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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com, or by connecting with us @munidiaries on all the socials.
“I hear the door swing open, I take off my headphones, and all of a sudden I hear, ‘This is why I love San Francisco!’ ‘OMG, this makes me so happy!’ It never gets old, and it sends shivers up my spine.”
Who actually hears things like this about their office (home or regular)? It’s par for the course when you work at The Secret Alley, which Thrillist once described (accurately) as ” a private artist workshop-cum-performance space-cum-office park-cum-clubhouse o’ fun built inside of a second-floor walk-up in the Mission.”
We’re ever so glad to take a break from pandemic stories to listen to how this special place came to be. In today’s podcast episode, we learn about how The Secret Alley made a space in a nondescript building into such a unique community hotspot.
Secret Alley cofounder Noel Von Joo shared his tale on stage at Muni Diaries Live in 2019. Listen to his story here:
It might be a while before we can return to this wonderful space, where our friends at BFF.fm and Roll Over Easy also broadcast their shows. But we are going back to our roots, collecting and publishing stories for the ol’ internets about the people and places that make our city what it is today. If you have a story to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And it would absolutely make our entire day if you review us on Apple Podcasts and shared this podcast with your friends.
Today is Muni Diaries’ 12th birthday! It seems like only yesterday it was born as a scrappy little blog. Today, it’s almost a teenager and has certainly developed that snarky veneer we all so appreciate in tweens. Watch out, world!
Even in these times of sheltering-in-place and newly reduced Muni service, your stories remind us that, just like on the bus, we’re all in it together.
By the numbers, we’ve held 23 live shows, tweeted more than 27K times about your hilarious commute, and counted more than 4,000 of you who told us your commute stories.
These are a few of our favorite tales over the years:
Private Muni ride. Way pre-rideshare apps. In retrospect, I wouldn’t compare this experience to finding the white whale of Moby Dick but that’s perhaps more about my growth as a writer than this particular story.
Muni humper; parts 1-3, only because it shows how strong our community is and adamant about calling out this gross bullshit.
Punk rock Johnny Cash; we continued to get hits on this post years after we first posted it, showing how much one person can make a difference in others’ lives.
The behind-the-scenes story, from artist Jeremy Fish himself, of the Silly Pink Bunny heist!
We couldn’t have done this without you, the story-submitters, the Muni riders, the San Franciscans who, for no other reason than to share experiences, contributes to this collective storybook. To the next 12—we really, truly, can’t wait to be riding Muni again once this is all over.
As always, we are here for your tales which you can submit by finding us as @munidiaries on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email us at email@example.com.
Photo of Alexandria Love at one of our many Muni Haiku Battles, taken by Right Angle Images.