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.")

Support these SF AAPI orgs and stop telling the Muni ‘chicken story’

San Francisco is approximately 37% AAPI*, and here at Muni Diaries, we are 2/3 Asian women, the first-generation American children of immigrants, and proud of our heritage. We’ve spent more than a decade documenting life in San Francisco because we love our city. But that love letter can be harder to write in the shadow of violent crimes against Asians in San Francisco and a mass shooting targeting Asian women in Atlanta.

Like all people of color, we were hardly surprised—this is the reality of being non-white in the United States. But we were horrified for the victims, current and future. As Asian women, public transit enthusiasts, and longtime urban adventurers, we wonder how easily it could have been one of us.

Even in our tiny universe of collecting your stories on Muni, race has been a constant. We started the conversation about race on Muni Diaries in 2009 after an audience member made fun of a Chinese stereotype at our live show (henceforth named the Muni Chicken Story Incident). And we continue having these conversations with one another and within our community today.

Early in the pandemic, our Asian-American readers asked, “Do you feel that people are glaring at you on Muni?” We were almost relieved because we were experiencing the same.

The issue of race remains one of our most frequent editorial judgements in story submissions; ethnicity is often included as a descriptor when relaying a tale, even if it doesn’t add anything to the story. It usually seems unintentional, but from our perspective behind the scenes, it highlights how descriptors of “others” are noteworthy, whereas descriptors of the perceived default—white—are not.

Every incident reminds us that we can’t only be philosophically against AAPI hate, we actually have to do something about it every single day. We will continue to make Muni Diaries a fair and inclusive place to talk about our city, and we encourage you to support these San Francisco-based Asian-American organizations who are on the front lines of advocacy.

If you have other organizations to add, and other actions to share, our comments section and inbox are always open to your point of view.

Photo by Right Angle Images.

A new mom’s gratitude for Muni drivers

Muni is the lifeline that powers our city, and its importance in everyday life stands out especially in a time of crisis. We recently got a letter underscoring this fact from new mom Cole Brennan, whose newborn was in the ICU for two weeks. Sharing her letter with us via Instagram, she says:

Dear Muni Operators,
When I yell “Thank You!” to you, through my double masks from the back door at the stop at 3rd & 20th, please know it is the most sincere thanks I’ve ever given a stranger.


It’s true that I’m the sort of person who always thanks the bus driver. And it’s true that after many months of not riding the bus I was likely to feel an extra surge of gratitude once I finally started riding again. But the gratitude I’ve felt for you this month goes well beyond my usual thankfulness.


For two weeks you helped me get to the Children’s Hospital so I could visit my newborn in the Intensive Care Nursery.

You, Muni operator, are part of a small galaxy of helpers that held my little family be together during the longest weeks of my life.

Thank you.

Read more

Your 2020 commute in 10 memorable moments

Here at Muni Diaries HQ, we usually end the year with a fun and lighthearted “Top Most WTF Moments of the Year” type of countdown. But in 2020…where do we even start?

As shelter-in-place became a more permanent fixture of our lives, documenting life in San Francisco, especially via commute tales, took on a different meaning. We saw the uphill battle faced by so many small businesses and venues (like our beloved Rickshaw Stop), and the struggles of essential workers, particularly Muni operators and first responders—many of whom relied on Muni to get around. We’re grateful that we could help share those stories.

So here are some highly memorable moments from your commuter tales, in this Dumpster fire of a year.

Listen to the podcast episode:

Featured photo by @murkyvillagesf

Read more

Paul Madonna on finding the “Spirits of San Francisco”

Bagging on San Francisco is one of our city’s most time-honored traditions. In a time when negativity might reign especially supreme, two chroniclers of San Francisco got together to create a new book that encourages people to see the familiar in a new way.

This week on the podcast, we chat with artist Paul Madonna, who has just illustrated a new book called Spirits of San Francisco: Voyages through the Unknown City, written by Gary Kamiya. The book features vignettes of the history and topography of 16 different locations in the city. 

Madonna created drawings of San Francisco ranging from a well-known views spanning over the Embarcadero (above), or more obscure corners of the city like Calhoun Terrace in North Beach on Montgomery and Union (see below). You might know Madonna from his series in the San Francisco Chronicle, “All Over Coffee,” which ran for 12 years. As he draws en plein air—from real life rather than photographs—Madonna had to find just the right time of day to depict his subject. Sometimes, he and Kamiya even found themselves in places they weren’t really supposed to be for the good of their project.

We chat with Madonna about bringing San Francisco to life in his art, his choice of depicting city scenes without people, and why he says San Francisco is “never a jealous friend.”

Listen to the conversation with Paul Madonna and Muni Diaries cofounder Tara Ramroop:

Find your own copy of Spirits of San Francisco at your favorite local bookstore. We are bringing you stories of the people and places that make San Francisco the place we call home. Submit your own story to us by emailing us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com, or tag us @munidiaries on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

Images by Paul Madonna.

Election special: What every transit rider should know about this year’s ballot

With just a few days until the election, we invite San Francisco Examiner transit reporter Carly Graf to talk about this year’s ballot measures that can change the landscape of public transportation as we know it today.

Sure, the pandemic has severely reduced ridership and budget, but public transit’s woes started way before that. With the proliferation of Lyft and Uber, Muni was no longer the only way everyone can reasonably get around town. And on this year’s ballot, Prop 22 stands to change the operations of these ride share companies in a big way. We chat with Graf about how Prop 22 can impact economic disparity, whether Prop B can fix the toxic workplace that was the Department of Public Works, why you should get to know the BART board of directors, and more.

Listen to the interview:

If you haven’t done your early voting, now is the time. And while you’re at it, here’s an idea: Find three people who haven’t voted yet, and help them get to their polling place. Let’s make it happen.

What do you think of their take on the transit-related props on the ballot? We want to hear from you: email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com.

Photo by @krobinsonphotos

My Muni family history in the early 1900s

Reader Kay Karpus Walker found a piece of her family history that’s very relevant to our interests. She shares this photo and family history on the Muni Diaries Facebook page:

A bit of Muni history—a photo of an early Muni driverJacob B. Unruh—my grandfather. This is from the early 1900s in SF. Jacob became a driver after he was forced to close his business in the early days of the Depression or right before it hit. An immigrant from the Ukraine and a Mennonite, he was a cousin of Jesse Unruh, the California politician, according to Jesse himself.

Jesse Unruh was also known as “Big Daddy Unruh,” at one point the California State Treasurer. In the early 1900s, the Stockton Street Tunnel opened, and J-Church streetcar line was just starting service. Muni as we know it started to transition from for-profit monopolies to a municipally operated agency around 1912.

We know that there are lots of San Francisco history buffs in our midst here on Muni Diaries. For more Muni history, check out this vintage photo album of the evolution of Muni vehicles, or listen to our podcast episode featuring the historians at SF Neon on a piece of SF history they spotted on the bus.

Does your family have a Muni connection? We want to know! Submit your own story to us by emailing us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com, or tag us @munidiaries on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

1 2 3 301