It took a couple of days, but all I had to do was look for them. After the park ranger confiscated them while arresting me in the Point Reyes National Seashore last month, he left them inside the tailgate of my S.U.V. I did not look for them right away; they were not that good of a pair. Plus, I wanted to wear the pink ones they gave me at the county jail, if only to remind me of the unfortunate event that had occurred in a grassy meadow that Sunday morning.
Along with the $130 ticket for driving on the grass, I had received a court date in Napa to address the warrant issued for my person.
When the day came, I left my home in Point Reyes for a two-hour drive through a cold, stormy morning. I arrived early and shivered while I stood on the courthouse steps, waiting for them to open the doors for the day. At eight a.m. I was let in through security and directed to the information desk, where I was told to go to courtroom D. On my way I noticed a lot of people waiting to enter courtroom E. I checked the docket outside the “D” door and saw my name was not on the short list of cases for the day. I entered and handed my paperwork to the bailiff, who told me it was a felony court and I needed to go to courtroom E, for traffic violations. Judging from the serious-looking people in that room, I was glad to join the others waiting outside E.
There were huge windows in the lobby where I could watch the storm I had just driven through spread over the town of Napa. When they opened the doors to let us in, I took a seat in the back so I could see the whole courtroom.
As I studied the scene, the three court clerks and the translator entered the room and took their positions around the bench. One of the bailiffs told us all to stand up and Judge Scott R. L. Young walked to his large chair, sat down and said good morning to the court. Dressed in his black robe, he looked young, except for small grey streaks in his hair just above each temple. I thought he must be very important to have four names. Similarly, we seemed to size up the crowd in the courtroom together, at which point I realized we were the only white people in the room. There were a few dozen in the gallery, mostly men and overwhelmingly Hispanic.
From my seat I could view my fellow colleagues in trouble as well as watch the goings on between the court crew. The bailiff would call your name when it was your turn and if a lawyer was representing you, they went first. Lord knows that you do not want to waste a lawyer’s time. When the judge was ready for the next case, he would not say anything. Instead, he would signal with his eyes. It was very much like a baseball pitcher looking for a sign from the catcher to decide the next pitch. It was an intense glare at the bailiff that would signal him to call the next name. Mine was on the first page of the thick docket outside the courtroom, so I thought my case would come up sooner than later. It would be best for me if it happens before he starts getting tired. I had dressed in my best collared, dark-red button-up shirt, put on the newest jeans I had, and laced up my pair of totally black high-top Converse sneakers. I felt ready.
I was practicing my submissive greeting, talking to myself in my head. “Don’t forget to say, ‘Good morning, your honor,’ right away, show him respect, stand up straight, look him in the eye, I hope he is in a good mood.”
Two hours later, it was down to less than 12 people left and my name still had not been called. In between every five or six driving under the influence cases was a poor woman with a shoplifting charge. There were so many D.U.I.s I had to think this somehow must be putting a small dent in the liquor business with all these guys not being able to drink anymore. It had been so long by this time that I was talking to myself in my head again. “Gosh, when is he going to call me? The bailiff does not like me, that translator sure is working overtime, I hope the judge is not getting tired, maybe it would be better to have a woman judge, I do not know how that would be better.” I think my blood-sugar level was affecting my brain. I had not eaten breakfast because it is hard to eat at 5:30 in the morning. It had rained cats and dogs all the way here and I was hoping that was not a bad omen. I just wished they would call my name and get all this anxiety over with. The seats filled up again with a new crop of defendants showing up for their scheduled date and time. Lawyers came and went. The courtroom seemed to fall into a grey mood, going through the motions of fines, jail time, probations and knowing your rights.
I was trying to remember if I had locked my car and how I would decide where I was going to find a good cup of coffee when finally my name was called. I walked down the aisle and bent down to open the small swinging gate to the podium and expounded “Good morning your honor” in my radio voice. He replied the same, less the honor, and stared at his computer screen without looking up at me. In the silence that followed, I humbly asked how this warrant had not come up before when I had to register my cars or pay a ticket. He squinted at the screen and said, “Expired license, 1996?” I exclaimed how the federal park rangers must have very deep cell phone service. Also that if I would have known in my lifetime that this warrant existed I would have taken care of it a long time ago. He asked to see my current driver’s license, then turned to his clerk and said, “I’m going to dismiss this as justice served.” He wished me a good day and I said, “Thank you, your honor.” As I turned from the podium to walk away, clenching my teeth, I gave a short, low fist pump in vindication.
On my way back to my seat to get my coat, I saw the entire audience looking at me with a grin or a smile. The mood and energy had changed, as if something had happened that was good, but not normal. I thought, “How can all these poor people, facing unfortunate circumstances, feel good about what happens to an old hippie like me?” I wished them all good luck out loud, grabbed my coat off the last seat in that courtroom and as I opened the tall wooden doors to leave, those large windows in the lobby shined beautiful blue sky and white clouds from the storm clearing up.
Dave Cook is a retired chef and host of KMWR’s FishTales. He lives in Point Reyes Station.