Coleman-Franken trial: An ode to quarters, parking and routine

It’s become a daily routine, like brushing my teeth, feeding the dog and listening to an MPR fund raiser.

At about 8:27 a.m. every weekday, I hop into my dirty Dodge van, drive the 8.1 miles east on I-94, swing through the Sears parking lot and wind up in the friendly confines of the “Orange” parking ramp directly across the street from the Minnesota Judicial Center, home to the Al Franken-Norm Coleman election contest.

I have, for the past five-plus weeks, parked my crumb-speckled vehicle in spots No. 17 or 21. The former is a prime number. The latter is a lucky number.

Then, like clockwork, every day I have reached into the tiny shelf beneath the radio and hunted for or — if organized — found instantly my quarters.

Lots of them.

To park in a state-owned lot a customer needs quarters. And more quarters. There is a little kiosk with a timing device. Everyone who parks in my Orange ramp must walk from his or her car to the kiosk and, then, insert quarters.

A single quarter gets you a full 10 minutes. To park for an entire morning, that’ll be $4.50. Three hours is the max. Eighteen quarters.

That’s been the price of admission to the Coleman-Franken trial.

Some days, it’s a cheap ticket. To see Franken lawyers David Lillehaug and Kevin Hamilton cross-examine is worth a couple or three quarters. To watch Coleman’s Ben Ginsberg hold the media jackals in the palms of his creative hands, that’s another 50 cents, at least. To hear Franken’s lead lawyer, Marc Elias, passionately argue in court for his Senate candidate, that’s gotta be another 75 cents. Or to watch Joe Friedberg operate, there’s another three quarters or so.

Kicking dirt
Like today, at the start of the court session. There was a sidebar at the bench with the judges. It was away from the microphones, so spectators in the gallery could only hear whispers and see body language.

But Friedberg, a shortish, stout fellow, was animated about getting in some evidence about some ballots. As the private session ensued, Friedberg, the Twin Cities-based legal legend, seemed to be getting angrier and angrier, exasperated and perturbed.

Were he a baseball manager — and one can imagine him in that role — it looked like he was about to tear third base out of the ground, throw it and kick dirt on the judges’ robes.

Now, that would have been worth four or five quarters.

Other days, my quarters would have been better used in a laundromat or gumball machine.

For more than a month, I’ve become a close personal friend of the change machine on the first floor of the Judicial Center.

There, you can slide in a $20 bill and receive 80 quarters at once. Ding-ding-ding-ding. Eighty times. It’s like Las Vegas without the free drinks and neon.

Plus, having 80 quarters rattling around in my right sports jacket pocket gives me a great feeling of power. In this courtroom, power is what it’s all about. Although my power can be noisy when I sit down.

For weeks, different folks have told me I could purchase an actual parking pass that would cost $5 per day. The thought of quarter withdrawal worried me.

If I were following the letter of the law, I would have been putting $4.50 into the “Orange” kiosk twice a day; once for the three hours in the morning, once for three hours in the afternoon.

That would have totaled $9 a day in quarters. That would mean 80 quarters in both sports jacket pockets. My 5-foot-9 frame would be pushed into a 5-7 frame with that many George Washingtons in those symmetrical pockets.

I broke down
I must disclose here that I have been plugging said kiosk for just the morning session. It seems as if the Capitol police only monitor the ramp in the morning. In nearly a month of parking, I have received one ticket for not enough quarters; but that was in the morning. Ugh, a $23 ticket.

If Friedberg would have gone nose-to-nose with Judge Hayden and if she would have given him the heave-ho…that’s the only way this trial is worth $23.

Well, Tuesday, I broke down. I spoke to Linda Van Dusartz, the very nice lady who is the Judicial Center receptionist. She obtains day-long parking passes for folks.

I felt a bit sheepish. The change machine is a few steps away and it could hear my request of Linda. Yes, she said, she’d have the passes for me Wednesday. I sadly gave her a $20 bill.

My dance with the quarters was soon to end.

Today, I got into the van at 8:27 a.m., drove east on I-94, slid through the Sears lot and headed for parking spots 17 or 21.

Ohmigosh. Both were filled. Odd. A sign?

Panicking, I raced past the kiosk to see Linda in pursuit of my very own official state parking passes to place neatly on my dashboard.

Ohmigosh, Linda couldn’t find the passes. She knew she had them earlier this morning. Where could they be?

She gave me a temporary pass — an unofficial sort — to place in my car as she hunted.

I ran back towards the van, preparing to avoid the kiosk I was to let down this day. No quarters from me for the first time in a month. Kiosks have feelings, too.

As I approached the Orange ramp, I heard, “Jay.”

Linda called from the door of the Judicial Center.

She’d found my passes. My life as a quarters junkie was over.

I placed the official parking pass on my dashboard.

The election contest trial will never be the same.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Rich Ahrens on 02/25/2009 - 12:17 pm.

    Zzzzzzzzzz…

    Almost as good as Ambien.

  2. Submitted by Keith Ford on 02/25/2009 - 02:26 pm.

    Okay, so explain to me who the sidebar is supposed to be keeping in the dark.

    I understand sidebars in the presence of a jury but there is no jury here. So the only folks in the dark is the public — the folks who are paying for this and the folks who the “contestant” and the “contestee” seek to represent.

    This is outrageous!

  3. Submitted by Eddie H-J on 02/27/2009 - 03:04 am.

    there’s completely free parking on the street behind the League of Minnesota Cities building…then just take the SOB tunnel to the Judicial Center

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