Muni Diaries Anniversary Favorite: Livin’ the dream, for at least one night

Muni Diaries is gearing up to celebrate our first anniversary this Friday. What started out as an idea at SF State has grown into a community of lively transit tales and spirited discussion of our beloved bus system. Below is the first of a series that looks back at our favorite diaries over the last year. Today’s favorite diary was chosen by Jeff: “I love this post because it’s the ultimate tale to be envious of. A lot of us dream of doing the most extraordinary of ordinary things, like driving a cab in NYC or a bus in San Francisco. Tony was fortunate enough to take a stab a that ‘dream,’ and he tells the story like a true master storyteller.” Check back tomorrow for Eugenia’s favorite diary.


Lyon

Livin’ the dream, for at least one night (originally posted on July 31, 2008)

When I was kid growing up in this burg, I never wanted to be cowboy. I didn’t want to be an astronaut, either, or even a rock star. I kind of wanted to be a baseball player and I was a pretty good pitcher, but not that good. Anyway, what I really wanted to be was a Muni driver.

I eventually drifted off into journalism and I can’t really kick. It’s been a good career, for the most part. But there’s a part of me, even now, that still thinks it would be cool to make that tight turn off Market onto Clayton driving the 33-Stanyan, or glide down Market Street at the controls of one of those classic PCC cars.

Times have changed, I know. When I was a kid, it cost 15 cents to ride the bus (a nickel if you were a kid or an old guy), and drivers (or “operators,” as the Municipal Railway still calls them) were definitely the masters of their domain. Legendary Chronicle columnist Herb Caen once likened them to ships’ captains, both for their authority and their demeanor. They commanded respect, and they got it.

It’s not like that anymore. As the people who ride the buses have gotten surlier and more vulgar, so have a lot of drivers. Once, when I was threatening to quit my newspaper job and go drive for Muni, a friend of mine who drove both the 30-Stockton and 41-Union at the time told me I was crazy. “People are animals,” he said. “Animals.”

This would have been around 1981 or ’82, I suppose, because that was about the time he let me drive the bus all the way to the end of the line. I was working the graveyard shift at the paper and I used to catch his last run on the 41. One night, he picked me up at Laguna and Union. There was no one else on the bus. As I stepped up, he gave me a sly grin.

“Wanna drive?”

Did I wanna drive? I’d only been waiting all my life for this moment. You damn betcha I wanted to drive. We sat there for about five minutes while he showed me what did what, and how to open and close the doors. Then we were off.

“What if someone wants to get on?” I asked.

“Just pull over and let ’em on.”

Cool.

I’d never driven anything bigger than my old man’s ’65 Malibu station wagon before. It was a very strange feeling, knowing that I was guiding all of it, even the stuff 25 feet behind me. I was suddenly conscious of how narrow Union Street really is.

“Don’t worry about it,” my friend said. “It’s no different than driving a car.”

Well, actually, it was different. For one thing, the 41 was a trolley coach so I was very aware of the poles and overhead wire. We crossed our first switches at Van Ness, with my friend coaxing me across. “You don’t have to go that slow,” he said.

We went up one side of Russian Hill and down the other into North Beach. I made my first turn at Columbus Avenue. I felt like I was driving a whale. At Columbus and Stockton, he showed me how to use the yellow dots painted on the street to line the bus up so the poles would switch to the wire that led us straight down Columbus Avenue.

I drove all the way to the end of the line at Howard and Main. I never picked up a passenger, which was kind of a disappointment. I wanted to use the line I’d heard my friend use once when he was running behind. Since I never got the chance, I’ll use it now.

“Step up, Sis. I ain’t got all night.”

– Tony

Photo by Flickr user Thomas Hawk

It’s never a bad time to send us your Muni stories.

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