Monday, April 21, 2008

Beware Italians bearing Matzoh

Balducci’s, the expensive hippie grocery store “Food Lover’s Market™” where I go for lunch sometimes—like today—and where Bob and I had breakfast at JFK on the way to Hong Kong, had Passover Brownies for sale today. They didn’t have flour as an ingredient (duh?), so I suspect that they are similar to the “Warm Flourless Chocolate Waffle” available at Mike’s “American” Grill (which is very good, although they don’t warn you that the ice cream has caramel on it).

Anyway, on my way out I noticed that they had a whole Passover Holiday Menu (PDF) (“A memorable Seder dinner starts with our menu.”), so I picked one up to see what else they had. You can buy Matzoh Balls, Gefilte Fish, Passover Fruit Cheesecake, and Spinach “Matzsagna”. It all sounds very festive and convenient for Jewish families who aren’t so into cooking.

But then I noticed this in small print at the bottom of the last page of the menu:
NOTE: Many items on this menu are prepared in facilties [sic] that may process peanuts, nuts, shellfish, or other potential allergens. While all of our food is fabulous, it is not kosher.


Very strange. I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about this sort of thing. Chag Pesach Kasher v’Same’ach, everybody.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Today, by order of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of the City of Alexandria, Virginia, I was summoned to serve as a petit juror. (The term has to do with the number of jurors being typically smaller than in a grand jury; it is not, in fact, an affront to my stature.)

The summons said to arrive at 8:30, so I left my apartment slightly before 8:00 to give myself time to find parking. It turned out that there were spots available in the underground garage below the courthouse, so I was there and checked in by 8:20. It was a very pleasant waiting room, with a Dvořák waltz coming from the radio (which was tuned to WETA).

The man who checked us in, Travis Sweitzer, was very gracioso. He went out of his way to make everyone feel at ease and welcome and wanted, and he really seemed to enjoy his work. He sort of looked like a thinner, more fit Jimmy Kimmel, but with a goatee and infinitely less annoying.

Once everyone had arrived (three or four showed up right at 8:30, one a little after 8:40 (slacker!)), we watched a video about the Virginia justice system. I learned that in Virginia, you are not required to serve as a juror more than once every three years (so I'm good until 2011). I also learned that a jury is not always a group of 12. That's only for criminal trials for felony offences. Trials for misdemeanor crimes have 7-person juries, and juries for civil cases have 5-7 members, depending upon the magnitude (in dollars) of the lawsuit.

There were seventeen of us there, so clearly we wouldn't all be needed. The process by which the lawyers eliminate potential jurors is called voir dire, which is a French phrase meaning, "I think this juror would side with the other guy, so he must go".

Having watched the orientation video, we were now ready to serve as jurors. There was some time remaining before we were to go to the courtroom, so Travis called us up to get our $30 expense reimbursement (which he stressed was a reimbursement and not earned income - that means it's not taxable, w00t).

Armed with three Hamiltons each, it was now time to enter the courtroom. It really wasn't very impressive; sort of what I would expect if Matlock had been made with the budget of Wayne's World (before Rob Lowe got involved). In place of the elegant varnish and hard flooring of the courtrooms of Law & Order, we had white and blue paint and carpet, and plastic seats.

The judge was a nice lady from Fairfax, presumably filling in for the vacant third judgeship. She introduced the lawyers (one for the plaintiff, two for the defendant) and told us about the case. It was a personal injury civil suit. This one Chinese lady (wearing yellow with wavy hair) was accusing another Chinese lady (short hair, dressed in orange; made her look like a convict - bad choice) of assaulting her in the parking lot of a grocery store in Falls Church back in 2004 and causing her to break her ankle.

2004! Justice sure is swift, huh. I guess it's okay; Justice is supposed to be blind, and blind people are usually slow since they have to be careful not to run into stuff. Except for Rutger Hauer. He's like Daredevil but cool.

Anyway, then we got to the voir dire part. The plaintiff's attorney asked us (not in so many words) whether we were predisposed to think of him as an ambulance chaser, and if we would be able to award compensation for expected future pain and suffering. Two of us expressed reservations about that, saying it seemed like it would be difficult to predict the future. I asked what discount rate we would be asked to apply, but said I'd try my best to decide in accordance with the law. Another guy said he felt that in general there are too many frivolous lawsuits in America, but didn't specifically feel that way about this case (yet?).

The main defense attorney asked some stuff, too, and paid particular attention to the two jury candidates who had broken their ankles in the past (one goofing around as a kid, the other in Vietnam). They both assured him that their past experience would not bias them in favor of their fellow broken-ankle comrade. I guess they don't have Anklestrong anklets.

After the questioning, the lawyers marked down who the wanted eliminated, the clerk tallied the list, and… my name was on it. Along with most of the other people who had spoken up during voir dire. I think both of the broken ankle guys got to stay, though. So at that point Travis led ten of us out of the courtroom and wished us farewell. It was almost 11:00.

I used my $30 to pay the $6 parking fee and then I was out of there. I have no idea who won the case.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Bob and Jamie's Adventures in Hong Kong, Day 7

Sunday morning we checked out of our hotel. The concierge offered to hail a taxi for us, and made sure the driver knew where we wanted to go (Hong Kong Station, to catch the Airport Express).

We only had to wait a couple minutes before the train was on its way toward the airport. On the way, we passed by Tung Chung and saw the waterfront where we'd walked around as well as the Ngong Ping cable car. It was a lot more meaningful to me this time (I'd seen them going the other way the first day, too), since now I knew what the buildings were and where the cable car went.

When we got to the airport, we got our boarding passes and checked our bags (we had already checked in online back at the hotel), and then went to our third Burger King (which Bob says was the first one established of the four) for breakfast. Then we stopped by the Disney store so he could buy his cousin a toy and proceeded to our gate.

Before long it was time to board, and I fell asleep almost right away. I woke up for the meals and made it through a couple movies, but I slept far more on the return flight than I had on the flight there. This time we must have been riding in the jet stream, because rather than fly north over the Pole, we took a more easterly route over Japan and along the coast of Alaska.

When we were descending into New York, I marveled at the blue sky and all the houses in Queens and Nassau County; you just don't see anything like that in Hong Kong, which is predominantly smog-grey skies and apartment buildings. I was glad to be back in America.

We got through Customs without incident, rechecked our bags with American Airlines, and got through security with time to spare before our final flights back to Boston and Washington, so we grabbed lunch at the Brooklyn Deli (there was an ad saying "we'll make you a sandwich you won't refuse") and ate it by the gate. Before too long, it was time for me to board (10 minutes before Bob), so we parted ways and I found my seat on the plane. I started to read a book, but as soon as we'd taken off, I fell asleep again and didn't wake up again until we were flying over Great Falls on our final approach into National.

When the plane stopped at the gate, I could see the Jefferson Memorial from my window, and directly behind it, the Washington Monument.

Home at last.