Meeting Joan Didion in San Francisco right after 9/11: One grad student’s tale

How do you go from humble grad school student to being on stage with one of America’s literary icons, all in a matter of days—especially when those days are ones following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001? This is exactly what happened to one San Franciscan, who met his intellectual idol, Joan Didion, who was speaking at City Arts and Lectures soon after the towers fell.

Our storyteller, Judson True, was a journalism grad student at the time. After a series of nerve-wrecking events, he ended up interviewing Didion on stage at the Herbst Theater. For this podcast episode, he unearthed an ancient email thread from his Yahoo inbox, taking us back to how he got plucked from his classroom and placed onstage with his favorite writer.

Having moved from the midwest to San Francisco, Judson says that “everyone has their own San Francisco. That’s one of the great things about a real city.” Meeting Didion that day marked a significant moment in his time here that defined what San Francisco was, and is, to him.

Listen to this story (full transcript below):
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You might remember Judson from one of our early Muni Diaries Live shows, which took place right after he left his post as the SFMTA spokesperson (perhaps one of the most stressful city jobs ever?). He’s currently the chief of staff for California State Assemblyman David Chiu.

This story is a part of San Francisco Diaries, our spinoff series that just celebrated its first birthday! Thanks to your support on Patreon, we’ve been able to record lots of new stories in our podcast studio. If you like these stories and can spare your coffee money for a day or two, we’d appreciate your help! You can find us at Patreon.com/munidiaries.

Know someone with a great story about San Francisco? We are all ears! Submit your own story at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com.

Photo by @goincase
=== Transcript ===

I found out about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, from my wonderful but soon to be ex-girlfriend who had just moved to Taiwan on a Fulbright. She lived in the future, so she saw the attacks on TV while I was sleeping. She called and told me what was happening and I turned on the news in my rented San Francisco apartment. I spent those devastating hours in shock with the rest of the world. Read more

A tradeswoman explores international relations on the 14-Mission

Muni Diaries podcast

It wouldn’t be a cross-town Muni line if manspreading, drinking, and impromptu history lessons didn’t factor in somewhere, right? Today’s storyteller, Molly Martin, is a tradeswoman and longtime Bay Area resident who takes us back to simpler, but familiar times on the 14-Mission. Here’s Molly:

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Molly previously served san activist and organizer for Occupy Bernal, a neighborhood group focused on fighting evictions in Bernal Heights. She’s currently working on a book about the history of women construction workers in the Bay Area.

We met Molly after she pitched her story to us via email. Be cool like Molly and pitch your own Muni or San Francisco story at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com. And if you like what you’re hearing, help us keep the lights on at Muni Diaries HQ by supporting us on Patreon

Pic by Flickr user Michael Patrick

Meet the woman behind NYC’s subway tweets

New York City: They’re just like us.

Not really, but they do also have a real-life human behind the service alerts (i.e. bad news) that stymie subway riders on their commutes.

Haley Dragoo writes the transit alerts New Yorkers find on the MTA’s websites, Twitter feeds, and, most recently, an app called MYmta. In this recent New York Times piece, she walks us through her experience engaging with their unique and occasionally pissed off and skeptical ridership. Sound familiar?

“O.K., bot,” someone wrote back recently when Haley Dragoo answered him on Twitter, as if Ms. Dragoo’s message had been generated by a robot. She wasted no time setting him straight: “No, I’m a real person.”

 

In fact, she is a 26-year-old who once described herself as “feisty and opinionated.” “I always keep things light and fun,” she wrote in the same biographical sketch, “and love making people laugh.”

We know that’s pretty hard, but she seems to be keeping her head up.

“I think people think it’s a lot worse than it is, this catastrophic mess all the time,” she said. “I’ve had to put a moratorium on talking about the trains with my boyfriend. We had to say no talking about the trains. He’s part of the public. They just see the bad parts. They don’t see the strides we’re making and how this information that we put out makes a difference. They’re caught up in the negative part.”

As it turns out, the NYC MTA Twitter folks work out of the NASA-like control center and everyone thinks they’re robots.

It is probably no surprise that passengers accustomed to impersonal and often unintelligible communications on the subway sometimes have trouble believing that anyone at the transit agency is actually reading their tweets.

Do you think people also write, “Hey, fuck you!” to @NYCTSubway, or is that just San Francisco?

We got to know Schad Dalton and Rick Banchero, the real humans behind the SFMTA Twitter account on an episode of the Muni Diaries podcast. They told us, “Sometimes people will tell us we’re incompetent, that we should lose our jobs, that we are a failure, and those are just some of the nicer things. Sometimes it is hard and you feel that they are coming at you.” We think that Schad, Rick, and Haley should get together for an epic Happy Hour commiserating session!

Our takeaway: Be nice out there—those humans behind @sfmta_muni might just bend over backward to find that lost item when you least expect it.

Pic by Daniel Hoherd on Flickr

How one woman served sweet, sweet justice on Muni

Gwen Carmen is a survivor: She’s taught middle school and beaten cancer. So you know she wasn’t going to let a creeper on the bus get off easy. When a man’s wandering hands met storyteller Gwen’s seat, she was shocked. But she didn’t spend too much time in wondering WTF—here’s how she tracked him down and got her own version of bus creeper justice.

Gwen told this story at Muni Diaries Live’s 10th anniversary show and our jaws were on the ground. Listen to her story here:

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Gwen is an activist, actress, educator, and writer whose work appeared in Essence magazine, Plexus feminist newspaper, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, and numerous other small presses during the ’80s and ’90s. She was the editor/publisher of La Morena Women of Color bilingual newspaper.

Thanks to you, we’ve heard amazing stories of women standing up for themselves and each other—like this tale of riders who, one by one, walked over to support a woman being verbally harassed. Another time, riders on this bus collectively said No Way to body shaming.

Keep it up, San Francisco.

Got your own story to share? We are all ears! Pitch your own Muni or San Francisco story to us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com. You can also help us keep the lights on at Muni Diaries HQ by supporting us on Patreon

Photo by Right Angle Images

Mona Lisa takes a ride on the M

This doppelgänger for the famed Leonardo da Vinci painting was seen riding public transit with a serene smile. Shall we caption this…the Muni Lisa?

(We’ll be here all week, folks.)

OK, OK, judging from the fabric of the seat we know this is another public transit system altogether, but it’s just too good not to share. Not for nothing, we’ve spotted other celebrities on Muni like Justin Bieber and Fabio. It’s a regular day of “Celebrities, They’re Just Like Us” here at Muni Diaries headquarters.

Thanks for the submission, reader Nandita D., via Fernando Meisenhalter on Facebook.

Got other important news for your fellow riders? Tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Our email inbox muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com is always open!

From the literal mailbox: Quantum physics meets Pulp Fiction on Muni

Dana Grae Kane, 72, is a self-described scarred veteran of the L-Taraval, having spent 29 years on that Metro line commuting between the Sunset and FiDi. Now retired and recovering on the Oregon coast, (pass the Pinot Noir!) she graciously took the time to send us a story, via snail mail y’all, from her Muni-riding past. 

One morning in the 1990s, a young heterosexual couple sat across from me, each engrossed in reading a book.

He was about 6’4″ and 250 lbs. of muscle, dressed in a T-shit and Gorilla work jeans, arms showing serious tough-guy tattoos, wearing a hard hat and massive steel-toed boots.

Diametrically opposed, she appeared to be an archetypically fluffy delicate flower—frail, pale, and fragile—probably often suffering categorization among “dumb blondes.”

I could hardly contain my surprise and delight when I realized what each was reading. She was engrossed in something that resembled Annals of Physics published by the Max Planck Society, while he was riveted in a romance novel of lurid cover, something that could easily be called Passion Under the Plum Trees by an author named Euphorbia Spindrift.

Thus, we may, after all, be able to judge books by their covers, but not so Muni riders.

As true today as it was 20 years ago, San Franciscans rarely fit into Column A or Column B—more often than not, you’ll find that we sample a little bit of both, and then some.

Extra thanks to Matt from the Elbo Room, where we hold our live storytelling shows twice a year. Ms. Kane addressed her typed and printed story, with impeccable cursive on the envelope, to Muni Diaries Live, and Matt was kind enough to forward it on:

Is your own so-San Francisco story burning a hole in your pocket? Share your tale with the world by tagging us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Or, our email inbox, muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com, is always open! And, for the record, so is our P.O. Box:

Muni Diaries
P.O. Box 640084
San Francisco, CA 94164

Top photo: juicyrai on Flickr

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