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.
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:
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.
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 driver—Jacob 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.
Remember in the Before Times when you’d see a way-too-crowded bus followed by a nearly empty bus right behind it, and you’d wonder, why doesn’t anyone get on the empty bus? In today’s podcast, Muni operator Ricardo sheds some light on why this happens, and how he tried to bail out a rookie Muni driver in this predicament.
Scroll down to see a transcript of Ricardo’s story
We are always looking for stories about life in San Francisco, on or off the bus. What’s the best thing that happened to you here? Did something or someone in SF change you? We want to hear all about it. Anyone can submit a story to this collective online journal: just email us at email@example.com. Or if you have a photo or tweet to share, tag us @munidiaries on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Transcript of Ricardo’s story:
Driving north on Mission Street, I came up to this rookie bus driver running a “double-header,” slow and late. The rookie and his bus should have been about 10 blocks ahead of me. As a result, his bus was bursting at the seams, and my bus was almost empty.
We arrived at the 22nd Street bus stop together, him in the lead, me and my bus right on his tail. There were a lot of people waiting, and they looked angry and irritable. As soon as the buses stopped (he in the zone and me double parked behind him) the people waiting ran and jumped on his bus.
Here was this poor sap doing all the work for both of us. And now he was making me late too. Through my rear view mirror, I could see another trolley bus about five blocks back. I blew my horn at the rookie, and when he stuck his head out the side window, I called out to him:
“Hey, man, you’re making everyone late. Skip stops! Don’t stop for anyone in the betweens.”
The rookie made a face at me like he didn’t understand, but then he closed his doors and pulled his bus out into the traffic. He went past the 23rd Street stop and double-parked about half a block before the 24th Street intersection and started unloading passengers in the middle of the street.
Obviously, this goes against all the operating Muni rules, and, it didn’t work. The ten people or so waiting at the 24th Street Zone ran into the street heading for his bus.
Just as they were closing in on the rookie’s bus, the rookie slammed his doors shut and pulled his bus into the second lane, away from the running pedestrians. He left them standing there, in the middle of the street, stunned, confused, and completely pissed off. I wanted to pull my bus into the zone, but I couldn’t, that same group of people was blocking my way.
So I opened my doors. As they started boarding my bus, every one of them had something to say. “Did you see that?” one passenger asked as she went up the steps, “He just took off and left us standing in the middle of the street.”
“That’s what he was supposed to do, lady. That’s why I’m here–to pick you all up.”
But another passenger was not so polite: “What the hell do you mean? Man, you bus drivers are all a bunch of assholes.”
“Yes, sir,” I tried to calm the man down, but he wouldn’t let it go.
“I’m going to report you, you idiots.”
I could have explained, but I knew it wasn’t going to matter. The hype was up, and when the hype is up there’s really nothing you can do to stop it.
At times like this, the only thing a bus driver can do is to just sit tight and take all the shit as best as he or she can take it. Hold your breath until the stink passes by.
“Goddamned government employees!”
“I’m going to report you too, you son-of-a-bitches.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.