It is not often than any of us from this area get to the New London Judicial District Courthouse. That’s really too bad. It is without doubt one of the friendliest, most accommodating courthouses in the state.
I tried three quarters of a case there last summer. The people, top to bottom, are warm and courteous. They go out of their way to make things easy. The clerks are polite, prompt and simply nice. The judges-even those very few whose idiosyncrasies, short tempers and persnicketiness drive us nuts when they’re assigned to other jurisdictions-are patient, polite and understanding. And the marshals, sentries of the metal detector, couldn’t be better. One’s mother brings a full lunch for everyone on, I think, the first Wednesday of the month and on every other Wednesday brings in baked goods, again for the assembled masses. [She even entertains occasional requests, or at least she did for me when I asked for those brownie-like coconut bars with nuts and chocolate chips. In fact the judge called a recess when she brought some into the courtroom late one afternoon.]
And the most incredible part is the basement snack bar. The food’s ok and the prices are bargain basement terrific. But-get this, Mavis-the guy runs it on the honor system. Typically shutting down at about three, he leaves the place open-candy bars, chips, pastries and all-with a cup for cash on the counter. For those of us used to seeing women take their purses from the pews when they go to receive communion this is astounding.
And so, after a long drive battling traffic and trying to figure out a way to cross examine a difficult witness you arrive, are greeted warmly and can attempt to ply your trade in a comfortable atmosphere. A quick lunch on the conveniently-placed picnic tables outside the rear entrance, always a pleasure. And, occasionally you get to catch the sight of a cruise ship docking in the harbor, spewing forth gawking Danes , Germans or Finns on to Captain’s Walk while waiting for the shuttle to Foxwoods.
But be warned. There is danger lurking in these parts. I speak from personal experience. From time to time when trying a case away from home, there is an extended mid-day break. It leaves too little time to travel home, yet not enough time to do any serious work. And Blackberrys and cellphones wear thin.
It’s time then, to take a walk around the small center of this small town. Out the front of the Courthouse, down Captain’s Walk and inevitably right on Bank Street. By the charming shops, occasional bakeshoppes and the random bar until, up there on the left at 155 is a small, two story stone building. A little out of character for this commercial area. But look, the sign says Custom House Maritime Museum. Well we have 10 minutes to burn, why not.
You will soon learn. In an age when tourism has replaced industry as a major ingredient to a successful economy and at a time when life expectancy has increased dramatically, there are a lot of people with too much time on their hands. Having tired of golf, quilting or whist, many choose to become docents of the arcane. I remember the Connecticut octogenarian who occasionally appeared on the Johnny Carson show promoting her “Nut Museum” in Old Lyme. I remember, too, a fellow in Youngwood, Pennsylvania, with fingers missing from each hand who proudly maintained an Old Farm Tools Museum which featured an almost operative shingle-maker which was apparently responsible for at least two of the three missing digits.
Well what those folks and others like them had in common with the gentleman in charge of New London’s Custom House Museum is that few visitors ever come to see their beloved displays. And so, when someone shows up-say an unsuspecting lawyer from the Elm City looking to while away ten minutes-the trap is sprung. Once inside, you can’t get out. It’s like flypaper. You’re stuck.
There is a spiel, a lengthy spiel. It’s been memorized and rehearsed and don’t think, pal, you’re going to walk out of there before you’ve heard every word. So you just want to look at that painting, well let me tell you about it. And not so fast, there’s a lot to tell. And don’t get clever by trying to move on to the next room because I’m coming with you. You see what’s on that wall over there? Well let me tell you about that too. And before you leave, let me tell you about the annual festival that began just after World War One. We have fotos here of the parade for each of the years, except ’42 and ’43 and then there was the time . . . . .
You get the picture-no, not the pictures of the parades-there is no escape. For this kindly and lonely guide, like a stranded desert traveler on a quest for water, you are an oasis. You will be savored, enjoyed, slathered in information in which you have no interest and for which no time. Only those completely devoid of etiquette and possessing the sensitivity of a jackhammer would dare depart and ruin this person’s day. On the other hand, we are trial lawyers. It can be done.
Nevertheless, you have been warned.