By Kenneth M. Levine
One more Holiday Inn, one more Marriott Courtyard, one more Hampton Inn. When you have a national trial practice as I did for more than 42 years you spend weeks that turn into months in these hotels every year. The layout is always the same. Front desk across from the lobby restaurant and sitting area. If the hotel is older the restaurant serves only the basics. If it is newer or has been fixed up the menu is more upscale. Always open early for breakfast. Either way, in some of the more remote places it could be the only game in town. The waitstaff is always nice and pleasant. First question is where are you from and what are you doing here. When I said I was from Boston it always raised an eyebrow. No matter where the trial was, Boston was always far away, not only the distance, but also a million miles away in culture and most often politics as well. Boston is on the “east coast’ something the hotel people would say as if they were describing Siberia. Hardly anyone of the hotel workers I met had even been to Boston and none were planning to go. They all wanted to travel to New York and when I said I was a regular in Manhattan visiting my children who lived there, they had a million questions.
The people I met in the more rural parts of America lived their lives in a small radius, many of them grew up in the same town or area and had never thought to leave. Why would they, their family was here, their friends were here, their life was here. I would think of them when my friends back home would debate the qualities of northern or southern Italian cooking and the best places in Boston for each. In the small towns I traveled to for trials there was a Domino’s pizza and maybe an Olive Garden and that was more than enough for them. Was there really a need for anything else? There was always one nicer restaurant in town, the place where the local people went for a birthday or graduation. The men wore their Sunday clothes with pressed pants and clean shoes. The women in a dress and makeup. I always felt out of place there eating dinner, the typical east coast snob thinking about how basic the restaurant was and how low the cost, while surrounded by people who thought it was special.
I would be in the town for the trial a few weeks, long enough to establish a routine. Leave the same time each day for Court by 8. The Courthouse was always close, sometimes just across the street. Get back from trial each day by 5:30. I would go to the same restaurant, same table, usually the same order. I was easy to spot going and coming from the courthouse in my blue or gray suit. The suits from Brooks Brothers or J Press. The ties from Ben Silver. Always a pocket square. My clothes, my accent, my briefcase all stood out and separated me from the others. It was obvious I was not from there. I was a novelty, a visitor from another land. The waiters and waitresses in the restaurant would ask about the case and the trial. They wanted all the details. Hearing my account of the trial day was like going to movies for them, a glimpse into another world, another life. They rooted for me and told me they hoped I win. I would say thank you but tempered their enthusiasm by saying trials were hard to win and there was no way to know how this one would turn out.
Usually, once the verdict came back, I wanted to arrange for a flight home as soon as possible. Being away from my family for a few weeks was always hard and I could not wait to get back to Boston. Most of the time I won the trial which made the trip home that much better, but I rarely had the chance to say goodbye to the people at the restaurant or the local seven-eleven who had been so nice to me. Just as I appeared suddenly as a stranger from Boston, I disappeared just as quickly. So, let me take a moment to say thank you now to all the people who asked me about my life and family, who took an interest in my case and my clients and made a visitor from far way feel a part of the town, even for a brief moment. Thanks.