David Rice died once before.
In 1983, he was thrown off the Pike Street bridge over Interstate 5. When he arrived at the hospital, he was dead. Doctors thankfully brought him back, but he was in a coma for four months. He had to relearn how to do everything. “The doctor told me that they threw a sandbag over the railing to see how fast I hit the ground. It was 90 feet down and 60 mph,” Rice said.
At the end of May, David Rice passed away again. And this time doctors couldn’t save him.
Rice had been selling Real Change since 1999. He’s been a constant presence in the paper’s office. I had the chance to interview him for a vendor profile in October, but when he went into the hospital we decided to hold off publishing the profile.
David Rice could put a smile on my face — and that smile was often contagious. It seemed as if everyone smiled after spending time with him. Rice spread happiness even though he was in constant pain. Since the bridge incident, he had issues with his legs and hips.
“How long have you been at Real Change, David?” I once asked him. He smiled and said to me, “I was going to ask you the same thing.”
When Rice graduated from high school he went to college at a Seattle trade school that is now called Seattle Vocational Institute. He graduated with a degree in plumbing.
“I remember in 1976 I was making $55 an hour,” he said. “I am laughing at myself now, because I am like: ‘Hang on, I made $55 an hour at one time and now I am selling papers for $2 an issue.’”
He was lucky at the time having a job that paid him so well, but he did hit some bumps along the way.
On Thanksgiving, Rice celebrated his 28th year of sobriety. “I was drinking a lot, and then sobered up for six months, and then drank again, and then sobered up for eight months and went back to drinking. I really had to buckle down and stop drinking. I said to myself: ‘David, if you really want to get sober you have to get rid of all your alcohol friends.”
That was the hardest part: Telling all his friends that he couldn’t be friends with them — because he knew he had to get sober. That’s also why he doesn’t talk with his family. They all still drink. He knew it wasn’t good for him.
For years, Rice had been in and out of low-income housing. As he aged, he liked to do simple things such as play the card games “21” and “Five Card Stud.” He even loved to play chess — though he was the first to admit he wasn’t very good at it.
Rice sold Real Change on the corner of Madison and Third Avenue. You could find him there almost every day. Even with his hurt leg and hips from his accident, he would be out there until he couldn’t stand anymore. Usually that was five or six hours per day.
He took great pride in his work. He wanted the other vendors to know that even though Real Change was like the stock market and could be unpredictable at times, that it was still a great job.
He also knew that he couldn’t pass judgment on people for their faults and addictions.
“I could never look down on people who drink or do drugs because I have been there, done that,” he said. David Rice knew how hard that battle was.
For all the battles that Rice faced, he never lost his smile.
The Real Change office will forever be different without Rice.
We will miss him walking in every day, bringing the sunshine — no matter what the weather is like outside.
Read the full June 5 - 11 issue.
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