Getting tough to know right from wrong

It never ceases to amaze, how two eyewitness accounts

of the same event can differ so wildly.

Consider last week’s episode aboard the ferry Puyallup, in which the deposit of a “suspicious package” – which turned out to be a college kid’s backpack, school work and thermos, discarded on the last day of class – shut down the Bainbridge-Seattle run for three and a half hours in the late afternoon.

Here is the official version, from the Washington State

Patrol news release: “According to a report from a witness,

the subject quickly dropped a backpack into a trash can, and then ran from the boat.” Said a Washington State Ferries spokesperson, “We got the view that the kid ran when called to; that’s what we heard from our crew.”

But wait – that’s not so, says one of the two youths involved (a young man of reputable parentage; his father is a familiar face in the Bainbridge community), tracked down by the local newspaper this week. His account: his school mate did in fact leave the backpack in the trash can – as the ferry was entering Eagle Harbor, not after it reached the dock. He then returned to his seat; the two lads waited out the rest of the ride, then walked off the boat without incident. “I do remember seeing maybe an 8-year-old kid looking at the backpack in the trash can after we threw it away,” the young man recalls, “but no, no one wanted to talk to us, no one looked at us.”

The young men only found out what was going on when

the police traced them through some identification in the

backpack and showed up at the door that evening: “It was

surprising, to say the least.”

So we have one witness, one witness/participant, and two vastly different perceptions of what transpired. And so it goes.

Now, our friends at the WSP made it a point to emphasize that “everyone did what they were supposed to do,” from the rider reporting their suspicions, to the ferry personnel who called in state troopers, to the troopers charged with the unenviable task of poking around in the garbage can to see what would happen. “This is a good reminder,” the WSP intoned, “that with heightened security on the ferries, we need to be aware of our actions and how they’re perceived.”

Indeed. And we are confident that we all want to do the right thing, or at least not do the wrong thing. But it is getting harder to tell exactly what that is. In fact, it is the second time this year that our ferry service has been shut down because someone made use of a trash can. Given that many other

once benign activities – like taking photos and shooting video during the scenic cross-sound voyage – are these days also seen as suspicious, it’s enough to induce a certain degree of paranoia in even occasional riders.

So here are some informal personal rules ferry users might want to observe, lest any action be perceived the wrong way and an “incident” ensue:

Don’t run off the ferry: That would be suspicious.

Don’t walk off the ferry: You might look like you’re

trying not to look suspicious, and that would be suspicious.

Don’t drive onto the ferry: How can the rest of us ever really know what’s in your trunk?

Don’t use your cell phone: How do we know you’re not talking to them (whoever “they” might be)?

Don’t use the restroom: You might spend too long there, and that would be suspicious.

Don’t use the galley: Never mind – that one’s taken care of already.

And most importantly,

Don’t take a nap: How can you keep an eye on your fellow passengers if you’re asleep?

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