A Look Behind the Curtain
First things first. I hate flying. It's just not my thing, and I don't do it if I don't have to. If I'm going to Paris, yeah, that's worth it. But if I'm going to Roanoke, Virginia, to take the bar exam, it is just an added aggravation. Thankfully there are direct flights from Atlanta, because I do not think I could have handled making a connecting flight just to go 400 miles.
Second things second. It is a desecration of all things rational that the Virginia Bar Exam takes place in Roanoke every July. This is a city that is so accidental in existence, haphazard in design, and inconvenient to every major graduating source of law students in the state that the choice can only be described as immensely wrong-headed and transparently political. Though if I had stayed until tomorrow, when the Roanoke Civic Center is playing host to Hillary Duff's Most Wanted tour, maybe I'd feel different. That's quite a week for the Roanoke Civic Center: Tuesday/Wednesday - Virginia Bar Exam; Friday - Hillary Duff.
I flew into Roanoke on Monday afternoon. In a sense, my fear of flying put the whole bar exam into perspective. The plane landed safely, and I said to myself, "You're half-way there. Just one more flight.... and something in between, an exam of some sort." For at least a few minutes I was more bothered by the thought of another flight than taking the bar.
I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott. On Monday night, there was a thunderstorm. At 8pm, the power went out in the hotel. That's right. No lights, no alarm clock.
Now you have to remember, I can be a pretty arrogant person when it comes to exams. I was never particularly concerned that I was not going to pass the bar. So I took this simply as a sign it was time for me to lay down and relax. But many of the other bar takers in the hotel (and there were quite a few) were not so ready to acquiesce.
The first innovators took flashlights into the hallways (where there was still some light, from generators I presume), and read there. I don't know if they brought flashlights for just such an emergency, or if they went out and braved Zeus' wrath to buy them, but there they were either way.
The second group of innovators went down to their cars and read by the glow of the overhead light in the cabin. It would be all too ironic if any of them were unable to start their cars the next morning because the battery was dead.
Anyhow, I set the alarm on my cellphone, listened to my Ipod, and went to bed. Unfortunately, I forgot to switch off all of the lights, so when the power eventually came back on around 1am, I had a rude awakening. Sleep was intermittent thereafter, and I ended up getting up a little after 6am.
I got to the Civic Center a bit early, since I also have a bit of a parking phobia (airplanes and parking and heights, that's all). I did not wear sneakers, since I have a nice pair of soft-soled Bostonians. There were plenty of suits/skirts with sneakers, and it was absolutely ridiculous. That is another piece of Virginia Bar stupidity that should be put to death.
I found my seat in the Civic Center, which like many bar exams, I'm sure, had all of the tables laid out where the basketball or hockey court is supposed to be, surrounded by thousands of empty seats where I half-expected to see family members and faculty cheering us on.
The girl sitting next to me. My oh my, this poor thing. She was certainly nice enough, and I really do hope she passed. She's from Panama (which for some reason she felt the need to tell me was a "republic"), and I think she was an attorney there, though I could not quite piece together what she was saying. However... she showed up without a pen. Not a single thing to write with. I had a dozen, so I had no problem giving her a couple. But that was strange.
I honestly don't have much to say about the essays themselves. I thought they were surprisingly fair and straight-forward. I think I did well. But I also think that most people felt the same way, so you never know.
I left about twenty minutes early because I was basically finished, and because I didn't want to get stuck in the guaranteed awfulness that would be the Civic Center parking lot traffic after the session ended. It would have been interesting to see whether, if I really had needed all three hours, my fear of failure or my fear of parking lots would have won out.
I went back to the hotel, ordered room service (a delicious caesar salad and chips with spinach dip), spent hours watching TBS (that Jerry Seinfeld sure cracks me up), and tried but failed to muster the energy to study for the MBE. I sympathized with my poor wife, who sat for the Georgia Bar which chose to use its meager four essay questions (Georgia has the MPT) to put its applicants through the gauntlet of Corporations, Con Law, Secured Transactions, and Partnerships. And the Corporations question had a subpart about arson, if you can believe that. My wife, who has a brilliant knowledge of property, trusts and estates, family law, and evidence, couldn't get even one question that was remotely up her alley. Meanwhile, I got adverse possession and a wills contest. No justice there.
I showed up early again the next day, read the USA Today, and waited for everyone else to show up. The Panamanian girl? Yeah, she was there. And she brought a writing instrument: the pen I'd given her the day before. No pencils. That's right. No pencils. I had a dozen finely tuned Mirado Black Warriors ready, so I gave her a couple of those as well. I think that if I see her name when the successful names are posted in October, I'm going to send her a bill.
I thought the MBE went very well. There were some "known knowns" and some "known unknowns" but hopefully not too many "unknown unknowns", as the SecDef would say. The Panamanian seemed incapable of doing two questions in a row. As far as I can tell, she was just flipping back and forth through the question trying to find ones she could answer. Not a good sign, and extremely distracting. I think if she had shared her table with someone less sure of himself, she'd have been on the receiving end of some nasty looks.
I went through the questions at a pretty good clip, about 1 question per minute, but I still found myself depressed every five questions or so, at the Sisyphus-like effort of trying to do 100 of these question in one sitting.
I'll tell you the one good bit of paranoia that I experienced. I became convinced that none of my circles were sufficiently darkened. It does not matter how hubristically confident one is about the quality of one's answers. If those bubbles aren't filled in properly, it is all for naught. So when I finished with time to spare, I sat and methodically gave a meticulous second coat to each little bubble. I'd like to have added a clear polyurethane finish to protect my efforts, but alas, the soft lead is all the technology will accept.
I walked out of the hall, got in my car, rolled down the windows, rolled the windows back up (I'd momentarily forgotten it was 97 degrees out and I was still wearing a suit and tie), and cruised back to the hotel. I felt tired, and I felt free. Free to come back and read the new Harry Potter book, close on our new condo (11am tomorrow!), and starting painting and decorating.
It's good to be a member of the human race again.