When last I wrote, dear readers, my trusty steed and I were in Yellowstone National Park headed south toward Jackson Hole. The drive down was a bumpy swaying mess—rough roads, rough car—and as I approached the junction of Ashton, ID, to head west into Wyoming, the Focus grunting and shimmying, I began to do some serious reconsidering. Teton Pass, which dumps you down into Jackson, summits at just about 8,500′ and falls at a 10% grade. That’s steep. In fact it’s so so steep semi-trucks aren’t allowed to use it. I considered the current state of the Focus; I considered the current state of my life. I pulled over.
The town of Ashton, ID, has little to offer, but the kind folks at a roadside diner let me soothe my nerves over a cup of coffee while I schemed. I found a town another 20-some miles down the way: Rexburg, ID, which boasted more automotive services as well as an Enterprise Rental Car, the latter a potentially very important option should this have proved to be the end of the Focus.
Several facts about Rexburg, ID, none of which I knew prior to arriving there: it is the most conservative county in America. Of the roughly 25,000 residents in Rexburg, 95+% of them are Mormon, and roughly 100% of those 95+% will vote for the Republican candidate come this November. To drive home the point: the town is also home to the recently re-christened BYU-Idaho.
Some facts about me for those who might just be joining us: I live in Seattle, one of the most secular and liberal corners of America. I did not grow up in the West and have had very limited exposure to Mormons. And unless the Republican Party nominates a giraffe named Constance I will not be voting for their candidate this fall.
Back to Rexburg. It was Sunday and I arrived in town just after noon. For those who don’t know about Mormons and Sundays, the math is fairly simple—they don’t do Sundays. They don’t go shopping, they don’t go out to dinner, they don’t go to the movies. Typically they pass they day going to church and then spending time with family.
For this reason the entire town was quiet: streets emptied, stores closed. To my eyes Rexburg resembled the carved out remains of some post-apocalyptic ghost town. I drove around for a few minutes, the Focus grinding her teeth and shaking her tail behind me, looking for anything that might indicate life. Eventually I found a gaggle of people congregated on the sidewalk outside a building. They men were all in suits and the women in dresses. Nearly all of them were good looking, handsome people.
For those readers who are attuned to what was going on, Yes, I had arrived outside the local Mormon church, what I believe they call the ward. I pulled the Focus over and considered my options: these were the first people I’d seen anywhere in town. No stores of any kind appeared to be open. Opportunities for assistance were limited. I also figured that if anyone was going to be in a position to extend kindness to a stranger, it would be people who’d only recently finished talking about Jesus. I took a breath and walked into the mix.
I found a teenaged boy on the steps outside and asked him to point me toward the pastor or an elder. He searched around a minute then led me over to a handsome, kind-faced man who looked to be just about my age. I introduced myself and he did the same, dropping the word Bishop. At that point I wasn’t certain if that was his name or his title, but I carried on and explained the situation with the car. Bishop recommended a mechanic that he assured me was honest and trustworthy, which in a situation like that is worth more than a 10-gallon bucket of gold. Unfortunately they wouldn’t be open until the following morning, which meant that I’d be passing the night in Rexburg.
I explained that I was trying to conserve cash and would likely sleep in my car that evening; I wondered if he could point me toward a place where I could park the Focus for the night and not disturb anyone.
He sized me up for about four-tenths of a second then smiled. My wife and kids are out of town, he said, so I’m bacheloring it at the house. If you’d like, you’re welcome to come and stay with me this evening.
I looked at him and smiled. I replied that I didn’t want to impose. He assured me that I wasn’t.
I said, Well sir, I can assure you that I’m not an axe-murderer if you can do the same.
He extended his hand and so did I. We smiled and shook. And that was how I met J.