Be careful what you wish for. It's been a few weeks since anything strange has happened during my commute, but tonight... Well, it was a weird night.
The 22 was uncrowded between Potrero and Mission, where it filled up with some regulars (a mom and her two kids who I've watched grow up, from afar - the daughter has to be fourteen, the son maybe ten or eleven), some SPCA employees, foster dogs in tow, two tourists with large suitcases and a man I'll call the Unsolicited Evangelist.
At first, the Unsolicited Evangelist just sat next to a young woman who had been playing with her phone. The U.E. asked her why people spent so much time on their phones. He didn't wait for an answer. "You are all zombies, that's why. Zombies who are connected to your electronics with your wires. You got these bitches taking pictures of themselves all the time, and the rest of you, you're losing your souls to the devil. There's only one way to save yourselves. You have to read the bible, the word of Jesus Christ."
Great, I thought. Just what this bus needs.
The young woman was kind and patient, perhaps also a bit baffled. The man treated her as though she was on his side, a confidant.
He went on, and on, and on. "You're Catholic," he said to the girl, "And that's fine, you pray your rosary and you read your scriptures and you'll be just fine. But everyone else, I tell you, they're going to hell."
He kept on with this for the next few blocks. At Church, a kid slid in to the seat beside me. He was probably in his early to mid twenties, nicely dressed, friendly. He overheard the U.E. and put his phone away in his coat pocket.
"I don't need any trouble," the kid confided.
"This guy is just crazy," I said.
The kid nodded. "Yeah, I've only been here three minutes, I can only imagine what you've heard."
We rode in companionable silence for a few blocks more - until the U.E. stood up and began walking up and down the bus, spouting his nonsense, his hatred. He wasn't directing his 'message' at any one group of people but it was clear he did not respect or like any of the other passengers
He moved to the front of the bus and began spewing more heated hate speech garbage - racist, sexist, xenophobic bullshit. I may be Jewish but I'm pretty sure Jesus wouldn't hate people the way this man did. Jesus would probably not call women bitches, either.
There were several older folks in the front of the bus, a couple of nicely dressed gentlemen, a disabled Russian couple and an elderly woman. They unfortunately became the U.E.'s audience.
The atmosphere on the bus had been more or less normal, a little jokey, but now it was tense.
The U.E. addressed the Russian couple, said something about illegal immigration, something about the court system. Then he looked straight at the well-dressed men and went on a rant against men who wore ties out in public, segueing in to a rant about the media, and the people who ran the media. Can you guess who he thought ran the media? Jewish people.
I shook my head, sucked my teeth. The same old story. I felt my jaw tighten. Free speech is one thing, but hate speech? No. Unacceptable. I wanted to say something, but I also didn't want to make the situation worse.
My seatmate yelled up to the front, "Hey man, cut it out, cut out all that racist crap, no one wants to hear it. Leave the seniors alone."
Someone in the back of the bus called back, "But everything he said, it's true."
I told him to go fuck himself.
My seatmate yelled at the U.E. again.
The driver, as always, ignored everything until the entire bus was hollering for the driver to put the U.E. off the bus.
Then the driver stood up and asked the U.E. to "Please sit, and act calmly."
Nice. If an entire bus full of people couldn't convince the driver to kick someone off the bus, what would?
My seatmate turned to me and said, "I hate that kind of talk, I apologize if I bothered you. But I'm Jewish and he went to far, talking about my culture. Plus, These old people, I just feel bad for them."
"Not at all," I said."The driver should've thrown that guy off the bus, this is ridiculous."
The well-dressed gentlemen, still seated in the front of the bus, thanked my seatmate for sticking up for them.
"Of course," said my seatmate. To me he said, "They're all like, my parents' age. I wouldn't want my parents to have to listen to that crap, not when they're just trying to have a nice evening."
I wanted to pin a medal to my seatmate's chest, or at least hand him a strip of gold stars. A good citizen's award.
A couple other passengers thanked my seatmate, too. The U.E. shut up, hopefully for the rest of his ride.
At Fillmore I transferred to the 38.
The man who, around Christmas, called me his "Hebrew Sister,
" was on the bus but he was too high to recognize me or do anything other than mumble to himself and sway back and forth.
At Arguello, a woman I've known for years from around the neighborhood and from our mutual commutes on the 22, got on the bus with her husband. She smiled and said hi, and then slid in to the seat next to me.
"He can find his own seat," she said, cheerfully, gesturing for her husband to grab a seat in the back of the bus.
We chatted a bit, probably said more in the space of ten minutes than we'd ever said to each other before.
When the bus pulled in to my stop she hopped up so I could get to the door.
"Nice talking to you," I said. "By the way, I'm Rachel."
She grinned. "I'm Meagann."
"See you around, Meagann," I said, and headed down the block towards home.