I woke up this morning to a very sweet–yet–urgent summons from my wife: You have jury duty, she said. In 15 minutes.

It takes 30 minutes to get downtown in the best of circumstances. I’d be lucky to make it during rush hour in fewer than 60.

Decision time: was today an epic inconvenience—the holiday retail season is breathing down our necks and we have Serious Business™ to which we need to attend, or an adventure? I chose the one less traveled by.

Fast-forward to me standing in front of a disgruntled court employee. Why were you 45 minutes late, she asked. Traffic? I said tentatively. A partial explanation at best.

She let me in. I joined my fellow citizens. We sat and waited, not really having the slightest clue how this was all supposed to work. When would we be divided into the jurors and the not-jurors? Could we use our cellphones in the meantime?

The answer to the first question turned out to be somewhere near 10 o’clock. The answer to the second was yes, I think. I never really found out for sure. And the LTE was so slow it didn’t make any difference.

Rollcall began. I wasn’t sure whether I should be hoping to be picked or hoping not to be picked. What does it all mean?

Thirty or so jurors were named. I wasn’t one of them.

Those who had been selected were seated on the left side of the room, if you’re looking at the judge. The rest of us moved to the right side. One by one the selected jurors were brought to the front to be interviewed. If I listened carefully, I could almost hear the standard questions being asked.

Do you have any religious, moral, or ethical beliefs that would prevent you from sitting in judgment in a criminal case and rendering a fair verdict?

The selectee shifts in his chair, looking at the defendent.

Would you be more likely to believe the testimony of a police officer or any other law enforcement officer because of his or her job?

This time he leans in, offering more—much more—than a simple yes or a no. Well, I would have to hear the facts, of course, he explains.

Would you have any problem during jury deliberations in a criminal case discussing the case fully but still making up your own mind?

One by one, person after person.

Each prospective juror had filled out a questionnaire about all of this earlier. I guess the respective counsels wanted to hear the answers, to watch the body langauge, to see the favorability or unfavorability first-hand.

This went on for a while. You can be seated, number six. Number seven, please come forward. Number 13 was called. I finally got up to stretch my legs and hit the bathroom. I wasn’t sure if that was allowed, but others had moved around without rebuke so I figured I was in the clear.

When I came back a few minutes later, people were milling about. I asked the guy beside me what had happened. Four jurors were selected, he said. The rest had their papers returned and were told to hang around. Nothing was said to our side of the room. Ten jurors had been selected for this case yesterday. With the four selected today, that made the traditional dozen plus two alternates. So… we could go? Nobody knew.

We sat, mostly silently—though by this time you could hear the more extroverted chatting with their neigbors. At 11:30, we were granted a lunch break. Be back here at 1:30, they said.

I walked to Jimmy John’s. I broke out the laptop in an attempt to get at least a nominal amount of work done. The $9 per diem the state generously provides for showing up and the extra $6.80 stipend for gas wouldn’t even cover parking, let alone lunch and time missed on the job. Oh well.

An hour or so later I made my way back to the little corner of the courthouse we were assigned, Room 318. His Honorable So-And-So presiding. Or not really. He was there, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why his presence was necessary. Security guards were there also. Three of them. In case the alleged got out of hand or something. Surely the security couldn’t have been for the jury-to-be. We all passed a rigorous security screen just to get in the building. The metal detector was so sensitive I had to take my wedding ring off. That’s how I know we were safe.

Since I was early, I camped out in the vending area. Thank Steve Jobs for Internet tethering. Maybe they would call us all back into the main room at some point. Maybe they wouldn’t.

They didn’t. Around 2:15 a lady stopped in to let us know that as long as nobody requested jurors before 3 o’clock, we would be free to go, and just like that I was on my way home.

The process wasn’t efficient. It didn’t feel particularly civic. The people working at the courthouse seemed beaten-down. The whole experience was designed to be tiresome, or, I guess, not designed at all. In many ways, it’s a completely broken system. Yet I didn’t mind. My fellow juror candidates came from all walks of life. They weren’t excited to be there, but they seemed willing to do their part. Hopefully the accused gets a fair trial. I think he will.

People don’t pay me by the hour. I get paid when you buy our shirts. My wife doesn’t work. Not because I make a lot of money—I probably make a good bit less than you and definitely less than you think—but because we would rather forfeit that money than spend it to pay someone else to raise our kids. Aside from being paycheck-to-paycheck for the last five years while we try to get a business up in the air, my life really isn’t that hard. Was I happy to dodge the jury-duty bullet? Absolutely. I have work to do. I couldn’t help thinking, however, that a lot of people in that room lead more difficult lives, sacrificed more to be there today, and would, if given the choice, have traded places with me in a minute.