ʽIf I ran this Courthouseʼ

The parking-lot attendant who came out of his shack next to The Palladium on Main St. bundled against the cold to say “that’ll be fifteen dollars” should have been the first tipoff that it was going to be a bad day. Ned Banyon knew they always charged ten, never more than that. Ned’s daughter Alice Meredith Peters in the back seat handed Ned a twenty to give to him. “Got the exact amount?” the young man complained. “I can’t break a twenty.” The twenty hung there in the opened driver’s-side window for a few seconds and then looking at the almost completely empty lot the morning after the Blizzard of 2017—which the meteorologists subsequently deemed not to be a blizzard after all (what were they thinking?)—he said, reluctantly, as if he wasn’t going to get the fee, “just go on over there. You can settle up with me later.” He pointed towards a space where several vehicles had already parked. But when a few more cars pulled in he immediately reappeared, looking for the money and now it was ten. “Tried to scam us,” Ned said, getting out. “Geez,” Alice replied. It was 8:35 a.m., brilliantly sunny but with a brisk wind barreling in from the west which made the short walk to the Worcester District Court a numbing piece of business. Steeply banked ice and snow, a reminder of the storm that had brought the city to a standstill, were all around. Ned, Alice and Alice’s brother Aaron had arrived in plenty of time for the case, which would be heard in Courtroom 22. “Court’s not opening until 10:00,” a woman said as she passed the three of them. They hadn’t yet reached the front doors of the building. Ned remembered covering the grand opening of the place for the newspaper nine years or so earlier, a sea of folding chairs spread ceremoniously on the floor of the lobby—which was filled to capacity—the governor, Lt. Gov. Murray, City Manager O’Brien and other dignitaries officially taking the wraps off a structure that stood six stories high with twenty-six courtrooms, fourteen elevators, wide marble-and-glass staircases, African mahogany woodwork, epoxy-based floors accented by mother-of-pearl inlays, information kiosks and modern bathrooms but ever since that afternoon what came to Ned’s mind with any visit was not the glitz. It was the indignity of the scanning process to get inside, the hard benches with no backrests and the interminable grind of the justice system which not even a Dickens or Tom Wolfe tome could make bearable. “Figures!” Ned said, disgusted that he didn’t know about the delay. He felt the chill through his wool coat and leather gloves. “We might as well wait in the car.” They retraced their steps, Ned pushing the pace in his haste to get out of the cold. He had purposely parked facing east and relished the warmth that was cast onto the seats of the Taurus by the morning’s almost spring-like rays.. They talked, killing most of an hour. Ned looked at his watch. 9:40 a.m. “Let’s try again,” he said. Approaching the courthouse after crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Ned saw a large crowd forming into several lines. By his estimates two, three hundred people. They joined the line on the right but were only there a few minutes when the bite prompted Ned to say “no way they will open the doors a minute before 10:00. I know these people.” He turned to leave. Alice, wearing only a sweater above her waist, and Aaron, in a heavy jacket, followed. They returned just before 10:00 and now there were three long lines queued up and a separate one feeding into the line on the right but the only people getting in appeared to be lawyers armed with briefcases. Ned looked to his left to the middle line and saw a state trooper in uniform, coatless, clasping a folder, twenty or more people in front of him. “He could be waved through if he wanted,” Ned said to Alice, who was shivering. The next time Ned glanced over the trooper was gone. “Decided to exercise privilege,” Ned thought. They moved forward in increments of inches, their eyes peeled to the door where those closest were angling to get inside, the cold exacerbated by the wind numbing their cheeks and hands and feet. Minutes passed. Finally getting near, Ned spotted a single sheet of white paper taped to the window next to the door. The message on the paper read “Court Opening at 10. Wait outside until then.” He thought about the ridiculousness of that proposition and then he thought about the building itself which when it opened had been described by one court employee as “a palace” compared to the old haunt. “Millions spent on grandeur, not so much on communicating essential information,” Ned muttered to himself. “If I was in charge I would have cordoned off the stairwells and elevators and opened the doors at 8:30 like usual so that people could at least stay warm in the lobby. Maybe get a coffee in the café. What harm would there be in that?” Past the metal detectors at last, Ned checked his watch: 11:00 a.m. A full hour to get inside! In Courtroom 22 the presiding judge (with another judge, apparently interning, seated next to him) looked annoyed and bored as assistant DA’s, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike made excuses for wanting hearing, pre-trial or trial dates put off for a month or more. The judge watched the spectacle unfold, his exasperation mounting as the clerk called names to no avail. “Is anyone ready here and now?” the judge finally said in a pleading voice. Eight attorneys simultaneously leaped to their feet. The courtroom erupted in spontaneous laughter.

Ned, his mood brightening, laughed too.

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