Friday, December 17, 2010

In The Shadow of The Courthouse

On one of the last warm days of autumn I’m at the stop light at 8th and Logan when I see him coming up the sidewalk from the county parking lot. He’s maybe 25 with freshly cut shaggy blonde hair, a deep indigo tattoo on his arm and a piercing on his lower lip. There’s a chain from his belt to a black leather wallet tucked in his back pocket. His tight, ill-fitting clothes look borrowed or found in the back of the closet, maybe leftover from graduation or a wedding. He enters the cross walk distracted, alternately and warily eyeing a legal-sized document in his hand and the Judicial Center.

He’s just one in the cast of characters on the courthouse square on any given day. As people head to offices or courtrooms, you never get more than a glimpse at their story or mission.

There is an array of lawyers passing on the sidewalk, some familiar, some unknown. I see two of Noblesville’s well-established attorneys on the same day. Jack Hittle ambles along beneath the shadow of the courthouse, bolt upright wearing a tweed driving cap. He sees my red van and offers a stiff wave as I pass. Steve Holt turns the corner of 10th and Conner in a navy blue suite with a clutch of files under his arm.

At lunchtime a scrum of B-team attorneys wait at the crosswalk. I’ve seen this group in the Hamilton or Asian Grill. A couple dominate the conversation while a young one sits with arms crossed at the edge of the action scanning the room and the faces at his table, looking lost.

You normally don’t see judges. They park underground beneath the Judicial Center. But during the lunch hour Judge Pflegging might round a corner plodding down the sidewalk in running shoes and shorts, jogging his lunch hour away. Sitting with my lunchtime gang at the coffee shop, I’ll often see a magistrate and a judge pass the window headed to Subway.

And the county employees: these are the people popping out of the alleyways at 7:50 each morning waiting for traffic that won’t stop to let them pass, the ones who get chased out of crosswalks by drivers talking on their cell phones, the ones being brow-beaten right now to cut spending, the ones trying to manage your child support payments, your property tax payments, your court date, your farm’s drainage issues, your child’s vaccinations and a thousand other things too numerous to mention.

I know scores of these folks by site, not name. I see them in the coffee shop in the morning, in restaurants at lunch, and passing under the Conner Street Bridge at the end of the day. Some hapless souls stand in the snow, smoking at break time, hugging themselves with a cigarette between two fingers beneath the granite overhang of the Judicial Center. Two of them power walk through Old Town neighborhoods during their lunch hour. And I note the mysterious habit of female workers: they carry multiple bags to and from work – some carrying as many of three shoulder or tote bags.

Comedy relief in this chaotic production comes in the form of the gorilla-marketing dude on the corner of 8th and Conner dancing in his dollar bill costume, carrying a sign that says, “We Buy Gold,” and the elderly man who sometimes sits on a bench with a sign that reads, “Jesus Saved Me From Cigarettes.”

Of all that I see on the courthouse square there’s one thing that sends a cold shadow across my heart: the television news trucks. Their arrival usually signals a moment of warped human perspective. If a hardworking, low-income mother isn’t getting child support payments from her child’s father, the news trucks will not arrive. If a deceased billionaire’s first wife sues his 2nd wife, they will be there with their satellite dishes extended skyward. If a Carmel High School student was being recognized by the County Commissioners for winning the National Science Fair, they won’t be there. If a Carmel High School athlete gives another student an “atomic goose” on the back of a team bus, the cameras will be there for the assault hearing, capturing the earnest words of a reporter’s dispatch from the courthouse lawn.

Look about next time you’re caught at a stoplight downtown. On any given workday you can witness suggested tragedies, hints of law enforcement, glimpses of criminal justice, and the beginning of half-told stories.

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