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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You've been served....sort of!

The weather today was beautiful.  Mid December and there was no need for a coat and, I wore sandals.  I did wear my hat.  I was going to have to do two jobs today.  We were one man down and that normally means a trip to the Courthouse for me.  However, today, I had to put on a different hat, one of a Process Server. 

Process Serving in Texas has, since its inception, been the object of political wrangles, the details of which may be written in another post, (depending on how politically active I become next year).  In 2005 it became necessary to become 'certified' to deliver Writs from Texas courts.  However, there are a lot of papers that can be delivered by anyone over the age of 18 and not a party to the suit.  I fall into the latter category. 

It was a pretty easy task, today.  A gentleman walked into our office, said he had something to collect, and I handed him the paper.  He thanked me and walked out, having been 'served'.  Of course, not everyone is as willing to accept papers that could be the start of a long and drawn out lawsuit.  The Hollywood portrayal of jumping out of the shadows, or coming to the door in cognito, however, is not typical. 

I have not served many papers.  As I am not certified (which perhaps I should be, in more ways than one!) I am restricted as to what I can deliver, and then it is only in an emergency, and an emergency it was when I was asked to deliver a paper, 'down south', shortly after expatriating, that I regained a whole new appreciation for staying in the office.

The delivery of the paper in question was meant to be very easy. It came with a provision to 'post it to the door', rather than having to hand it to the person who was named on the Document.  Simple, I thought.  The first obstacle was finding the place.  I left the office around 2pm and headed down the highway with a map.  Finding the 'Y' in the road was not a problem.  Taking the correct fork was slightly more difficult.  With a one way system in operation, that was devised after the map was printed, I attempted to find the road which would take me to my destination.  Completely lost, with miles of road and no shops, houses or any other stopping place with a human, to ask directions, I decided to continue driving until I could find a landmark.  I was not sure what landmark I would be able to find or if, indeed, it would be of any use, but continue I did and eventually I came to a garage.  Speaking English was not a priority to the woman behind the counter and sign language seemed to indicate that she was just there to look as if the place was occupied, whilst the regular assistant was, perhaps, on a break.  I left the building and having swallowed my pride, which is very hard to swallow, I called the office and had to admit, 'I am lost'. 

The advice of 'carry on driving until you see something we can find on the map', was not very encouraging, but continue driving I did.  Fortunately, the advice was good and pretty soon I found a sign that indicated I was just a couple of miles from my destination.  Convinced that I could 'take it from here', I drove along until I saw the bar which was, supposedly, in front of the house where I was to 'post' the documents. 

Parking my little mini in front of a convenience store, I hoped out, wearing the traditional high heels, nice black trousers suit and, of course, Stetson.  I walked across to the bar and around the back.  Houses were not what was behind the bar.  There was a trailer park and a few abandoned cars.  I decided not to venture further and returned to my car.  Deciding not to wimp out, and call the office again, I thought I would 'ask around'.  Being from a generation, and culture, that frowned upon women entering a bar alone, I hesitated before entering the establishment that was possibly going to contain my only lead.  After all, in a one horse town, the barman was sure to know the person for whom I was searching and would, no doubt, know where he lived. How wrong can one person be.  I took a deep breath, walked in and took note of my surroundings.  Four people were in the bar, one of which was an Englishwoman, wearing a pair of high heels, black trousers suit and, of course, Stetson.  My companions were a young woman, an older man and the barman.  The slim young blonde was dancing (although there was no music playing) around the pool tables.  Her hands were brushing over the wooden frames and I wondered if she knew her duster had obviously fallen from her grasp.  Perhaps she was looking for the vacuum cleaner?  I am always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt!  The older man was sitting at the bar trying to conduct a conversation with the barman, who was cleaning glasses, despite the lack of customers. (Perhaps they had a busy lunchtime.) It was as if I had walked into the twilight zone.  It appeared they did not notice me as I entered, so I very bravely walked up to the bar, smiled my biggest smile and then asked, 'do you know.....?'  The barman looked at the older man, and the older man looked at me.  The blonde continued dancing and dusting.  Unfortunately, my theory was wrong and not only did they not know the gentleman for whom I was looking, they had no idea where the property for which I was looking, was located.  How big was this town?  I asked if perhaps the people at the convenience store might know, or the hairdressers which was attached to the bar. Convenience store?  Hairdressers?  I was either speaking another language (perhaps something had taken place in the garage where I had previously stopped) or I had indeed entered the 'Stargate'. 

I left the bar, still determined not to call the office, and was willing to take a second strike by asking the hairdressers.  If anyone has seen the movie 'Coming to America' with Eddie Murphy, and remembers the scene in the barber shop, you will be able to imagine, with no problem, the scene at the hairdressers. There was one hairdresser, one customer, and the rest of the people were just there for the ride.  My entering did not stop the chatter.  Although I have no idea whom they were berating, I was already feeling a deep sympathy for her, as she could not defend herself.  On the other hand, if she really was that bad, she really needed counselling!  My timid 'excuse me', did nothing to interrupt the flow, and clearing my throat was of no effect.  Being invisible, however, was not an option as time was flying by, and I had to get back into Austin before the end of the day!  Raising my voice to a sound level slightly higher than that of the legal limit, I managed to gain their attention and all at once, they stopped talking, turned their heads towards me, and glared.  With great courage, I asked my question.  'Do you know him?', the hairdresser asked the customer.  She shook her head.  'Do you know him?'  She then asked one of the other visitors, and continued around the room.  As she asked each one in turn, the penultimate questionee asked the person next to her, and it sounded like a chorus of  'Frere Jacques'.  I am not sure how long they continued, but I excused myself before the last, 'ding dang dong', and went back to my car. 

Feeling rather dejected, I saw a couple turning the corner, and pounced before they had a chance to disappear through the time warp through which I had obviously passed.  Amazingly, not only did they know for whom I was looking, but they also knew the house.  They gave me directions, which did, indeed, lead round the back of the bar. They also told me their medical history, which I felt obliged to listen to, as they had been so helpful.  The lady had just undergone a hip replacement and she was taking her daily constitutional, to help with the healing process.  The gentleman was no longer too concerned about his heart condition, as he was taking a lot of exercise, but his wife tired quickly due to her hip operation, and they couldn't walk too far.  As soon as politely possible, I thanked them, told them that they were doing marvellously, and yes, I was not from Texas, and, no, I was not Australian; and went as fast as my heels would allow, to where they had pointed. 

Entering the trailer park, I was quite sure this was not quite right.  Once again, possibly rather stupidly than bravely, I knocked, gingerly, on a door.  There was no answer.  I made may way to the next trailer, where I heard some whispering from behind the door.  Slightly unnerved, I was just about to walk away, when the door opened.  A head appeared around the opening and she told the person on the end of her mobile phone, 'no, it's okay, it's not them',  Who 'them' was (or should it be, 'who they were', or 'whom they were') was, by now, of no interest to me.  I just needed to find my subject.  She knew, immediately, where 'he' lived. It was in the big house at the end of the trailer park.  After thanking her profusely, I hobbled in my high heels to the 'big' house, which was very big.  Of course, along with the 'big' house, comes a 'big' dog!  A VERY 'big' dog.  A very 'big' dog, with a VERY 'big' bark, and VERY 'big' teeth!  Order for posting or not, I was not going to venture anywhere near the front door of this house! 

Suddenly, thankfully, the dog turned in response to a whistle.  If anyone asks me what I consider a priority in any field, I shall know the answer is going to be 'dog training'.  The dog, now by its master's side, was rather demure.  Still as big, still with big teeth, but now no bark, it sat, eyeing me. with a look that said, 'if he goes inside, she is dinner!'  My life saver asked what I was doing on his property.  Fair enough question.  I replied that I had some papers to give him.  That is when I realised I had been 'had'.  The conversation actually went something like this, 'Mr. Smith, (yes, I have changed the names) I have some papers for you',  He responded, 'I am not Mr Smith'.  His name was clearly marked on his mail box.  He was not Mr Smith  (or the Jon Doe Smith for whom I was searching).  Perhaps the trailer park lady really did think I was the 'them' she said I was not and was hoping the dog would be an end to her predicament. 

Tail between my legs, I started my return to my car.  How difficult could this be?  Find the house, post the papers to the door....I was a failure.  Again, out of nowhere, my angels with Angina and replacement hip, appeared.  They had finished their walk.  Had I found the house?  My answer in the negative was more than they could bear.  Despite the fact that over exercise was no good for either the heart or the hip, they would take me to the house. Risking a double ambulance call, I thanked them for the second time, as they led me around the back of the bar, through the back of the bar, and to a concealed alley.  I was so thankful.  I still wasn't from around these parts and I still wasn't Australian, but I was so grateful, I would  call her 'Sheila' and him 'mate'.  And there it was, the house.  The house where I could post the papers to the front door.  The house that was the object of my adventure.  I would not fail after all. 

How wrong could I have been.  I called Dana.  'I cant post it on the door'.  The door was behind a gate; whether the gate was locked or not was irrelevant, as between the gate and the door was a beast that would have made the velociraptor in Jurassic Park look like a tamed pet. 

Thanking the couple very much, as they almost cried with me, I returned to the car, having stuck the papers to the gate, which was agreed by our client to be the only way, and at that point I was told that he was a 'friendly' witness, and he really only needed this because he had to show his boss a reason for being absent. 

I returned to Austin without deviating from the map and completed my paperwork.  What a trip!  My process serving days were not, as it so happens, over, but as a Process Server, I make a darn good administrator!  Fortunately, that one experience is not typical and has given me another subject on which to 'blog' and is yet....another story.

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