Riders band together in a Muni driver’s story
Photo by throgers
Editor’s Note: What do Muni drivers do when the bus breaks down? Here’s how the drivers see it, from a story submission by Ricardo M, who drove Muni for seven years. Ricardo drove just about all the trolley buses spanning from the 41, 21, 6, and on. “But, mostly, I drove the 14 Mission line because then I could speak Spanish while I drove all day, from Embarcadero to Daly city and then back again.”
In this story, when Ricardo finally figures out why the bus isn’t moving, the passengers banded together to help Ricardo get the bus on the road.
“Please move to the rear of the bus.”
No one listens.
I pull the bus into the 24th Street and Mission Zone and pop the front and rear doors open. On the instrument panel, both, front and rear green interlock lights turn on. Brakes on, and are confirmed locked. New passengers start to climb up the front stairwell. So I call out one more time:
“Please keep moving to the back of the bus.”
But no one listens to me. They never do. Instead, the new passengers take their stand at the front of the bus; a couple of them stand over the yellow line. This will block my view while driving, so I ask them to move. The rear doors slam shut, so I lock them. Rear light is off. I shut the front doors too. Front light goes out, the brakes are off and the bus is free to move on. So I turn the wheel to my extreme left and slam down on the electric accelerator, and the bus moves forward.
An old man screams, “Wait! Bus driver, wait, I’m getting off!”
I’m not supposed to stop at the corner of Mission and 23rd Street, but I pull in anyway, just so that I can get the old man off my bus. I unlock the rear doors and the green rear Interlock light turns on, the bus stands. The old man pushes his way through the crown and then waits while some guy in white overalls get off the bus to make room for the old man. Finally, the old man goes down the rear stairwell, and then the guy in white overalls steps back into the stairwell.
The rear doors shut close. I press down on the accelerator. Nothing. Nothing happens! I look at the instrument panel and notice that the rear light is still on. Green light is on; brakes are on; the interlock braking system is on! People are waiting, and I am quickly running out of options, so I start to run through the braking system checks:
1. SET EMERGENCY BRAKE, THEN RELEASE IT
2. RESET AIR COMPRESSOR BY RELEASING AIR PRESSURE IN TANK
3. PUMP BRAKE SEVERAL TIMES UNTIL PSI INDICATOR STARTS TO FALL
4. IF BRAKES STILL DO NOT RELEASE OPEN, OPEN AND CLOSE FRONT DOORS
5. REPEAT WITH REAR DOORS
6. IF PROBLEM PERSISTS CALL CENTRAL CONTROL AND THEY WILL SEND A MECHANIC
7. WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FIX THE PROBLEM YOURSELF
But the screaming starts:
“Hey, driver, why don’t you get this stupid thing on the road?”
“Hey, driver, I’m going to be late to work.”
“Yeah, man, what’s going on. Let’s get going!”
And then an old lady carrying a stick walks up to the front of the bus.
“Excuse me, driver, is there a problem? Why aren’t we moving?”
“Lady, I don’t know what is wrong yet. As soon as I know, I’ll tell you. Okay? But in the meantime, please take a seat.”
She ignores me. And so I make the announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to inform you that this bus is having some kind of mechanical problem. I don’t know what the problem is. But, I recommend, if you are in a hurry, that you take the bus that’s right behind me.
The old woman is about to say something else, but a man’s voice is heard from the back of the bus,
“Well, shit, hurry up and find out what it is.”
And another, “Isn’t this a bitch?”
So I make another announcement:
“Again, let me repeat, I am unable to move the bus at this time. I recommend you exit the bus in order to take the next bus coming. It should be here in a minute or so.”
As I go through the checklist:
1. SET EMERGENCY BRAKE, THEN RELEASE IT
2. RESET AIR COMPRESSOR . . .
Another woman screams from the back of the bus,
“Man, these bus drivers are lazy. They’re always inventing some kind of mechanical problem. You know, they just don’t want to work, that’s all.”
But suddenly, the light goes out and the bus jumps forward violently; and the old woman falls in the isle; her stick shoots across the floor; a few passengers around her help her to her feet. “You did that on purpose!” she snarls at me, “You horrible man! If you think you’re getting away with this kind of behavior, you’re very much mistaken. I know the president of the company, and I’m going to see that you never drive a bus again. Give me your operator’s number.”
I turn the wheel and move into traffic. And the old woman is still standing at the front, holding on to a handrail.
“Driver, I said I want your operator’s number. Right this instant!”
“Sure, lady. Sure. If you want it, it’s right here on my uniform.”
I pull into the 22nd Street zone, and pop open the front doors. Green light is on.
“Smart-aleck good-for-nothing!” As she passes me, she hits me on the shoulder with her stick. Not an easy thing to do for her, while carrying a bag and walking off the bus. Once on the pavement, she takes out a pencil and scribbles something on a piece of paper.
So I close the front doors. I turn the wheel to my extreme left, and I push down on the accelerator. Nothing! No electricity! And the green light is on. (Here we go again) So I pull and release the emergency brake… I pump the brakes… I open and close the front and rear doors… But then I stop for a moment.
In my rear-view mirror, I see the guy in white overalls (a house painter maybe?) standing in the rear stairwell, and he is leaning against the rear doors. I look straight at him and he’s got a “guilty-as—all—hell” look on his face.
So I scream at him.
“Hey! You! In the stairwell! Why are you pushing on the doors? You want to get off or something?”
“You talking to me?”
“Yes, I’m talking to you! Get off the doors!”
“Hey, I don’t know what you’re talking about. You must be loco en la cabeza.”
“Loco en la cabeza? I’ll give you loco en la cabeza. Every time I open the doors, you start pushing on the doors, like it’s your tricky little game. You push on the doors and the brakes turn on.”
“Go to hell.”
“No, man, you go to hell. And get off my bus! Right now!”
“Hell no. You can’t do that.”
“Like hell I can’t.”
“You can’t order me like you own the bus. Who do you think you are?”
“Who do I think I am? I’m the guy that’s driving this bus, and I want you THE HELL OFF MY BUS!”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“You’re not going to get off? Well, okay, I’ll just park the bus right here while I call CENTRAL CONTROL, and then I’ll go out and pull my trolley poles down.”
But a few of the passengers start screaming:
“C’mon, man, get this bus moving.”
So I tell them, “Listen, this guy is messing with the doors, and he looks mighty dangerous to me. So, I’m not moving this bus until he gets off my bus.”
And a new voice rings out, it’s a big husky voice,
“Hey, driver, I can get this guy off for you, if you want.”
The new man steps into center aisle, headed for the rear doors. He’s a man built like a two-ton truck, a huge chest, a massive neck, and enormous biceps.
I’m looking out the window, and I say, “Well, if you want to, go ahead. Who am I to say no?”
“Got you, driver.”
So the massive guy turns and walks over to the rear of the bus, and easily grabs the house painter by the arm.
“What the…. Hey!” shouts the house painter.
“Get the fuck off the bus, man.” Slap! Whack!
“Man, what did I do?”
“The driver wants you off the bus.”
“Hey, you can’t do that!”
Slap! Thump! Boing!
And out goes the house painter through the rear doors and the rear doors close. The air pressure is released, and the brakes turn off.
“Okay, driver, everything’s cool back here,” says the massive guy.
“Well, okay, man. Thank you.”
On the bus, everyone cheers and claps; and some even pat the massive guy on the back.
Everything turns around.
I close the front doors and the green light goes out. The interlock is off. The bus lunges forward, and I’m back on the run.