I ride the No. 33 bus to work; it’s environmentally friendly, relatively painless and — best of all — it’s free, thanks to my employer. Those familiar with public transportation usually have a story or two to share about the weirdos on the bus or in the subway, or at least they can recall the sounds (and smells) that come from cramming a cross-section of society together in a metal box for half an hour.
This bus story begins with a Book of Mormon.
My bus attracts regular customers, those who take the same bus at the same time everyday to go to work. And so the recent appearance of a new passenger is something noticable. It was the scriptures I first saw, oddly enough — a scripture bag made of crimson nylon, the unmistakeable shape of a mormon Quad. From the bag my eyes went up, seeing a white short-sleeved dress shirt, tie, dark pants, 20-ish face, closely-shorn hair… the man looked like a missionary. Pest control salesman, I thought to myself. After all, missionaries don’t have cell phone microphones clipped to their ties, and it IS the summertime, when local wards across the nation welcome summmer students from Utah just in to hawk their pyramid scheme wares for a couple of months.
He stood in the aisle of the bus, holding onto the pole with one hand, open scriptures in the other. Nothing that unusual thus far — people read books (even Bibles) on the bus all the time. But then things got curiouser and curiouser, for the man was also talking on his cell phone. “Where were we? OK… And now behold, I say unto you then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death….” Our young Terminix man was having scripture time, reading the Book of Mormon aloud over a cell phone on the bus.
For those who think this is a touching scene of spirituality in Babylon, let me disabuse you of that notion. Reading aloud in a confined public space is a major no-no. Talking on a cell phone is considered poor taste, at a minimum. But reading aloud a Book of Mormon on a cell phone? Mister, you have just signed your death warrant. Laser-eyed glares zeroed in on him immediately, and the woman next to me asked him to stop reading aloud. Sheepishly, the man turned away from her and continued reading. The woman he was now facing also asked him to stop reading aloud. The man stood a little taller and stepped to the front of the bus, faced all of us and continued reading Alma: “therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God…”
If you were hoping for a confrontation, forget it. This is the Pacific Northwest, where passive aggression was first invented. People gave him glares, others talked loudly about “the man reading his Bible aloud.” The woman next to me shook her head (at least she wasn’t in the attitude of mocking and pointing her fingers). I said to her, “what, you don’t enjoy the social life of the bus?”
She laughed and replied, “well, I don’t like it when people read ANYTHING aloud. But a Bible? Ugh. No thanks!”
I replied, “You must hate God.”
She laughed and looked at me a little nervously. The woman across from us chimed in: “it’s just rude. And I don’t think we should be subjected to his beliefs.”
I said, “There are many ugly things in this world. But religious persecution is one of the ugliest.”
Soon the young man got off the bus and all returned to normal. I felt satisfied that I’d defused some of the tension, and managed to help people see that we’re all a part of a society, that we must learn to live together even when there is friction between us. I smiled to myself, while at the same wondering if I shouldn’t have defended the man or used this all as some kind of missionary opportunity. Perhaps tomorrow he will be reading on the bus again, and then I will make my move.
I realized later that my fly was unzipped during the entire bus ride.