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GO UTA - YOU NEVER KNOW WHOM YOU'LL MEET

The Utah Transit Authority bus rolled to a stop, the door hissed open and in stepped "The Supreme Being," loudly proclaiming his divinity - and refusing to pay.

Driver Paul Dixon just looked at the figure, clad in a chin-to-foot coat fashioned from a white bedspread, shrugged and tossed in the fare. After all, Dixon was already used to giving "The Devil" his due."I put a token in for him. It seemed the best way to handle it," Dixon recalls. "He blessed me with `Good fortune for the rest of my days.'

"It didn't work, or he did it wrong, I don't know," the 11-year UTA veteran says. "But it definitely has not worked; I got a divorce after that, and it's gone downhill from there."

Giving "The Devil" his due is cheaper. The goateed man, also known as "The Worm" for the moniker emblazoned on his red silk shirt, usually cruises downtown Salt Lake City's free-fare zone.

It is impossible to mistake "The Devil" for "The Supreme Being." The former rounds out his satanic attire with red pants, a long red cape and hair waxed into a pair of bristly horns.

"The Supreme Being" and "The Devil" are in the crowded pantheon of bizarre characters who have become legends to the UTA drivers who transport them, along with the less-colorful masses, to their earthly destinations.

Given enough routes and years on the job, most drivers can spin a few eye-popping stories, some of which are printable.

Gary Massey, with UTA for 35 years, remembers a woman in a tight skirt struggling to preserve modesty by trying to climb the bus steps sideways.

"She was wearing spiked heels and as she put her foot down, it caught her half-slip and pulled it down around her ankles," he said. "Without a word, she just stepped out of it, kicked it off into the street and got on the bus."

One of Tim Naylor's favorite stories from 17 years on the job involves a self-styled gospel troubadour. From the back of the bus, the man strummed his guitar and sang.

Not everyone appreciated his musical evangelism, however.

"A little way down the road, another guy got on, rang the stop bell and grabbed the guitar, threw that out the door, then grabbed the guy and threw him out, and said, `There's only so much of that Jesus stuff I can take!"'

In an era of increasing violence, UTA spokesman Bill Barnes recalls only two times in the past four years when operators have been assaulted by riders. Neither episode resulted in the driver being hospitalized.

The company didn't wait for the situation to get worse, however. Undercover officers are assigned to potentially troublesome routes, and UTA will shortly equip 10 of its buses with video cameras.

"The buses also are in direct radio contact with the central base of operation every second," Barnes emphasized. "If somebody has a heart attack on the bus, that driver is in touch immediately and assistance is dispatched."

But if "The Supreme Being" appears demanding free passage, they're on their own.