From inside and out the Yosemite District Court looked like a ski-cabin, just as every other building in the valley did. There are probably not many houses of justice in the States or anywhere else in the world around which deer frequently graze. I arrived early, sleep deprived and quite savagely hungover. Before I detail proceedings it’s interesting to note the clear division in the personalities or perhaps dispositions toward me of the courthouse’s meagre staff: the bailiff, or master-at-arms or whatever, seemed hostile, especially after I wandered to the rear of the building to sit down and he growled at me that I wasn’t allowed there; the court clerk was an attractive, very friendly woman in her 40s who smiled in my direction while I charmed the court and especially her with a lucid yet resigned to defeat defence; the guy who sat at the front desk was a sympathetic, grandfatherly type who warmly said to me when the time came to enter the court, “Now pretend that you’re ready”; and the judge was the stern but benevolent and I must say quite reasonable fatherly type. The male and female prosecutors were largely ignorant of me, but I didn’t mind. When they first walked in the building I was worried they were local media. Can’t speak much about my court appointed attorney, as he was present only as a voice via telephone from Fresno, more than two hours south. But he was ok in dealing with the simple issue.
The highlights of a minor legal matter are as follows: the prosecution had offered me a deal, which I accepted, to plead guilty to a “wet reckless” instead of drunk driving, pay a $1000US fine, and be put on probation for six months or until the fine had been paid; the judge did not have to accept this deal and could have potentially put me in jail for more than six months or forced me to pay more than $20,000 for all of the four charges laid upon me; and in closing he said he was concerned I would be back before him after committing a similar offence while on probation, but accepted the deal, ruled accordingly and even allowed me to continue driving. But not before the kicker, which was when he asked me “Have you had anything to drink during the past 24 hours?”
“I should lie,” I thought, but hastened under oath to say: “I drank a half bottle of Southern Comfort last night, Your Honour.”
After brief sniggering from everyone in the court except me subsided, he asked if I “thought alcohol was a problem for you?”
“Possibly, Your Honour,” I replied, “but I think it’s circumstantial, Your Honour, as I’m alone here, a long way from home and it’s very cold, Your Honour.” This seemed to satisfy him. I resisted adding that facing an unfortunate court appearance was a factor in my drinking. I was served with a fine, left the court, walked back to the Dragon, and got the hell out of there as fast as I dared while suffering immediate and almost paralysing post traumatic stress.
Mountains shrouded in mist lined the Squamish River’s west bank northward as far as the eye could see. Frigid fast moving waters separated them from the campground which I’d essentially booked out for myself that evening. The cabin girl walked her dogs past as I was setting up a fire and mentioned there were eagles in the hills.
“Bald eagles?” I asked.
“No, we don’t do bald eagles here.”
“Well that’s not good enough – I’m leaving,” I grinned sardonically.
She smiled and we chatted a little more, before she continued on to disappear among the trees with her animals. Although I’ve always been quite agnostic about religion, I spoke to God that night. Still conscious of my isolation, sitting in the dark penetrated only by a roaring cold-shattering fire, it was about the time of my ninth cheap local can of beer. I didn’t pray. I didn’t swear. I didn’t even complain. I instead made the Big Man promise I’d sooner or later have something important to do with my life. He didn’t answer. The fire may have cinematically flared. A bird may have called to the night. I can’t be sure. I went to bed and stayed in a motel the following night because rain – not snow, damn it all – set in. The next morning I drove the Dragon back to Vancouver, vacuumed and washed it, and sadly handed over the keys at the Wicked depot. Then I caught a cab to the airport to make the San Francisco connecting flight to Las Vegas.