Eugenia Chien has been eavesdropping on the 47, 49, or 1 lines since the mid-90's. She lives by the adage, "Anything can happen on Muni" (and also, "That's not water.")

San Francisco Giants fans, 30 years apart

Photo: @SFChronicle_vault

When SFChronicle_vault posted the pic above recently on Instagram, we thought it looked and felt familiar. It’s certainly imbued with nostalgia for decades past—and nostalgia for months past, if you count our wistfulness about safely gathering en masse, which San Francisco has always loved doing.

We dug into our own archive and were heartened to find photos from 2014 taken in very much the same spirit and similarly featuring Muni, which always snuck into our celebrations.

Back in 2014 when the Giants won the World Series:

Photo by @jennyzhu

Remember how we won three World Series championships in five years? Don’t forget 2012, when one of the sturdier bus shelters of old kept the celebration going on what looks like Market Street.

Photo by Keoki Seu

Everything has changed and very little has changed. I know we’ll do it again someday.

We’re continuing to collect your stories about the interactions and experiences that make living in San Francisco what it is today. If you have a story to share, please email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com And don’t forget to keep up with the tales by subscribing to the Muni Diaries podcast! You can submit your own photos and observations by tagging us @munidiaries on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

Playing Muni driver, if only for a few minutes

After a disturbing post-apocalyptic (or was it simply apocalyptic?) week, we’re bringing you a throwback tale of simpler times when the highlight of your year is when the Muni driver let you in on a few secrets. Today’s podcast episode was brought to you by rider Tara, who caught a Muni driver in a bit of a casual mood and fun ensues. Yes, a Muni ride that was actually…fun!

I hurry over to a bus, after seeing it parked at the stop I needed. No need to hurry, though. The driver jogged up behind me, asked where I was headed, and if I wanted a ride. I naturally assume this is driver humor; Haha! A ride, I get it. On the bus that I was trying to get on, that’s going to the very neighborhood I needed? Ha!

I guess it wasn’t really a joke. I walked over to the doors as he unlocked them, and saw the number for a line I totally didn’t want. At this point, Woman Reflex kicked in. Is this the worst kind of Muni Loony, the kind who beat up or killed a real Muni driver and stole his bus and outfit, and is now giving “rides” to women walking around alone? Instead of overreacting, I asked him what line this was. He told me what it was, but said he was just coming off his shift, and was going to be dropping it off at a Muni lot near(ish) where I was going. My intuition is pretty good, it wasn’t an odd hour, and I needed to get to where I was going ASAP. Also, I knew I could deal a pretty hefty kick in the nuts if I needed to, and it was pretty clear that he didn’t have a gun in his Muni outfit.

My intuition served me well, because he was indeed harmless. He strapped himself in the driver’s seat right away, limiting any no-goodnik-mobility, so I relaxed some. Oh, and I got to change the side and front banners to “Not in Service.” That’s right. Did you miss it?

I got to change the banners to say “Not in Service.”

It’s a pretty simple task on the older buses. Unlike the digital ones that can probably be changed with a couple stabs at a button, these signs move if you flick a switch that scrolls through all the different Muni numbers. Indicators from the inside of the bus tell you what it says on the outside, so I stopped once it got to what I wanted. Easy. And awesome.

Listen to the rest of her story, read by reader Amanda Staight:

To be fair, we have had a few stories where Muni drivers surprise the passengers, like this one time when a rider got to briefly drive an N, when the operator gave a rider some timely life advice, or when this driver played some Jedi mind tricks with the line number. Oh, those innocent times!

We’ll keep the stories coming on our podcast all the same, so if you have a story to share about life in San Francisco, pitch us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on any of your favorite listening apps.

Photo by @hamster@peter

Painting the pandemic void, one storefront at a time

One of the most sobering moments for me at the beginning of the pandemic was walking by Le Central on Bush and seeing the bistro window covered with plywood. Once the popular lunch spot for Willie Brown (who’d play dice with his pals at the table by the window), the bistro’s board-up was the first time I really sensed the fear and emptiness that would soon permeate downtown.

As plywood boards sprung up all over every neighborhood, though, a couple of San Franciscans created a project that truly made lemonade out of all the lemons that 2020 has thrown at us. Within weeks, pedestrians started seeing beautiful murals on plywood boards that covered closed shops and restaurants, starting in Hayes Valley and extending all over town. The project is called Paint the Void, which matches mural artists with shuttered storefronts. Since April, Paint the Void has matched artists who beautified over 84 shops and restaurants, making walking around in San Francisco a joy again.

In today’s podcast episode, we invite Lisa Vortman, the Co-Founder, Director of Photography, Media and Storytelling of Paint the Void, to share the story of the first mural she photographed for the project. All the photos in this post are also from Lisa and Paint the Void.

Listen to her story:

The beautiful flower mural in Lisa’s story is by Nora Bruhn (@konorebi on Instagram), which covered Chez Maman in Hayes Valley. The restaurant has since re-opened for outdoor dining, but you can scroll down to see photos of the mural and Brunh working on-site this spring.

Seeing these murals on my daily walks has been one of those things that makes me say, “This is why I live here.” You can even make a day of it—follow this map to more murals via the Paint the Void website, where you can also contribute to the nonprofit’s excellent work.

If you know someone who’s doing something great to help San Franciscans get through this terrible year, we want to know! Our submissions inbox is always open: email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com or tag us @munidiaries on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Why the SFMTA head says riding Muni is “the right thing to do”

Muni, like many other public transit agencies around the country, is facing a financial “death spiral” in the face of the pandemic. In today’s podcast episode, we talk with Jeffrey Tumlin, the Director of Transportation of the SFMTA who started in his role right at the end of last year—capping a year mired in underground meltdowns with high hopes of turning the train around (as it were).

He had a great honeymoon period, especially with transit fans on Twitter who have been advocating for a car-free San Francisco. But things changed quickly, through little fault of his own.

The pandemic hit right as Tumlin was settling into his new role, and it’s been some rollercoaster ever since. Muni has cut most of its 80+ lines since the pandemic, with only 17 lines currently running as the agency faces the biggest budget crisis it has ever seen. On Saturday, Muni will be restoring 11 more lines, boosting frequency on 13 bus routes, and reopening the underground Muni Metro stations, though the underground routes will also see some changes.

The SFMTA chief is not counting his chickens: “There’s a really good chance things will not work as well on Saturday as we hope. That’s part of the culture that I’m trying to bring to the agency. In order to get the system that we need, particularly in a time of dramatically reduced resources, we have to get creative. We have to move quickly. We have to try things. And sometimes that means getting more comfortable with failure. And quickly making corrections and learning from our mistakes.”

So what must the SFMTA do in order to make Muni awesome, or at least functional? He joined us to provide his take on tomorrow’s Muni service expansion, and some personal insight into the quirkier, more human side of our municipal transit system.

Listen to the interview here:

If you have your own Muni or BART story to contribute, especially if your Muni line has returned, we want to hear from you! Please email us at munidiaries.sf@gmail.com, or tag us @munidiaries on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Photo by via SFMTA.

SF Neon historians in search of an iconic sign

You’ve walked past them and under them a thousand times, seen them from afar and used them as landmarks. But do you really know the history behind San Francisco’s neon signs? We invite two neon historians to this episode of San Francisco Diaries podcast to tell us all about one very memorable neon sign that they are still hunting for.

Al Barna and Randall Ann Homan are the creators of San Francisco Neon, an organization of historians, educators, and advocates for the vintage neon signs you see all over our city. They are also the authors of the book, San Francisco Neon: Survivors and Lost Icons

Listen to their story:

San Francisco Neon has evening virtual presentations about the history behind historic neon signs in the Tenderloin and Chinatown, and an online version of their festival, Neon Speaks, is in September. You can find out more at SFNeon.org

If you’re looking for more stories from San Francisco’s history buffs, be sure you check out this episode about the Transamerica Pyramid’s bohemian past.

We are dedicated to bringing you more stories about our city as told by everyday San Franciscans. If you have a story to share, or know someone with a story you think everyone should know, email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com.

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Late-night Muni always provides

Over on the Muni Diaries Twitter wire, readers tipped us to Michael’s late-night N-Judah Muni tale, which he captured in his Flickr account. Oh, how we miss the after hours “Temporary Autonomous Zone” on Muni, where you never know who you’ll meet or what will happen.

It was just after closing time at the bar, and two groups of skaters got on the bus along with a host of other characters. Somehow, different strangers on the bus offer our narrator drugs, booze, and a surprisingly thoughtful detail for both. Here’s Michael’s story:

Both of my preferred seats are occupied so I’m sitting in the last row + middle seat. There’s Junkie Guy to my left who is sitting in the corner seat and has turned the seat between us into his living room where all of his worldly possessions are spread out as he frantically rearranges his living space. A bunch of skaters in their 20s get on and sit in front of me and one of them starts playing a country western type song on his phone and they all start singing along to lyrics that are all about a love song to cocaine. 

Junkie Guy instantly looks up and starts asking if any of the skaters have cocaine and they’re all, “No, it’s just a song.” Then they further explained that the guy singing on the phone does not have any cocaine to share either. Sorry, Junkie Guy, false alarm.

Then another group of skaters with a case of beer get on the back of the bus. They recognize the first group of skaters and start talking about their night. I get the impression that their paths crossed earlier in the day and now they are crossing again on the Night Owl on the way home.

I really like those moments where everyone’s story comes full circle and these different storylines converge, like the end of Dazed & Confused. I also like getting to know all of my neighbors that keep the same hours that I do but are part of different scenes.

Here we all are, the disco queens, the punk rockers, the junkies, the preppies, it’s the 2AM Breakfast Club. This is where we all End Up. All the people that did not feel like paying money to take an Uber home in a timely fashion, all on the crazy train headed off into The Sunset, all in the No Man’s Land Temporary Autonomous Zone / wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the back of the bus. 

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