Our ride arrived.

The single-length, diesel Metro stopped. A small group queued, instinctively polite, boarded, settled down. The bus stopped again, and again. By Maynard Avenue South, the bus doubled the seating capacity. Dozens of passengers lined the aisle.

A younger white guy piped up, “C’mon! More, more, more!” He was half-serious, half-ribbing. “There’s plenty of room!” There wasn’t.

I sit to the front, to keep an eye on the bike I pitch on the rack. When I board, I switch off the blinking red light on my pack, rub my pass against the sensor and take the first seat I find. As stops come and go, I offer my seat to disabled folks, women, older gents, moms with kids and families so they may sit together.

Rush hour deepens, not quite winter, though winter is on the air. Cold sticks to our faces, cheeks blush by seasonal circumstance.

We got to talking in the way of men, letting our guard down, swapping gossip, this and that. At the top of the hill, we got off, no longer strangers, but neighbors.

We talked along the sidewalk. I pushed my bike. At the crossroads, we swapped names and shook hands.

The next Sunday, we met up. I raked leaves; he walked his dog, a Chihuahua Pekinese Pomeranian.

I knew that dog. I’d chatted with Eve for months, as she walked Cody, I didn’t know Eve was David’s partner.

Dave waved and yelled, “Hey, Craig!” I crossed the street. (Mine is the only real name here.)

Dave told me he, Eve and Cody live in one of Seattle’s most notorious apartment buildings. “I have felonies. I did serious time.” 

He took Metro an hour-and-a-half each way to work each weekday, way down south, for more than a year. A good employee of a national firm, he found work through a contracting agency and earned high marks. Yet, he couldn’t go from temp to permanent. He has a record.

Facing judgment

If you dig into your friends, you’ll find nooks and crannies that hold the untold.

I shared a story with Dave, of a friend I’ll call Jack.

“When he was a young man,” I told Dave, “Jack told some friends, who were not friends, they could put something in his dad’s basement.” 

His dad was a Baptist minister in Missouri.

What they put in the basement was gold stolen from a U.S. Post Office. Everyone was busted in a scheme to melt down coins and pass chunks off as nuggets. Raw gold is not refined gold. Everybody got popped. Jack freaked and jumped bail, landing in New Orleans.

He found a wallet on Bourbon Street and became somebody else.

He found Seattle, then a trade, the carpenter who taught me to pour cement, to frame houses, to sink a nail true.

“I know where I’m going,” Jack said one afternoon, while we walked the railroad tracks to Shilshole Bay. “To prison.”

He started describing his past.

“There’ll come a time when I can help you more if I don’t know,” I said.

Jack was popped — on a traffic stop — and hauled into the King County Jail. The police ran his Social Security number. “According to the record,” they said, “you’re dead.”

Jack told them his real name.

“You have an outstanding federal warrant,” authority answered.

He sent me letters from jail, tightly penciled script, front-to-back, on three half-sheets of paper. I published a newsletter from the King County Jail for 40 households; total circulation, about 100.

Four months after incarceration, Jack stood before Federal District Judge Thomas Zilly.

The judge said, “If your crime fell under current sentencing guidelines, I’d sentence you to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Because your crime fell under previous sentencing guidelines, I can do what a judge is supposed to do.”

Jack got time-served, plus probation over three years. He could visit his dad again, who’d moved to Mississippi, and Seattle and stay in the San Juan Islands, where he landed work.

So judgment may be.

Taking a chance

Jack was lucky; so is Dave. They played hands dealt from a loaded deck. Luck arrived with what they earned, what they deserve.

May we all be so blessed this season to get what we deserve.

It’s a chance to help, despite the past.

Dave has a new job, with benefits, union representation, with another national company — with local management. It mattered so much to take a chance.

So, this modest, seasonal proposal: Take a chance. 

CRAIG THOMPSON is a longtime community activist. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.