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.

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