The Wheelchair Cowboy

muni stop san francisco
Photo by Lynn Friedman

Editor’s Note: Ricardo M was a Muni driver from 1981-1988. Originally trained on the LRVs, he spent six months at the Metro Division operating the K, L, M, N Lines. In the seven years that he worked as a Muni driver, he’s driven 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.”

Ricardo sends us this story, which he says is one of his favorite experiences as a Muni driver.

I had just left the Embarcadero terminal, heading south on Mission Street. I already had about 15 people on my bus. When I arrived at the Mission and 2nd Street zone, there were about six people waiting for me, including a man in a wheelchair.

As soon as I pulled my trolley bus into the passenger zone, the man in the wheelchair rolled himself right up against one of the open doors of the bus, reached out with his right hand, and grabbed onto one of the door’s side handles. He looked up at me as if to say something, but the people behind him had already started going around him, stepping out in front of him and going up the stairwell.

Finally, only the man in the wheelchair remained on the sidewalk. His wheelchair was of the regular folding type (no motor), with thick leather bags attached to the armrests. He looked like a bronco-riding cowboy in his large ivory straw hat, a Western shirt, boots, and a silver buckle on his leather belt.

“Hey, bus driver, can you give me a ride to 24th Street?” he asked.

“Sorry, mister, I can’t do it. This bus doesn’t have a chair lift and I can get into trouble. There are rules against it. Liability, I guess. Why don’t you hold on a bit, I know that a bus equipped with a wheelchair lift will be here soon. ”

“Hell no! I’ve been here for about two hours and everyone keeps passing me by.”

“All right, hold on, let me give Central Control a call.” I reached over to pick up the radio phone. But the man protested:

“What good will that do? The other two drivers who passed me by also said they were going to call Central Control, but that didn’t do anything. And here I am, sitting here for two hours now! I tell you, it’s just a bunch of lies! Come on, let me in. If you will carry my chair in for me, I can drag myself up the stairs and into a seat. I’ve done it before.”

I looked back to see what the other passengers were saying, but they seemed unnaturally calm.

No one was protesting, for or against it. In fact, they all seemed to be waiting to see what I was going to do.

I thought about it a moment, then I said, “Okay. Are you ready?” I got to my feet and came out from the driver’s enclosure.

The man smiled, pulled himself down to the ground, and crawled on the dusty cement, heading for the front door steps.

“Sure, I’m ready, bus driver.”

He pushed and pulled himself up the tall, rubber lined steps of the bus. Once he was on the floor of the bus, he pulled himself into the seat nearest to the door. As for me, I broke a “Muni liability rule” and followed the man, folded his wheelchair, and carried the wheelchair into the bus.

Everyone helped. “Right on, bus driver!”

“Thanks, bus driver.”

“My pleasure.”

This is one of my favorite experiences as a driver.

You can read Ricardo’s first story about riders banding together against a troublemaker on his bus here.

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