Bus Stop

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.


  1. Additional note: the pest-control dude had a white shirt on underneath… but it was a tank top. Riddle me this, O true believers — what’s up with that??

  2. Beats me. Where in the PNW are you (within a major metropolitan region)? I’m north of Seattle.

  3. Seattle.

  4. I realized later that my fly was unzipped during the entire bus ride.

    Lol. Nice touch, Steve.

  5. Sounds to me like a guy who at 19 was a few inches shy of the bar now trying desparately to get over. His bishop has obviously asked him to call him at a certain time every morning and prove he is reading the BOM.

    “You must hate God”
    LOL–if you haven’t already copyrighted that, I’m going to use it.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Great story, Steve.

    Our ward gets the summer faux-missionary crowd. Half of them sell home security systems, and the other half sell dish network systems. They are a godsend to our small and struggling ward, making up about half our numbers in the summer. (Every week the bishop has been having them speak in sacrament so we can meet them all.) When they go home later this month, our chapel will seem like a ghost town during sacrament meeting.

    I interviewed for a precursor to that kind of job once, after my mission. It was just like going on a mission–it was intentionally structured that way. And I just wanted a job, I wasn’t really interested in going back out on my mission, so I didn’t pursue the gig.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention that a lot of the single ones go to our stake’s singles branch, which provides an unusual inversion from the normal demographic disparity. While they are here, the men way outnumber the women. My understanding is that the sisters get quite a kick out of the shoe being on the other foot, if even for only a few months in the summertime.

  8. What an awesome story.

    The closest I have is when the stuttering guy kept talking to me about abortion. I was 14, and I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I kept nodding and saying “yeah, uh huh.”

  9. Brilliant. I love it.

  10. This was funny. Is it possible he had a kid at home and he was reading the BOM to his wife and kid over the phone to have family scripture study while he was away?

  11. rleonard, it’s possible that he was reading the BOM to his parole officer. I don’t know. But even if you take the most charitable interpretation — he was reading the BOM to his wife and kid, each dying of leukemia in an area hospital — you STILL don’t read scriptures aloud on the bus.


  12. Ah, route 33, from uh… Discovery park area? To downtown. Never used it, I’m on the south side myself.


  13. Well, well, Measure. The South Side, eh? On my lil’ peninsula, the 33 is how we roll. Depending on how far South you are, you probably drive an El Camino or a Navigator with spinners.

  14. lol. I’ve used the 152 and 154 to get to work, by boeing field, but I’m from South King County.

    Nowadays I generally carpool in my Camry.

  15. I have a bus story that involves someone talking about God in public. It goes like this:

    Several years ago, I worked many, many more hours a week than I work now. When I wasn’t pulling an all-nighter, I’d try to get out of the office by 2:00 AM so that I could catch the last subway train out of Boston and save on cab fare.

    One night, I was sharing an entire subway car with just 2 others. One was a bum sleeping on one of the benches. Another was a bag-lady in a torn, stained overcoat. They were both quite inebriated.

    After a minute, the woman pulled a full size (one liter) bottle of white rum out of her bag and started drinking it. After she took a few gulps, a man in a MBTA uniform came out from behind a door with tinted windows in the front section of the car. He walked up to the woman and told her that she couldn’t have alcohol open on the train.

    She responded in a slurred, witch-like croak that made a raspy sound like she’d been gargling with liquid draino. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I was just thirsty.” She capped her bottle and put it away, and the man in the uniform returned to his compartment at the front of the car.

    I thought to myself, “Yeah. Rum. What a great thirst quencher.” And I continued reading.

    Just then she started to shout at the man who was sleeping–really shouting loudly. She was saying to the man sleeping on the bench in the car, “Your life’s a mess! You need to find Jesus Christ! Only Jesus can save you! Wake up and find Jesus, you loser!” It was startling. The man on the bench simply motioned with his hand and muttered, “Shut up, you old bag.”

    At the next stop, the bag lady got off. I rode the car to the end of the line, and when I got out the homeless man was still sleeping, but the uniformed MBTA man was on his way to wake him up.

  16. rleonard says:


    No reading Alma out loud on the Bus. I am just trying to think of a justifiable reason to do so and that was me grasping at straws for a reason

  17. Matt Thurston says:

    No, you should not have defended him, you did the right thing by trying to diffuse the situation and cover for his rudeness. Talking loudly on a cell phone on a bus (or at the movies, at a restaurant, etc.) is rude. Period. I don’t think you should have turned it into a missionary opportunity because you wouldn’t want your fellow bus patrons to know he was LDS.

    I’m wondering now to myself if reading scriptures loudly on a cell phone is worse than having a loud conversation on the phone. They’re both bad, but I think many would consider loud scripture-reading worse. Religious beliefs are personal, and sometimes sensitive, and reading scriptures out loud suggests a certain religious or moral arrogance, or at least a complete lack of regard for the beliefs of those subjected to the scripture reading.

    I’m embarrassed for him.

  18. At least he was translated correctly, though.

  19. I like the “You must hate God” line and that it made that lady a little nervous.

    I’m not sure why that guy was reading it over the cell-phone. Is this family scripture study over mobile?

  20. Matt Thurston says:

    About a year ago on a Southwest Flight to somewhere, a woman sitting a row or two behind me prayed out loud as the plane sat idling on the runway, ready to take off. She prayed loud enough for people sitting at least 10 rows in either direction to hear. Her prayer lasted at least a minute in a half, and possibly two minutes. Her voice was powerful and confident. She was a Black woman and she spoke with a heavy, black, Southern accent. Her prayer was filled with colorful cultural colloquialisms, but it was also quite elloquent. (For example, I remember her saying something about “Lord Jesus cradling this aircraft in His loving arms and placing it safely down on the grown in ____ city,” or something to that effect. Every second or third phrase was modified by a heavily accented “thank you Lord Jesus” or “please Lord Jesus”.

    I remember thinking it odd, but I was also touched by some of the thoughts she expressed. I remember thinking, “You don’t hear a prayer like that every day,” and was grateful for the unique opportunity. Nobody spoke during her prayer out of respect, or possibly embarrassment. When she finished I looked around and saw a few embarrassed looks, but nobody seemed upset or angry.

    I wondered though if the experience would have been entirely different if a white person had said an equally loud prayer. As I recall, the passengers on the plane were primarily white, and the unexpressed sentiment seemed to be that it was “cultural”, and therefore acceptable, that it was just a “Southern Black Woman being a Southern Black Woman”. Had, say, a white man wearing a business suit said a loud prayer, I doubt it would have been seen as “cultural”, but a case of a religiously arrogant man shoving his beliefs in other peoples faces.

  21. Incidentally, I work at an alarm company that started up here in Utah specifically because of the neo-sales force known as RMs. They hire a bunch of sales guys and techs (probably 95% men) and then send them out across the country, most of them just for the summer.

    I just have to say that I hate riding the bus because I never want to get into a conversation with a stranger. Why do people insist on trying to talk to me when I’m clearly reading a book or listening to headphones?

  22. I used to take the 154 route downtown when I was a kid. In fact I think that was the route I was on when the stutterer was torturing me.

  23. I don’t hate it when people do crazy stuff like that on the bus or subway. It’s usually funny, makes for good stories, and makes a community out of something people try not to make community (those riding in the same subway car). When I’m feeling gutsy, I sometimes do funny things that people will talk about.

    Steve, you’ve just given me an excellent idea.

  24. Crazy stuff is fine — but this wasn’t that crazy, it was just obnoxious. If he’d just ramp up his voice and raise his arm to the square to the entire voice while reading the BOM, now we’re talking entertainment.

  25. Around here, a few of the Elders decided that if they rode the bus ( both the City Transit and the University), they’d have a “captive audience” to talk to. Here in Ann Arbor, a very liberal town, they usually get rejected whether they go tracting, or go following up on media contacts. So, they thought that the passengers in the bus would make things easier for them. Poor Elders, they got kicked out of the buses of both transit syatems. But, for a while, we had drunk or high, (or both), bag-ladies and the male equivalent come and attend Sacrament meeting with us!! Plus folks from the homeless shelter……….

  26. “local wards across the nation welcome summmer students from Utah just in to hawk their pyramid scheme wares for a couple of months.”

    And from southern Alberta.

  27. Jothegrill says:

    maybe he was reading to his blind great grandmother.

  28. Rosalynde says:

    I dislike cell phones, and I’m glad that there’s a boundary between public and private behavior, but, I don’t know. I’m disappointed at the unkindness of the reactions as you’ve described them, Steve. People in Seattle don’t seem very friendly, if they’re like these, and would certainly not be tolerant of me with all of my little children, several of whom have no concept of boundaries and are prone to burst out into primary song on occasion. (The little one might even have the audacity to get hungry on the bus!)

    Which is disappointing, because Seattle has been a real possibility on our wish-list. California. California. It must be California.

  29. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Maybe Toronto’s just different but as long as he kept his voice within a reasonable conversational level I don’t see anything wrong with what he was doing. Heaven knows I’ve been forced to overhear worse things than scriptures just from the normal conversations around me.

  30. I agree with Proud Daughter of Eve. I’m not a big fan of cell phones, but it’s not like people on a bus or a train are entitled to complete silence. What he did was no more disruptive than if an former missionary companion had gotten on the bus and you had started talking quietly about some religious topic.

  31. I think there may also be a difference here between commuters and non-commuters. Students on a short bus ride would think it’s funny — nearly everyone on the commuter-full bus I used to take across Orange County to Disneyland would have gotten off the bus and waited for the next one, as the bus time was a time for sleep.

    In fact, I definitely recall an ad campaign about how you could get sleep, catch up on a good novel, or otherwise do quiet things on public transit. I can’t narrow it down past it being one of the places I’ve lived (COTA in central Ohio, the Metro system in DC, or the LA and Orange County bus/rail systems) but that was an expectation they were trying to develop… and it was very unusual when I commuted in DC for anyone to have a conversation out loud on the Metro during commuting times. Even if you were with your friends and you were a teenager, it just wasn’t done. It was an environment that invited silence.

    I kind of think the “you must hate God” line is a bit over the top, though. It’s far more confrontational than a random “I’m reading Alma here on my cell phone” type action. And you did more preaching than he did with the “religious persecution” line (admittedly, it was the kind of preaching my old UU minister would have appreciated, but still.) Then again, probably because I was raised UU, I’m deeply uncomfortable with that kind of encounter. I could never do the door-to-door type mission.

  32. D. Fletcher says:

    In a Martin Scorsese movie, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, during a scene in an Arizona motel room, a drawer is open and inside can be seen a copy of the Book of Mormon, the unmistakable “blue” one with curtains and Moroni on the cover, from the late 60s.

  33. Watereddy says:

    For years I rode Utah Transit Authority Route 73 from Weber State University in Ogden to Salt Lake City and up to the University of Utah Hospital and Research Park. It passed right by the Big White Building on North Temple (the one east of Temple Square) and fully one-third of its patrons entered or exited at the stop there. Every Tuesday I would hear a man make five or six calls in succession with the following tenor.

    “Hello, this is Brother So-and-so. Is Josh there? Thank you, I’ll hold.”
    “Hello, Josh, Brother So-and-so. How are you tonight? Great! Well, the reason I was calling was to remind you about scouts tonight. This week we’re learning how to tie knots. I wonder if you could teach how to tie a square knot? You could. Oh, great. Okay, then I’ll count on you. See you there. Bye.”

    Of course the theme varied week to week and from time to time Brother So-and-so would do some counseling or some begging or some explaining.

    On Tuesdays I tried to avoid sitting or standing near Brother So-and-so.

    I heard bishops take and make calls of every ilk on that route.

    Once I heard a man answer his cell phone, listen a minute and say, “Well, what does it do, dear?” … “Oh, my.” … “It won’t at all?” … “Please, just try jiggling the handle.” … “I guess you’ll just have to leave it and wait until I get home tonight and I’ll take care of it.” … “Well, I’m sorry dear…what do you want me to do, come home now? You know I’m on the bus. Just go next door and ask to use theirs. I’m sure they will understand.”

    When the Prophet gave the Conference admonition to read the BoM, it seemed clearly 50% or more of the passengers utilized their commute to read the BoM – many ending up sawing logs, their scriptures in jeopardy of toppling to the floor.

    Once what looked like a U of U coed who was sitting next to me broke up with her boyfriend on her cell phone as I sat there minding my own business. “You didn’t complete your mission with honor,” she said.

    Cell phone use was quite commonplace on Route 73 and at times it was quite bizarre.

  34. D. Fletcher says:

    My bus story:

    In 1990, my sister and her husband lived on 112th Street (here in Manhattan), and I lived a mile away on 92nd Street, right down Broadway. I would visit them in the evening, and then take a short walk up 112th Street to the bus stop on Broadway.

    On this particular night, I saw the bus arriving from some distance away, so I ran to catch it, but it turned out to be OK, because a man got on before me, and he was walking and acting very *slow.* He had the exact change needed, I guess, for the bus, and I noticed that his clothes seemed to be very ragged, because I could see his red underwear.

    We both got on the bus, and were the only ones there besides the woman busdriver. Off we went. After some time, I noticed the guy seemed to be in a coma, perhaps drunk or drugged. And then I noticed a small pool of blood forming beneath his seat.

    I walked up to the busdriver, and said “hey, this other guy is bleeding.” She stopped the bus, and walked back to him, saying “mister, mister, what’s wrong with you?” etc., and then she did the unthinkable — she unzipped his light windbreaker.

    His abdomen was a mass of stab wounds, flesh, stained t-shirt and everything else. She quickly zipped the jacket up again.

    Then she turned to me and she said “I’m going to get off the bus and call the paramedics. You stop the bleeding.” She got off the bus, leaving me alone with the man.

    So I put my hands on this guy’s jacket, hoping I wouldn’t get blood on me (I know, real heroic) and only about 2 minutes later, the paramedics arrived and took the man off the bus. The busdriver started up again, and we resumed our journey.

    There’s a good punchline to the story; a few minutes later, a couple little old ladies got on, and the one said to the other “oh, don’t sit in that one, Gladys, it’s *bloody*” as if one has to choose between a dry and bloody seat on the bus every day.

    When I got home, I called my sister to relate my adventure, and it was exactly 15 minutes since I’d left her.

  35. Eric Russell says:

    Good one, Steve. On that note, it’s missionary horror story time. Down in Brazil the missionaries would regularly scream out introductions and invitations to go to church while his companion would count all the people on the bus so that they could correctly report how many people they had made contact with.

    Anyways, many of the missionaries would go further, including short discussions or singing hymns to the passengers. People are used to crazy people in Brazil, so most would usually just ignore it. But things got worse when young, enthusiastic and impressionable American Elders were convinced to do a “super-contact” and sing a hymn – despite their ineptitude with the language.

    One day a local paper published an editorial cartoon of an American missionary screaming something incomprehensible on a bus full of people. The event actually turned out to be a blessing though – when the Mission President caught wind of the published cartoon, the age of crazy super-contacts thankfully came to an end. For a few months at least.

  36. That brings back excruciating memories. I had a companion who would do that on subways. Once when I tried to get him to quit, he raised his arm to the square on me. It didn’t work, though. I was still full of the devil afterwards, in his opinion. I still have a major beef with my mission president for leaving him with me for 7 weeks.

  37. Wow, D, that’s quite a story.

    Rosalynde, about the friendliness of people in Seattle: I’ve never ridden a bus here in Cali, but I can tell you people are much friendlier here than up north. Walking past people in Seattle, I’d always look them in the face, and they’d rarely look at me. Here people routinely not only make eye contact but they always at least smile and usually say hello.

    And I really do think it’s the constant sunshine vs. the constant grey that makes the difference.

  38. Steve Evans says:

    Maybe I should clarify, for those without a sense of humor (Rosalynde): The guy was right up against us, talking fairly loudly. I mean, this wasn’t a delightful child breaking into song — this is a man in his 20s standing immediately in front of you, reading scriptures into your face.

    And Sarah, my lines of “You must hate God,” etc. were delivered deadpan, but were clearly humorous. I recommend watching some Steven Wright.

  39. On my mission in Hong Kong, all the missionaries relied heavily on public transportation to get around. There was an immense pressure to proselyte on the subways and buses. Occasionally I was able to strike up good conversations with my fellow passengers, but for the most part, I felt that we were being unnecessarily intrusive. I was also a little frightened that I might ignite someone’s short temper and cause a scene on the bus. As experience shows, this fear was not unfounded: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bus_Uncle

  40. These stories are great. Here’s mine:

    As the guy across from me stood and turned to pick up his bags, I could see that his jeans were wet–the seat of his jeans, to be precise. Then he picked up a white-ish bit of fabric from where he had been sitting. At first I thought it was a rag, but then I noticed that it looked disturbingly like underwear. I was not inclined to investigate further.

    I have no idea what the back-story was here, but it seems likely that it was more embarrassing than an unzipped fly.

  41. On the infrequent occasion that I ride the Orange Line subway into downtown DC I sometimes have encountered a mild mannered Korean man who will move from car to car at each stop and between stops he will stand and humbly say, “Excuse me, Good Morning.” and then he will either start to softly sing a hymn or he will read from the Bible. I’m amazed at the venemous reaction he gets from certain people. Compared to some of the other things heard (or smelled) on the subway I find it quite pleasant and it only lasts for a few moments – until the next stop. Then he moves to the next car. One night on the way home a woman frantically got on my car and said she was sure this man was following her – because God was puniching her – because every time she changed cars he followed her into that car. I explained the man’s usual movement pattern and my belief that he was not actually following her. That didn’t seem to convince her and, sure enough, when we got to the next stop she ran into the next car and the Korean man followed her. Who knows, maybe it turned her heart back to God!?

  42. Matt Thurston says:

    I hope my comments in #17 were not too strong. I’m taking the story at face value, and it appears that the guy had no tact and was (at best) ignorant of his fellow passengers, or worse, arrogant and unconcerned about his fellow passengers.

    Of course I can think of dozens of examples when it would be innocuous or even appropriate to read scriptures out loud while on a bus, cell phone or no cell phone. I was just responding to this particular instance.

    Though the bus probably has a no solicitation policy, the guy would have been better off standing up in front of the bus and announcing that he was going to read from the scriptures for the enjoyment and edification of all passengers, not unlike a corner street preacher. At least then he would ostensibly be “inviting” or acknowledging the rest of the bus.

  43. Now I get why my husband won’t chat with me on the phone on his Seattle commuter bus. He said it was considered rude, but I didn’t really believe him. I just thought he was the only one who didn’t like other people talking on their cell phones….I didn’t realize everyone hated it.

  44. You made me laugh out loud, Steve.

  45. “There are many ugly things in this world. But religious persecution is one of the ugliest.”

    Ah, yes, good ol’ mormon persecution complex. Oh, wait. You were trying to be funny! Har. Har. Har.

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