of me.

The Fall Line cleaves eastern Maryland further. To its north and west is the Piedmont region, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Pennsylvania. To its east and south is the Coastal Plain. Baltimore, the jewel, sits on the Fall Line. Then the Chesapeake Bay coastline drips down down down to St. Mary’s County and terminates at the scruffy little islands off Somerset County’s western shore. Awkward. Messy.

Probably the most awkward portion of the geography, Assateague Island is a finger in the ocean. Not even wholly owned by Maryland, this narrow barrier island was amputated by Virginia’s claim. It’s embarrassing enough that Ocean City, that rollicking vacation destination, shares real estate with Delaware. But Delaware is not the bully that Virginia is. For shame, Maryland, for shame.

No. I’m wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I spoke too early about border islands being the most awkward feature. I nearly forgot Maryland’s “waist,” a 1-mile wide portion of land in the panhandle. It’s been called a geographic anomaly.(3) With Pennsylvania and the Mason-Dixon line to the north, and the Potomac River to the south, the “waist” claims the town of Hancock and the intersections of Interstates 68 and 70. Awkward 3-state views can be seen from there.

Do you agree? Place your nominations for Most Awkward Geography in the comments. Alas, there is no prize. It is, however, a whimsical diversion on a sunny afternoon in Maryland.


1. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress. “U.S. International Borders: Brief Facts,” November 9, 2006.
2. Baltimore City is the largest independent city (i.e., not belonging to any particular county) in the United States.
3. Maryland’s Waist: Narrow Strip is Geographic Anomaly, L.A. Times, October 8, 1987 [accessed April 17, 2016]

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