Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Show up early

If there was ever any doubt about my policy of showing up to court early, today it was put to rest. 

I'm in New York for a status conference.  For some reason, the judges in New York like to make the attorneys make personal appearances, which means that I schlep up to Manhattan with some regularity. 

It's usually a pretty easy trip, although landing at LaGuardia can be harrowing, especially in conditions like last night--heavy rain and windy.  It didn't help that my seatmate was flying for the first time.  The last 45 minutes were rough.  I am pretty sure she gripped her armrest hard enough to bend it.  When we parked at the gate, she sprung up to be the first one off the plane.

If I have to stay overnight in New York, as I almost always have to, I like to stay at the Hotel Mulberry, a little Chinese-run boutique hotel that is extremely clean and usually very affordable.  It's on the southern end of Chinatown, just across the street from the courthouse.  The staff there is unbelievably nice; the rooms are large by Manhattan standards, and you can get phenomenally good Chinese food delivered for cheap.

But the Mulberry was booked solid, so I stayed in Flushing, Queens, near LaGuardia Airport.

My flight in was delayed several hours, so I arrived too late to get local food delivered.  New York may be The City That Never Sleeps, but nobody told the proprietors of the pizza and Chinese places that were nearby.  Dominos was two blocks away, and even though it pained me to order Dominos in New York, I was too hungry to skip.

The car service showed up a little before 9 a.m.  (If you are ever in New York and need to get around in a planned way and don't want to use the subway, use a car service.  Cabs are great for casual or spontaneous travel, but a car service will almost always be cheaper, cleaner, and much more comfortable.  The difference between a cab and a car service is that cabs can legally pick up fares on the street, while car services must be radio-dispatched.)

I have been on a program of intentionally deciding to ignore my natural shyness.  It might be hard for some of you to believe, but I am a naturally shy person.  I am trying to stretch myself out of that, so I did something I wouldn't ordinarily do.  The custom is for the passenger to ride in the back, unless there are four passengers, and somebody has to ride up front.  But I decided to turn that on its head.  "Would you mind," I asked the driver, "if I rode up front?"

He grinned broadly.  "Sure, no problem," he said.  "Nobody ever asks to do that. I'm Farouk, by the way."  He extended his hand, and I shook it.  "I'm Jim," I replied.  "Nice to meet you."

So off we went.  We chatted for a bit about the weather, the Mets (they got clobbered by the Nationals at Citi Field last night, 7-1, to Farouk's disdain), the bridges and tunnels into Manhattan (for some reason, drivers love to talk about bridges and tunnels), and Farouk's home country (he's originally from Pakistan, but he's lived here for 10 years and is working on getting his citizenship).

At one point, he said, "We're going to hit some traffic here," just as we slowed down.

"That's okay," I replied.  "As long as I'm at the courthouse by 10:45, I'll be okay."

"This judge, does he ever run late?" he asked.  In retrospect, it was a question he asked nervously.

"Not usually," I said.

We entered Manhattan via the Midtown Tunnel--my fifth different entry method, after the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, the Ed Koch Williamsburg (59th Street) Bridge, and the Queensboro Bridge.  As we neared the courthouse, Farouk turned to me and said, "You're almost going to make it.  You have three minutes."

I looked at him in puzzlement.  "I have an hour and three minutes," I said.  "My conference is at 10:45."

"Oh, 10:45," Farouk said, breathing a sigh of relief.  "I thought you said 9:45."

"Oh, no," I said, laughing.  "I know better than to leave only 45 minutes to get from Flushing to Lower Manhattan."

I thanked Farouk for his help and tipped him well.

And now to the point.  When I got to the courthouse, I didn't see my case on today's list.  So, after getting through security, I went to the clerk's office.  "I have a conference with Judge Carter today," I said.  "Judge who?" the clerk asked.  My heart sank.  Had I misread the order?  "I think it's Judge Carter, but I don't see my case on the list." 

She furrowed her brow.  "I can give you a case number," I offered.

Then a flash of recognition swept over her.  "Oh, Judge Carter," she said.  "Yes, your case isn't on the list because he sits in the other courthouse."

Mentally I uttered several curse words.  The only other courthouse I was aware of was in White Plains, well north of the city and very likely an hour away under even the best of circumstances.  How could I make such a mistake?  "The other courthouse?" I asked, hopefully.

"Well, it's the Thurgood Marshall Building, where the Second Circuit sits," she said.  "It's at Foley Square."

"Is it far away?"

"Oh, no, it's just across the street.  It's a two-minute walk."

Relieved, I got directions from her and checked my watch.  10:15.  I was going to make it.

But if I hadn't been early, I never would have.

And that's why I always show up early to court.

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