Tara Ramroop has laughed, cried, and commiserated with this amazing community from the start. She's been writing for as long as she can remember and riding Muni for more than a decade.

the good, the bad and the even worse

I use the bus because driving and parking sucks in a city. I complain about using the bus because it’s not as good as it should be in these parts, given the aforementioned facts about driving and parking. Sometimes, I have more complex interactions and thoughts about the bus, where I want to strangle everyone on it, but still come away glad I wasn’t too lazy to stand eye-to-eye with my fellow SF residents.

I had one of those mixed experiences on a 38-Geary recently, and am simultaneously glad, horrified and stupefied about the whole thing.

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JN-Chudah

Let’s start with a logic puzzle of sorts.

Q: Where are you if you see four J-Church metro trains, all headed downtown?

A: Gee, probably on Church? Maybe in Glen Park. One thing’s for sure, you can’t possibly be at Carl and Cole, smack-dab in N-Judah territory.

Oh, wait.

I was going out to Cole Valley yesterday, meaning the N-Judah would, theoretically, be the best way there. I didn’t run into huge problems on the way there, but coming back was another story altogether.

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White whale


Photo by hamster!

100 Muni StoriesAn average ride on Muni provides a good story to tell friends later on, but the experience is rarely a positive one. Indeed, that’s the whole basis of this site – funny stories, sometimes positive, often quirky, but usually negative and sometimes scary. Those of us who continue to use Muni (even though it’s given us black eyes, sent us to the hospital multiple times, but still says it loves us) resign ourselves to this fact. Most of us have all but given up on the Muni white whale.

OK, I guess the real Muni white whale would be a functional, reliable system, but we’re not going to go there right now. What I’m talking about now is an overwhelmingly positive Muni experience; something you can come away from and say, honestly, that it was fun. Sadly, Ishmael probably had better luck finding Moby Dick than we’ll have looking for an awesome bus ride.

But I actually had a great time on Muni the other day, if you can believe it.

Tara 1, Ishmael 0

Most of this diary takes place on Muni property, on unscheduled Muni time, so I’ll refrain from using too many identifying markers, including Driver’s approximate age, weight, ethnicity and Social Security number. Let’s just say I picked up the bus on the north end of town and was heading south, at some point in the day, on some day within the last week.

I hurry over to a bus, after seeing it parked at the stop I needed. No need to hurry, though. The driver jogged up behind me, asked where I was headed, and if I wanted a ride. I naturally assume this is driver humor; Haha! A ride, I get it. On the bus that I was trying to get on, that’s going to the very neighborhood I needed? Ha!

I guess it wasn’t really a joke. I walked over to the doors as he unlocked them, and saw the number for a line I totally didn’t want. At this point, Woman Reflex kicked in. Is this the worst kind of Muni Loony, the kind who beat up or killed a real Muni driver and stole his bus and outfit, and is now giving “rides” to women walking around alone? Instead of overreacting, I asked him what line this was. He told me what it was, but said he was just coming off his shift, and was going to be dropping it off at a Muni lot near(ish) where I was going. My intuition is pretty good, it wasn’t an odd hour, and I needed to get to where I was going ASAP. Also, I knew I could deal a pretty hefty kick in the nuts if I needed to, and it was pretty clear that he didn’t have a gun in his Muni outfit.

My intuition served me well, because he was indeed harmless. He strapped himself in the driver’s seat right away, limiting any no-goodnik-mobility, so I relaxed some. Oh, and I got to change the side and front banners to “Not in Service.” That’s right. Did you miss it?

I got to change the banners to say “Not in Service.”

It’s a pretty simple task on the older buses. Unlike the digital ones that can probably be changed with a couple stabs at a button, these signs move if you flick a switch that scrolls through all the different Muni numbers. Indicators from the inside of the bus tell you what it says on the outside, so I stopped once it got to what I wanted. Easy. And awesome.

With my Woman Reflex antenna still up, I fiddled with my phone the whole time, just so he could see how easily I could call the cops if he got weird. He wasn’t weird, he was just admittedly lonely.

He commented on my lack of a wedding ring, and I said I was unmarried but not single. He seemed fine with that, which is actually kind of amazing in this day and age of would-be suitors. It’s simple, really: Ask politely — Rejected? — drop the subject and any comments about her appearance, her mate or how she’d be better off with you. If you don’t, she will become visibly irritated and might mace you just to release the frustration of dealing with a hard-headed asshole like yourself.

Man, was Driver glad to be off work. I wholeheartedly agreed that there’s no time quite like quitting time. He pulled out his pack of cigarettes, asked if I minded if he smoked, and proceeded to puff away, while driving the bus. I should have taken a cigarette so I could tell people I smoked with the driver on a Muni bus.

Then he talked about how he wants to get out of the city, and maybe find a nice lady out there somewhere. San Francisco, he said, is too expensive, with too many crappy landlords and, for him, too many years working a dead-end job. Not that it’s earth-shattering news, but Muni employees are a disgruntled lot. If what Driver said is true, you apparently don’t get a regular route until you’ve been there for 10 years. So Driver’s day-to-day tasks involve filling in for people who call in sick, or filling in as best he could during those multiple, ever-charming missed runs. I don’t blame him for wanting to go somewhere cheaper, and finding a job that isn’t, as one friend put it, like driving a jail on wheels. He has big-rig driving in mind, since they get paid well.

My only complaint was that he drove at a snail’s pace down the main road we used. He was probably distracted because he was chatting and smoking the whole time, but still. Not exactly a speedy ride, but no harm done either. He had to turn away from where I was heading, so he dropped me off at a bus that would take me directly there. I hope things work out for Driver, and I’m still surprised that he’s made it through nearly a decade of Muni.

The only thing that can top this is a reliable transit system, but I’m not holding my breath.

Tara Ramroop, who occasionally pisses people off with what she writes and how she edits, actually doesn’t like Moby Dick that much. It’s no private ride on Muni, that’s for damn sure.

Muni Half-Loony

Stemming off Suzanne’s post about the mildly crazy man who baits you with a banal statement, then dives straight into the wackiness, I had a similar experience on the 38-Geary last week.

As usual, the 38 is filled to the brim by the time I pick it up at Geary and Franklin. There is a man with a large guitar case blocking one of the seats, so I politely (kind of) ask him if I could take the seat. He obliges, even adds a, “Oh, please have a seat,” and I’m ready to zone out until I get to my dinner spot. Guitar Man, a short, thin, 50-something punk type sporting David Byrne (recent, not Talking Heads era) hair, started chatting. As Suzanne said, morning commute is no time to be chatty, but I’d like to add that evening commute certainly isn’t either. Guitar Man makes a series of obvious observations, which include the fact that the bus goes faster once it gets to the Avenues, and that the 38 always seems to be crowded, doesn’t it? Harmless comments, and I quietly agreed that both those things were indeed true.

Perhaps at this point, because he started to become slightly annoying, I noticed his smell. And, if you remember my Pee-Pee Shed post, you’ll know how I have a knack for finding the stinky in Muni. Anyway, this person smelled like incense and whiskey. I don’t actually mind either of those things, but when you’re starving and tired, it’s a rather unpleasant way to spend a 30-minute bus ride.

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pee-pee shed

I hopped on the 9x this week on North Point, right after work. Though this bus stop is on the same corner as my building, I’ve never needed to take a bus from it. I suppose we won’t count the time I tried in vain to grab a crowded 9x heading north toward work; that’s another dear-diary moment altogether.

I do walk by it quite a bit, and it always smells like an olfactory one-two of food garbage and piss. There is a garbage can nearby, and it is a Muni shed; so, months ago, I stored it in the Obvious folder of my brain and called it a day.

But now, we’re talking about now. And, now, up-close and personal, this thing smells horrible. Awful. Shit-awful, almost, but piss-awful is more like it. I sat in the shed for a second, until that rancid, nostril-filling smell of urine hit my nose. At first, it just smelled like a somewhat-dingy public bathroom. Then it smelled like a Port-a-Potty. You know, those really bad ones at beer or wine festivals that you wouldn’t be caught dead in, had it not been for the gallon of liquid now floating about your insides.

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The 31 diaries

I’m generally pretty complimentary about the 31-Balboa because it generally deserves it. At best, this means it’s somewhat innocuous, boring and quiet, which can be a good thing when you’re riding clear across town.

Today’s ride home on the 31 was actually above-average, if you can believe it, and it had nothing to do with how punctual the bus was.

First, let’s discuss the “BACK DOOR!! BACK DOOR!” phenomenon. The back doors open when you step into the stairwell. Sometimes, you have to touch the door handles to make them open, which, on the 49-Van Ness, for example, is akin to licking your fingers after using a public bathroom. However, do not stand in the stairwell when the bus is trying to move from a stop, because it pretty much won’t if someone is still standing in the stairwell. This is complex exiting protocol for some, but I find it uniquely Muni, in its own irritating way.

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