We are nearly halfway done with the semester, and everything on campus seems to be going according to routine. But something has been missing.
I started thinking about it as I was climbing out from the dungeon stairs of Hayden Library and walked past the Memorial Union courtyard, toward the Computing Commons.
Before I could cross Palm Walk, I came across one of the traveling preachers. I’d already made eye contact. I unsubtly pull out my phone, as if someone had just texted me to show that I’m far too busy to mind what he says. I shrugged off his brochure offering, and right before I put my phone back now that the coast was clear.
“Have a good day, then,” he said.
Suddenly, muscle reflexes awoken from a semester long slumber, and I looked at him and snarled back, “What did you say to me?” as if he just told me I was going to some homosexual hell he’d been describing all afternoon on campus.
“Have a good day,” he said again.
“Oh … have a good day, to you, too,” I said. I took his brochure as an apologetic gesture.
Instead of studying, I spent a majority of that day wondering: What happened? Where are Brother Jed and the rest of the crazy preachers who once packed the MU courtyard?
Are they planning to be back with a vengeance and an even bigger sign visible to all of Tempe? Do they plan to have multiple preachers placed inside the Walk Only Zones so we now can’t zoom past them? Have they hung up their act and let their sign collect dust in the closet?
I do miss them in a way. Stressed out from that overloaded Tuesday-Thursday schedule you’ve regretted taking, you could walk past them and freely let out an expletive or two (or 10 — hey, it’s OK) and get on with your day a bit more energized and amped. It was a mutual parasitic relationship.
Last week, I noticed they were back — not at their usual spot, because of the new Walk Only Zone designators, but near the MU fountain. A crowd appeared and together we watched the spectacle. There’s always that person who will spring out of the crowd and challenge the preachers, as if they’re some sort of jester. But other than the occasional joker, it was a nonchalant and nearly silent affair.
The preachers seem to be missing the grit and theatrics of past appearances. The sign with the laundry list of hell’s general entry requirements was no longer with them. Without the elevated step of their usual spot, they held no hierarchy above us. Now they are just a couple of older folks trying to win friends and influence people in an always-changing society that’s looking past them.
Call them whatever you want. They exercised First Amendment rights in the worst way, but for the two years I saw them at their peak performances, it brought the rest of us together in the best way. A bunch of random students from all sides of the campus who happen to have a 15- or 30-minute break in between classes downplay the hate and have a little fun at the expense of the far-from-polite MU preachers.
I hope we never really took them seriously, and I hope we realize that with their decreased presence and impact, things on campus and in society are always changing for the better.
The weekly conflicts did get tiring and weary for both sides, but it feels good to have a little nostalgia now and then.
Reach the columnist at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @taequangdoh