I was ready to give up on my adoptive hometown of Seattle before I spotted the words "Just love more" while walking through Pioneer Square. Then, out of the blue, the man who wrote them tracked me down.
“Greetings, Sir … I’m Chance.
I’m the artist that left my mark by the bus stop across from The Lazarus Center as I was leaving Seattle for the final time … I wrote in yellow crayon …’Just Love More.’
You know the rest!
I was so touched that MY words touched SOMEONE else!”
When I first read this reader email in the fall, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. All through the first part of 2018, I’d been snapping photos around town for my final Pacific NW magazine story exploring my on-again-off-again romance with my adoptive hometown. I titled it, “I hate you Seattle: A love story.”
Walking through the Pioneer Square neighborhood in early spring, I spotted those words, “Just love more,” and couldn’t get them off my mind.
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I was ready to leave Seattle back then. I’d had enough of the soulless new buildings and the outrageous cost of living. I’d grown frustrated with the seemingly haphazard effort to accommodate our growth spurt, as well as the sense that we’d lost some of the edginess and openness that drew me here nearly 25 years ago.
I was about to write a break-up letter to Seattle to say I didn’t love it anymore.
But then I saw those words, scrawled by a guy I now know was named “Chance,” of all things, and who described himself as a homeless “artist, poet, musician, Vaquero in training … and more, but first and foremost I’m a Human Being.”
Months after my story had published, this man who had spent last winter living without a permanent home in Seattle was sitting outside a McDonald’s in Ellensburg. That’s when he saw a stray copy of the magazine, with my cover story about being a journalist who’d grown tired of his adoptive hometown.
Not only that, he had spotted his own words, written in yellow crayon, in one of the pictures that accompanied the story.
I remember how it felt to see this stranger’s loving graffiti that day. A light went off in my head.
Right then, I metaphorically got down on one knee and promised to give Seattle, a city I’d fallen in love with as a young newcomer in the ’90s, another chance. More than that, I vowed to reconnect with what was best about Seattle, the attributes that had endured and that I’d always celebrated.
I decided to change the concept for my magazine story from one focused on hate to one calling for another shot at love: I hate you so much right now, Seattle. But I still love you. Given all we’ve been through, maybe I love you even more.
Cheesy, I know. I’m a shameless romantic, what can I say?
I wanted to get to know the stranger who had helped me rekindle my flame with this city. What about his life? What were his struggles? What was he looking for? Or was he running from something?
We exchanged a couple of emails and I gave him my number. I told him that I wanted to write a story for Christmas Eve about the gift of chance encounters and the power of the written word — graffiti scribbled in crayon, in this case — to change hearts and minds.
It would be a column dripping in tinsel and magic and love. Twas the night before Christmas, people.
Finally, on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, Chance called me but I didn’t pick up in time. He left a voicemail saying he’d made his way from Washington state to Texas. I called back, and he answered.
I could hear that wherever he was, it was pouring. He was calling me outside in the rain. My heart sank. He still hadn’t found a place to live — I could feel it.
Chance sounded grizzled and a little tired but also proud to speak to the reporter he’d inspired.
He wanted to make a difference in the world. I told him that he had.
We gushed over each other briefly, but then my phone’s unreliable call reception started acting up. I apologized to Chance. There he was on the side of the road somewhere, looking for shelter in a storm, telling his life story. But all I could hear from that point on were a few words in between static.
Chance, can you repeat that?
Chance, I can’t hear you.
He got frustrated with me and after a couple of minutes, he gave up. “Well if you’re going to keep interrupting me, brother, then I can’t tell you my story!” he said.
But Chance, I …
He hung up on me.
I called back a few times. I left a pleading message. I wrote him an email. No reply.
The clearest quote that I got from him that day begs more questions than it answers: “Those words you saw, that’s the story of my life.”
Just love more.
No doubt, Chance has had to rely on the kindness — and love — of strangers to get by as he makes his way around the country. Maybe he’s had to learn to give the same level of affection.
Just love more.
It’s the way I aspire to conduct myself in the world, and it’s what I’ve tried to encourage you to do — maybe not in so many words — in this space.
My phone call with Chance was a disaster in the end. I hope he calls again. If not, at least he knows that he gave me something special: He restored a civic dedication in me that inspired a magazine story, and that guides my work today.
You may not know Chance. But his words are written all over my columns.
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