In praise of selflessness and the social contract

Selflessness is so rare that I feel compelled to mention a tiny news item you may have missed last week in The Seattle Times.

James Knox, 47, of Renton, died of an apparent heart attack after the fuel truck he was driving turned over on Interstate 405.

State Patrol officials say Knox evidently took the truck where it ended up as he was suffering his fatal attack, evidently so that others wouldn't be hurt.

While he was dying, this man was evidently thinking of others. Strangers. I don't know who he was. I don't know why he did what he did. But my hat is off to him.

Some days we seem surrounded by jerks. Thoughtless, heedless people driving through crosswalks against the walk light-that sort of thing. So to read about a guy thinking of others as he is passing from this world amazes me.

My hat goes off to the late Mr. Knox.

Finally, steady readers of this column have probably pegged me as a somewhat liberal contrarian. They would expect me to come down foursquare in support of the city's homeless and those who look out for the unfortunates drunkenly propped and sprawled on many street corners.

They would be right up to a point. I give money to the folks distributing Real Change newspapers. I know some of the local homeless individuals and engage in daily conversations with one or two of them.

But I also sympathize with people who are appalled by or afraid of some of the specimens walking around on our streets abusing Seattle's tolerance.

Riding back to Queen Anne from Interbay Golf Course on the edge of Magnolia the other day, I was engaged in conversation by a bright, friendly, youngish Metro driver. I was carrying four golf clubs, and he started talking about his game. He interrupted our conversation to greet boarding and exiting passengers. He was nice. He was friendly. He was making a sometimes-tough job easier for himself and his riders.

On his last Elliott stop he picked up a weedy, bearded, self-professed "traveler," who was already drunk at 10 a.m.

Who did not have the fee and did not have a transfer and greeted the driver with obscenities.

At the top of his voice.

This pathetic jerk then showed a box-cutter to the few folks seated close to him, a crew that included yours truly.

Middle-class passengers began leaving the bus at the first Queen Anne stop, even if they had planned to ride farther. I stuck it out to Queen Anne and Mercer and complimented the driver on his restraint-he was young and big enough to give the "traveler" what he needed, which was an ass-whipping.

Why are these overt failures so aggressively ugly? And why does Seattle tolerate it?

If you are poor and unlucky and you are selling Real Change or getting quietly drunk, I have no brief against you. I have probably given you a quarter at some point. Life is hard. I sympathize.

But to walk through Queen Anne and watch the homeless at the bus stops abusing citizens, littering, spitting and muttering obscenities, seems excessive. When I read that a homeless guy was beaten by teenagers, my first thought isn't usually, Oh those bad kids-it is, What did the guy say to them? Did he threaten them or insult their mothers?

We need to care about those among us who are suffering. But we shouldn't have to tolerate obscenity or, worse, attempts at physical abuse, from people who have obviously quit trying to be decent citizens.

The social contract applies to everybody. The jerk running the crosswalk in his Hummer and the homeless jerk yelling at people are both jackasses. They both deserve whatever they get, too.[[In-content Ad]]