As he carted his belongings to the bus stop, Kurt Schwartzmann knew that he relied on the kindness of the Muni driver, lest he face another cold night on the streets of San Francisco. When the bus door opened on one particular night, he was relieved to see the familiar face.
This was a lifetime ago, before Schwartzmann conquered his struggle with drug addiction, found his way as an artist, and met his now-husband. While he was homeless, Muni had become the refuge for Schwartzmann.
We first met Schwartzmann on Instagram when he posted about his art series, and we were thrilled that he told his story at Muni Diaries Live in April at Rickshaw Stop.
Growing up in Fresno as a young gay man, Schwartzmann said that San Francisco had always been a symbol for “freedom of expression and refuge from intolerance.” In honor of Pride weekend, we are sharing his story in today’s podcast episode. Take a listen:
Muni driver Tammy has a very reasonable request: could we please look up from our phones as we get ready to board the bus?
I wanted to ask you if you could start a dialogue with your followers regarding “Passengers waiting for the bus while distracted by [their] cell phones.” It has become increasingly frustrating to provide great customer service when my passengers are not prepared to board the bus…
Muni Driver Tammy
In case you’re wondering: the bus doesn’t stop at every stop by default: Tammy says that drivers pay attention to body language, especially when it’s a multiple-line bus stop. “In order to keep the service going, we look at the potential passengers standing at the bus stop to see if they want the bus, and then if we see that they do, we stop.”
Tammy says that passengers are looking down at their phones, or worse, with earbuds in their ears. As the driver approaches the stop, often nobody is looking up. “It’s not until you get ready to pull off, they look up and then all of a sudden they start waving” when the bus is already in motion.
Yikes. That sounds about as annoying to the drivers as it is for the riders. You might remember Tammy as the Muni driver who threw a surprise party on the 33-Stanyan for her riders when she was switching routes. Years later, she continues to brighten days for riders, even inspiring two visiting travelers to write to us recounting their experience with Tammy. We still get occasional dispatches about Tammy sightings, which are always a delight.
We have to admit that we’re also guilty of feeding the phone addiction at the bus stop while we wait. It sounds like it would make everybody’s lives easier if we looked up every once in a while with our Clipper card or fare in hand, and make some kind of motion to the bus driver to stop. What do you think?
Muni is probably our longest love-hate relationship, a widespread phenomenon that became the focus of one bus rider’s one-woman play. That woman, Ady Lady, is a writer and performer. She’s written and performed two solo shows: Sara Jane Tried to Shoot the President and From Piss to Bliss, the latter of which was about her desperate attempt to lead with love while riding Muni.
Update: She’s still working on it.
Ady Lady told her story at Muni Diaries Live at Rickshaw Stop earlier this spring. For everyone who missed it (or can’t wait for the encore), here’s her story:
Rider Adrian Covert casually mentioned on Twitter the other day that he “drove the N-Judah once.” The driver actually invited him into the cockpit, he says. So, of course, we chased him down for the story.
Here’s Adrian’s tale:
I was about a block away from the N-Judah stop at 9th/Irving when I saw that I just missed the train. I was bummed at first, until I heard another train pulling behind it (as often happens with the N). I started running…
The train pulled to a stop just as I was running across the street. The driver, however, refused to open the door. Following a nightmare week of nightmare Muni service, I stepped in front of the train, and told the driver I wouldn’t budge until he opened the door.
He opened the door and I sat right next to him so that I could vent. He then asked, “Sir, what train is this?” I replied this was the N-Judah, and that I hated Muni. He asked again, and pointed to the sign, which read “Train out of service. Sorry, No Passengers.”
I looked around and noticed I was the only person on the train. I accepted that this was my bad, and apologized for being an ass. He said that what most worried him most was how I ran in front of the train at the intersection. He talked about how long it took trains to stop.
When we arrived at the entrance of the Carl & Cole Tunnel, he stopped the train, stepped out of the driver area (cockpit?) and asked if I wanted to drive the train. “Are you serious?” I asked. “F*ck yeah I want to drive the train.”
I sat in the driver seat, and he showed me the kill switches and levers. He said, “I want you to take the train to top speed, and then slam the brakes so you can see how long it takes to stop.” He mentioned this tunnel was safe, in that it was straight without any switches.
I took it to about 40 mph, and slammed the brakes. Took about a hundred yards to come to a complete stop, still in the tunnel. His point made, he then retook the “wheel” and let me sit in the control room with him until I got off at my stop.
We’re so glad Adrian took the driver up on his offer.
Underground (not literally but figuratively) Muni? Muni after dark? Whatever you call this genre, we want to know about it. In the same vein, Muni Diaries’ own Tara once got a private ride on an off-duty 49, straight-chillin’, cigarette-smoking operator and all. If anyone deserved it, this person did. (More than a decade later, she’s still not naming names.)
Muni Diaries is made of your stories, whether you’re in the driver’s seat or not! Submit your own tale on the bus by emailing us at email@example.com, or tag us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook @munidiaries.
Carnaval this weekend offered up plenty of antidote for those of us tired of the “San Francisco is doomed/losing its soul/breaking your heart” meme. Our favorite is this group of young people who decided to turn their love for San Francisco up to 11. Not only did they dress up as old-school Muni transfers, they are also walking on stilts because, why not?
From the video, it looks like there is also a 14-Mission bus in costume at the parade. We would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the planning of this costume idea.
Thank you Rene and Cara on Twitter for pointing us to this latest ode to public transit! It’s certainly not the first bit of Muni transfer love we’ve gotten over the years. Alongside its Fast Pass cousin, the transfer is a well-established piece of transit ephemera, tattoo subject (the barometer for truly making it into the cultural canon around here), and source of existential outrage when news came about its environmentally necessary end.
Got other important news for your fellow riders? Tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Our email inbox, firstname.lastname@example.org, is always open, too.