LOVELAND, Colo., March 12 - Richard Albers, who is eighty-five, evidently is a man of consistent habits.
Nearly every morning for sixteen years, Mr. Albers parked in a particular spot in the lot of the McDonald's in Loveland, Colo. (pop. roughly 55,000). Although news reports don't specify, it is fair to assume that, after parking and likely locking his vehicle, Mr. Albers would walk into the restaurant and avail himself of the many delectable delights on display.
Sometime in 2008, or perhaps earlier, this bucolic, not to say halcyon, existence was shattered when a man named Vernon Brandt, who is now fifty-one, parked in the spot Mr. Albers had, as do so many people, come to think of as his own.
This began to happen with increasing frequency, and Messrs. Brandt and Albers apparently had words, over time, about this, well, travesty.
It all came to a head on July 29,2008, when Mr. Brandt parked his truck and trailer in a way that, intentionally or not, blocked what can only by this point be called the Albers spot.
Mr. Albers, arriving for his customary, oh, maybe a Happy Meal, or a simple milkshake (with, on his more sinful days, a side of fries?), couldn't help but notice that, once again, Mr. Brandt had prevented him from parking in the place where he, Mr. Albers, felt happiest.
Well, life is full of sorrow and a man's pleasures are few. So it makes sense that, perhaps swearing under his breath (news reports are vague), Mr. Albers climbed down from his sport utility vehicle, walked over to Mr. Brandt's truck and tapped on the driver's side window in order, presumably, to initiate a conversation.
Mr. Brandt, who later claimed he was startled, opened the driver's door with terrific force. It toppled Mr. Albers, who, at the time, remember, was roughly eighty-three years old, more than thirty years older than Mr. Brandt.
A witness at Mr. Brandt's recent trial for third-degree assault testified that Mr. Brandt then grabbed Mr. Albers, cocked his fist, and said (growled? shouted? hissed? Details are sketchy), "You want to fight, you son of a bitch?"
The Ft. Collins Coloradan reported on March 7 that it took a jury less than three hours to convict Mr. Brandt, a local contractor, of a single charge of third-degree assault.
Whatever his transgressions, Mr. Brandt should be lauded for selecting, in defense attorney Tony Krenning, a creative lawyer not averse to engaging in a little bit of creative lawyering.
During the trial, Krenning told the jury that Mr. Albers' tapping scared Mr. Brandt, who merely opened his door quickly to escape. Mr. Krenning added that the testimony about the threat (you know, the "you son of a bitch" comment) was merely "salt and pepper" added by the witness.
"It didn't happen," Mr. Krenning told the jury, referring to the contretemps between Messrs. Brandt and Albers (you know, the fist cocking, and etcetera), "but it makes a good story now."
And then Mr. Krenning waxed philosophic: "It's so incredible because we're talking about a parking space. At a doggone McDonald's. It's tragic."
Too true. Too, too true.
Well, wait. No. The Haiti earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, young lives cut short on the fields of battle - those are tragedies. A parking lot quarrel? That's more of a quandary.
On the stand, Mr. Brandt claimed he didn't know whether the window tapper was, as ace Coloradan reporter Trevor Hughes wrote, "a 9-year-old child or a man with a gun outside."
Upon hearing that, prosecutor Greg Biggers may have chuckled a little; Hughes's report didn't say. We do know, however, that Biggs, referring to Brandt, said to the jury, "His own words: 'Could have been a 9-year-old.' That's reckless, folks."
One is hardly a legal expert, but it seems reasonable to assume that, more than anything else, that folksy "folks" absolutely sealed the case for the prosecution. People who are just plain folks, and proud of it, like to have their proud plain folks-ness recognized and affirmed, and any prosecutor worth his salt knows this in the marrow of his bones.
Mr. Brandt will be sentenced next month. He faces up to two years in jail or prison. (The Coloradan, coyly, didn't specify which. Hughes, the reporter, only used the phrase "behind bars," which, technically, could mean Mr. Brandt might spend up to twenty-four months out back of a few saloons.)