Monday, June 28, 2010

Objects in the Rear-View Mirror

I drive a lot. The little car that I have now will be 4 years old on July 4th (is there anything more patriotic than buying a Japanese car on Independence Day?) and has roughly 110,000 miles on it. Not long-haul trucker type of driving I know but considering that none of Skate's miles have been put on while driving on anything other than New Jersey's highways and byways, it seems to me at least to be more than just a little bit of mileage.

I was thinking about the driving I do because I am starting a trial today in Warren County, a county whose county seat is fifty miles from my office. Our civil justice system in New Jersey is structured in a manner that does not permit attorneys to ask the jurors questions directly. In New Jersey the process of voir dire is handled by the trial judge. Several years ago our courts determined that the voir dire process would be aided greatly by preparing a form questionnaire. The questionnaire is used for all civil trials.

Among the "form" questions posed to all prospective jurors is "What type of bumper stickers, if any, do you have on your car, other than political ones?" Usually it is not a question to which I pay particular attention. In my experience, far more often than not, prospective jurors either have no bumper stickers on their vehicles other than ones supporting a particular candidate or espousing a particular political belief or - during voir dire - they deny having any bumper stickers. For whatever it is worth, they all appear to watch a lot of PBS and listen to NPR but watch no other television and listen to no other radio programs.

On Thursday while driving back from a court appearance in Camden County, which is a whole hell of a lot further from my office than Warren County is, I passed a mini-van on the Turnpike that had not a bumper sticker but a magnetic sign that made me hope that its owner is among this week's potential jurors in Warren County. The sign? "CAUTION: DO NOT TAILGATE. SHOW DOGS ON BOARD." What a demand to articulate aloud; right? Do not follow my car too closely because I have valuable property that I am carrying with me. Really? How wonderfully pretentious one must be to affix such a sign to one's car.

Show dogs are not after all pets. They are assets. My dog Rosalita is an invaluable member of our family and of our household. I think of her not as property. I think of her as my pet. While Margaret and I spent a fair amount of money to purchase her, her value is intangible. We do not think of her as property.

Maybe I am in the minority but the signage struck me as audacious. Particularly so because when I passed the vehicle while I could not see any show dogs inside of it, I did see a small child. Conspicuous by its absence on the mini-van was a sign cautioning other motorists to not tailgate the mini-van because the driver had a child or children aboard. What a thrill it must be to be the child of someone who advertises to the outside world a concern for his or her show dog that trumps that expressed for his or her child.

I want to order my own magnetic sign. I intend to post it on the rear of my car on Sundays for my drive home from the grocery store: "CAUTION! DO NOT TAILGATE. EGGS ON BOARD." They are my property. They are valuable. Unlike the average Rottweiler they are fragile.

I suspect that this week's jury pool in Warren County will contain exactly zero people who confess to having either a magnetic sign regarding show dogs or one pertaining to eggs affixed to their vehicle. Too damn bad. That is the type of person I would like to meet. For if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car.


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