If you think San Francisco needs to gripe less and do more, look no further than artists Kurt Schwartzmann and Deirdre Weinberg.
Listeners may remember Schwartzmann from Muni Diaries Live, where he shared his moving story of how Muni drivers provided his only refuge when he was unhoused. Schwartzmann, who lost sight in one eye due to complications from AIDS, dedicated his art series, “Yellow Line,” to the Muni drivers whose empathy helped him survive those difficult times.
He has since paid artistic tribute to other facets of San Francisco life with artist Deirdre Weinberg, who has created public art for more than two decades. The duo first collaborated on beautifying the outdoor dining space for the iconic Buena Vista cafe this summer, and now they’ve partnered on the newest of the Hearts of San Francisco—which have benefited the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation since 2004.
In this week’s podcast episode, we chat with the artists about how they became stewards of a beloved San Francisco tradition.
Listen to Kurt Schwartzmann and Deirdre Weinberg, interviewed by Muni Diaries cofounder Tara Ramroop:
Schwartzmann sent us photos of the heart in progress, from the day that the plain, unadorned, and apparently heavy and rather “voluptuous” heart was delivered to his garage, to the colorful paint drip that the two artists painstakingly created. He sent us photos of the heart in progress:
As we enter into the least-restrictive “yellow tier” of the state’s COVID re-opening framework, is riding public transit becoming safer? Ridership on Muni reached historic lows since the start of the pandemic. Even so, Muni has established capacity protocols on buses to keep riders and drivers safe. In practice, that can translate into a frustrating experience for riders and drivers alike, as not everyone has gotten the memo on why the bus is blowing you off. In this snapshot from rider Eric, he describes what riding Muni is like nowadays.
My wife and I made a “jaunt” to the Ferry Building recently, just to throw some money at our favorite food purveyors, and because the 2 and 3 haven’t run since April, we now have to walk to the Transbay Terminal to pick up a 38. No problem really, and you get your choice of seats. However….by the time we get a stop away from Powell Street, the bus is over the limit for safety and the driver doesn’t have to stop if he doesn’t want to, so we blow right past Powell. He lets two people off at the corner of Mason, just to lighten his load, and continues.
Two blocks from Van Ness, he blows by another stop but this time, a woman runs after the bus and catches us at the next red light. Boy, does she let him have it!
F-bombs and middle fingers and demands to open the door. Plus, she keeps stepping in front of the bus to keep him from going.
Two light cycles later, the driver finally tells her that he’s only allowed 30 people on the bus, so she goes down the side counting people.
“You only got 26! Let me the [f-bomb] in!”
But this time, he gets off before she can get in front.
But wait! There’s more!
The next stop is Van Ness. We see five people standing in the street with arms outstretched and another eight or so on the sidewalk. There is no way these people are going to let this bus go by! Our bus has to stop.
The result is that a dozen more get on, and now the bus really IS crowded. People with masks around their chins, pissed off people who’ve been passed by for how long….I can’t blame them.
Luckily, our stop is next. Except the driver won’t stop to let anyone off because there’s one—one—guy at the stop.
I stand up and pull the cord hard; not like it does anything, as he blows past the Laguna stop as well.
Five of us scream at him: “Hey! We’re trying to get off and reduce the number of passengers!”
Is *waving hands frantically* the new “back door”?
As San Francisco (again, fingers crossed) continues to do a good job at keeping Covid under control, more public transit service with precautions is looking more and more likely. I, for one, recently rode Muni for the first time in seven months—a 7, in fact.
But, you’re the expert. Tell us what you’re seeing out there in the wild, for our collective online journal. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re feeling more short-form or casual, tag us @munidiaries on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
A lot of concerns in the Before Times seems silly now, but one of them stands out in particular: when BART director Deborah Allen tried to ban panhandling on BART, which included busker activity. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Rachel Swan was reporting on the ordinance when she met rapper Tone Oliver, whose story became symbolic of how an anti-panhandling ordinance can impact artists like him.
As commuters ourselves, we know that musicians and performers on public transit often provide us with that surprising and delightful moment from the daily grind. And many buskers have left a lasting impression on their audience, like Jesse Morris who was known as punk rock Johnny Cash, or Ron Kemp, whose gentle voice you know from Powell station. But at the end of the day, the ordinance perhaps wasn’t about buskers at all.
The ordinance didn’t pass (and Allen would go on to make other controversial statements in 2020 about BART police), but Oliver achieved local fame and even garnered the attention of the ACLU. In today’s podcast, Swan describes the aftermath of what happened after her coverage put Oliver in the limelight.
The Buena Vista is bringing their famed Irish coffees to Beach Street with its new outdoor dining space, featuring painting by local artists Deirdre Weinberg and Kurt Schwartzmann.
Both artists have been working on the panels at the cafe’s outdoor dining space since late July. Schwartzmann’s “love trees” paintings came from his current project, The Space Between Us Is Love. He says: “While we must maintain our distance from each other during this crisis, know that the distance that separates us is an expression of love that keeps us safe.”
Muni Diaries podcast listeners might recognize Schwartzmann from his story last year at Muni Diaries Live. At our live show, he shared the story of how he conquered his struggle with drug addiction and found his way as an artist. While he was unhoused, Muni became a refuge for Schwartzmann, who has lost sight in one eye due to complications from AIDS.
We’re looking forward to returning to The Buena Vista and watching the bartender line up glass after glass of Irish coffee at the bar. Meanwhile, enjoy the spiked coffee in their outdoor space, surrounded by paintings by two artists who truly embody the San Francisco spirit.
Though the city’s charms were sometimes “charms” on the wrong day or in the wrong moment, we knew what we signed up for. For me, anyway, that includes the normalcy of playing standing Twister on a packed bus that only got fuller with every stop. Indeed, in the not-so-distant past, the Muni Metro platform looked like this and manspreading earned you a ticket to hell.
Amanda Staight, stalwart San Franciscan and Muni fan, put her thoughts on the matter into verse for the podcast. Amanda is also a great friend of Muni Diaries, a lover of neighborhoods, communities and casual conversations. Her favorite seat on the bus is next to the rear door, up the little steps in the back—I kinda like that one, too.
Scroll down to see the transcript of this episode.
We’re four-plus months into SIP. How are you keeping your corner of San Francisco alive? Share your San Francisco stories, from on the rails or off, at email@example.com, on the socials @munidiaries on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Sometimes when you see something that really speaks to you—you gotta have it. Rider David G. sent us the story of how he came to own a piece of honest-to-goodness Muni poetry, and we’re convinced it was meant to be. Here’s his story:
In the ’90s, the group Streetfare Journal and bus-advertising company TDI placed literary placards on Muni buses, streetcars, and cable cars. When visiting a friend’s apartment, I saw one of the posters. It featured a poem about fascist leaders and was written by the Serbian poet Aleksandar Ristovic. The last three lines read:
Time of fools is coming,
time of the know-nothing teacher
and the book that can’t be opened at either end.
I loved it and asked where she found it. Were they selling them?
She chuckled and described how she saw the poster while riding the 30-Stockton through the Marina. She was struck by the words and so she asked a random fellow rider to hold her coffee. Then she simply took it down — in a bus full of commuters no less. She said that people stared, but no one uttered a word. “If you’re nonchalant, no one will do anything,” she suggested.
Being less adventurous, I didn’t follow her advice. Of course, one day all the placards were removed.
I was living in a residence hotel and taking the California cable car to work. Months later on my morning commute, to my utter surprise I saw the Ristovic poster. They obviously missed this one. Unfortunately, there was no chance of stealing it: in the closed confines of a cable car, both Muni operators were nearby.
I resolved to go to the cable car barn that evening and see if I could ask someone for it. I believed it was my last chance.
Not knowing what to expect, I walked into the barn and was met with strong welding fumes. I gingerly stepped between rows of vehicles sitting on tracks. A middle-aged mechanic was on duty and he emerged from under the tracks. Nervously, I explained the situation: I’m looking for poetry.
He seemed surprised but he told me to “look around and take whatever you need,” and returned to his tools. My footsteps echoed as I explored the empty carriages. I finally found the poster and tucked it under my arm.
On the way out, I noticed the mechanic in street clothes and cleaning his work area. We nodded to each other as I departed. Not only did I walk out with the Ristovic poem; I also found one with a verse excerpt from Muriel Rukeyser.
Time comes into it.
Say it. Say it.
The universe is made of stories,
not of atoms.
Thank you, David, for submitting this story, especially in the midst of missing Muni—and all semblances of normal life—lots. Fun fact: For Muni’s centennial in 2012, we partnered with SFMTA for a “100 Days, 100 Muni stories” competition, where the most quotable winner earned placement on a placard just like these.
Since the universe is made of stories, we know there are many untold ones in our corner of the world. Indulge us with that tale that’s been burning a hole in your pocket by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by connecting with us @munidiaries on all the socials.