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.

Finding California Second Chance Lotto Scratchers

CA Scratchers 2nd Chance HeroI picked up many discarded California lotto scratchers in the parking lots of shopping centers around my neighborhood following the Great Recession. Someone bought a scratcher, went back to their car, discovered that it wasn’t a winner, and tossed it out window. These people don’t know that discarded scratchers are eligible for a second chance drawing on the Internet. I found 500+ scratchers, entered the numbers, and never won anything during a two-year period. And then the scratchers disappeared in recent years. As I take public transit to my new job after being out of work for eight months, I’m finding scratchers again at the bus stops and parking lots.

When my father and I played of scratchers, we could always count on at least one winning ticket for every $5 USD spent. (The holiday-themed scratchers were the most generous and frequently sold out of all the scratchers.) The most my father ever won was $500 USD, and I won $20 USD from time to time. We almost always break even when playing, seeing how long we can play multiple scratchers after getting back our five bucks. One time I played 22 scratchers in a row as I kept getting free ticket winners.

From what I read elsewhere, scratchers are less generous than before and less worthwhile to play. That could explain the dearth of scratchers in the parking lots. I’ve seen people entering a huge stack of scratchers into their laptop at the Starbucks cafe inside Safeway. Like people who collect bottles and cans from garbage cans and dumpsters before dawn, perhaps these people roam the parking lot to collect scratchers.

As for the second chance drawing, it doesn’t cost anything to play except for a few minutes to enter the numbers. Sometimes the website refuses to accept the number because the scratcher is a winner. One time my father gave me a poker-themed scratcher that was a winner, but we couldn’t figure out why it was a winner. The winning poker hand was quite obscure. I got a buck back when I turned it in at Safeway. If I couldn’t win a second chance drawing after entering 500+ scratchers, perhaps no one else can either.

Does finding scratchers in the parking lot indicate that people are now confident in the economy?

I don’t know. I’m not going to rush out to play scratchers again. Since I had four jobs in the last four years, and unemployed for three years out of the last six years, I haven’t financially recovered from the Great Recession. I’m reluctant to spare five bucks for scratchers. I have no problems in picking up someone else’s discarded scratchers to enter the second chance drawing and removing litter from the environment.

When Godzilla Comes To San Francisco

According to this Snickers candy bar commercial, Godzilla is a regular guy. (I’m assuming that Godzilla is a “guy,” although the 1998 American movie with Matthew Broderick turned “him” into an asexual iguana.) He flirts with the girls at the beach, rides an ATV on a dirt course, can slam down a Ping-Pong ball like a Japanese master, and becomes the center of the party. Unless he gets hungry, grows to skyscraper height, and starts trashing the place. His friends unwrap a Snicker candy bar to throw into his mouth, returning him to regular guy size and everyone watches him go water skiing.

With the new Godzilla movie coming out in May, I’ve been trying to avoid any pre-release news (i.e., I’ll see the trailer if it appears at the movie theater). Alas, my roommate is the biggest Godzilla fan in the world. Any Godzilla-related news that hits the Internet gets repeated to me within minutes. This week’s news trend is what the brand new Godzilla toys say about the forthcoming movie.

The synopsis for the movie has Godzilla traveling from Japan, stomping through San Francisco, and getting wasted in Las Vegas. When he does come to San Francisco, we can give him some Snickers and send him down to Los Angeles for a thorough stomping. Las Vegas is only a short stroll through the desert from the burning City of Angles.

Playing Politics With Pumping Water From The Delta

San Joaquin DeltaWith Governor Jerry Brown declaring a drought emergency in California, three House Republicans from the Central Valley are playing politics by adding an amendment to the farm bill that would force pumping more water from the delta to irrigate farms and halt work on the San Joaquin river restoration. Unfortunately, without the massive outflows from rain water and snow melt into the delta, the only water anyone can pump out of the delta is salt water from the San Francisco Bay.

That begs an interesting question: Why would Republicans want to irrigate California farms with salt water?

The obvious answer is that these House Republicans are throwing out a bone to their constituents from a “do nothing” Congress for the 2014 midterm elections. The Central Valley farmers always want more water for their water-intensive crops and don’t give a damn about the endangered fishes in the delta that people outside the Central Valley rely upon. As House Speaker John Boehner (R – Ohio) explained in Bakersfield, “In my part of the world we would shake our heads at how things work here. It’s nonsense that a bureaucracy would favor fish over people.”

Speaking of John Boehner’s part of the world, the West Virginia chemical spill is a mysterious disaster that wouldn’t happen in California.

Alternatively, since California is a very much blue state that isn’t going purple or red in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, the Republicans may want to destroy the economy at the state level by ruining California farms with irrigated salt water. With the state budget producing a surplus underneath a Democratic governor, the imminent economic collapse and/or zombie apocalypse in California that conservatives have raved about for years desperately needs some help.

Fortunately, the farm bill amendment failed in the House. Now water-rich Southern California is complaining about their water from the Colorado River is being given to water-poor Northern California, which previously happened in the 1976-1977 drought.

Updated 07 February 2014: The Republicans rammed the amendment through the House as a stand-alone bill on a party-line vote with no chance of being passed in the Democratic-controlled Senate. As the drought intensifies, the water wars will get nastier.