Today was to have been one of my worst days in a very, very long time.
It was the day I was scheduled to go to court for the first time ever.
I was nearly desperate last night, reading about court procedures at a frenzied pace and fretting about where I'd get the money to pay the enormous court fees. I went to bed early, dreading the day and hoping fervently that it would be infinity times less horrible than I expected.
Against all odds, that's exactly what happened.
I got to the courthouse early -- very early. So early, in fact, that it hadn't even opened to the public yet! I was aware of the building's hours (having seen them on the website the night before), but I thought it was worth a try to get inside and out of the biting cold. (Note: fancy shoes are NOT made for keeping one's feet warm in such situations!) I was quite relieved to find the door unlocked and stepped into the warm interior.
"Ma'am, this building is closed to the public until eight. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
It was only 7:20. I couldn't stay outside all that time! "Can't I just stay here?" I asked, desperately.
"No, ma'am, this building is closed to the public."
Blinking back childish tears, I stepped out into the kind of day that makes you want to huddle deep under your covers and beg for mercy.
Fortunately, I spent only five minutes exposing my under-clad feet to the weather. I found an office building across the street with unlocked doors and slipped into a warm lobby, in which four black leather chairs were arranged around a little table. A brief stint in one of these chairs quickly convinced me that I was far too chilled to expose myself to heat-sapping leather. Besides, what if someone saw me and sent me away? I'd had that happen once. I didn't think I could deal with it a second time. And so, not without some inner amusement, I settled myself on the rug between two chairs and pulled out a book.
I was there for a full forty minutes and not one person noticed me. Or at least, if they noticed, no one remarked on my presence. Maybe I was better-hidden between the chairs than I'd thought, maybe they were too busy to bother checking to see if I belonged there, or maybe they took pity on a displaced little waif hiding from the cold. Whatever the reason, I remained undisturbed for long enough to thaw out.
As eight o'clock approached, I gathered up every ounce of my trembling courage and stepped out of the welcoming warmth of the unknown building.
One thing that I took away from my visit to the courthouse: it takes a great deal of lining-up to get people properly sorted! I stood in line to get into the building, stood in line to go through security, then went up in an elevator and down a long hallway to stand in line again so I could check in with one of the clerks.
The official copy of my ticket was placed at the bottom of a pile. When I came to the front of the line, it came to the top of the pile, and the clerk who picked it up called me forward.
"What was the offense?"
"I went through a crosswalk when someone was entering it."
He considered for a moment, then scribbled something on the ticket. "I'm going to let you go with a warning. They treated you pretty harshly." He glanced up and noticed my incomprehension. "I saw them send you back outside. You looked pretty miserable."
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Did he really mean it? No court costs or anything? "So, should I just...?"
"I would recommend you scoot out that door as fast as you can."
I duly scooted, and stood not upon the order of my going.
No guards stopped me in the long hallway. I wished a lonely-looking man luck as I passed him by, and we exchanged the smiles of strangers. I escaped into the elevator, stepped out into the lobby, marveled for a moment at the miraculous outcome of my first visit to traffic court, then skipped outside and sang songs of rejoicing to the winter sky.