This post is by Muni rider Julie, who happens to be one of our favorite people. Julie is the creator of iliveheresf.com and a founding member of SF-based photography site calibersf.com. She’s also Broke-Ass Stuart’s “Broke Ass of the Week” this week, but we swear we didn’t coordinate that one.
Tuesday was my first day on Muni since the new changes to the system took effect. Yes, the impact was noticeable. Yes, I was late. (You might have been late too, so it’s not like I’m telling you something you didn’t know already.)
I’m phobic about being tardy. I don’t know where I got this personality defect from, but I’ve had it for a long time. So when I know that I’m going to be late, and there’s nothing I can do about it, I tend to let it overwhelm me, which I know is stupid but it happens nonetheless. Today was the first day where I seriously considered not buying a Muni pass for June, the pass of which, up until today, had been an emblem of my San Franciscan-ness. But I couldn’t help scowling: What was I paying for, anyway?
I was supposed to talk to a class of high school students about photography, and portraiture specifically, at the request of a friend of mine who organized this group. It wasn’t just a bunch of regular students, but a group of “at-risk” kids: kids who had been expelled from other schools or could no longer attend regular high schools. This school is their last chance of getting some sort of education. My friend had set this class up months ago, after a luncheon we had where I loaned him my DVD of Born Into Brothels and we talked about the transformative power of photography. And here I was, mentally swearing a blue streak that I let that last Yellow Cab pass me by, thinking the N-Judah would come when it said it would. I envisioned this group of kids patiently and eagerly waiting for me and my wisdom to arrive, and here I totally blew it.
By the time I got to the school, I was 20 minutes late. For me, with my obsession with punctuality, I might as well have been two hours late. The kids were restless, on the brink of being shown a film due to my late arrival. I tried not to complain to add more to the mood of the class, but I did apologize for imposing on their schedules. They barely acknowledged me. I realized then that whatever I had to say was going to be tough sell. Whether I had arrived on time or in the last five minutes, this group of students was going to take some persuading to listen to me at all.
After class, my friend and I walked back to his office. We saw several of the boys in class waiting at the bus stop at McAllister, and I waved to them. My friend nodded to them and they nodded back. He yelled to them, “You guys headed downtown?” They nodded. He said, “You be safe out there.” As we walked, he told me how much he worries about the kids, the boys especially. At the end of each day, he can’t help wondering if he’ll ever see them again. One of his students lost six friends in one year due to violent attacks. That same boy was shot seven times waiting at a bus shelter.
That knowledge put some perspective into things. I might be pouting outside of Arizmendi Bakery, mentally cursing Muni as I eat a corn-cherry scone, but the chances of me getting shot while I wait for my transportation to arrive are pretty much zero.
I tried to keep that in mind as I entered the sardine can at Montgomery Station, at the peak of rush hour. It’s been a while since I’ve participated in rush hour. I was laid off from my job over a year ago, due to the downturn in the economy, so had forgotten what it was like to be so close to my fellow commuters. A man with a gigantic stomach pressed into my back. A woman with that same girth would have been growing triplets inside of her body. The man apologized to all who tried to squeeze past him. At Van Ness Station, a young man, trim and muscular in a racer-style wheelchair, just gave us a wry smile from the platform. There was no way in hell he would be able to get on our packed train. He looked like he’d been accustomed to waiting. We left him behind.
I tried to remember back to when I first moved to San Francisco, and how I loved taking Muni downtown to work. I remember telling people how much I enjoyed my commute, and often people looked at me as if I was slightly insane for praising my daily trips on the N. I remembered when I first arrived here, and would distinctly recognize that smell of grease and dust at Montgomery Station, the same smell I recalled from the Paris Metro and the London Underground. The smell of trains and tracks and how just a whiff of it made me elated to be in a city, my city. Finally outside of my hermetically sealed car with all of those miles driven through a suburban wasteland, and that smell brought me into the vital urban environment.
I remembered the young surfer dude with girlfriend troubles and how another woman and I had consoled him and given him relationship advice all the way from 9th Avenue up to Powell Station. He left us with a smile. I remembered the young poetess who boarded at Carl and Cole (11 years old) who shared her school project with me as her father listened proudly. The young Parisian family who couldn’t figure out which stop was Stanyan and how I spoke to them in broken French, and they were so surprised but in a good and grateful way. I thought about the homeless kid who sat next to me one night even though the train was almost empty. We talked about Ray Bradbury and I gave him my copy of Fahrenheit 451 because he told me he didn’t have money to buy books anymore. When I got off at my stop, he promised that after he read the book, he would give it to someone else.
I want that Muni—my Muni—back. I think it’s out there somewhere, but I have to stop looking at the Next Muni predictions or else I’ll never find it.