Your 2020 commute in 10 memorable moments

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.

Listen to the podcast episode:

Featured photo by @murkyvillagesf

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“Hearts in San Francisco” to inaugurate newest member

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:

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Paul Madonna on finding the “Spirits of San Francisco”

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:

Find your own copy of Spirits of San Francisco at your favorite local bookstore. We are bringing you stories of the people and places that make San Francisco the place we call home. Submit your own story to us by emailing us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com, or tag us @munidiaries on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

Images by Paul Madonna.

Election special: What every transit rider should know about this year’s ballot

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.

Listen to the interview:

If you haven’t done your early voting, now is the time. And while you’re at it, here’s an idea: Find three people who haven’t voted yet, and help them get to their polling place. Let’s make it happen.

What do you think of their take on the transit-related props on the ballot? We want to hear from you: email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com.

Photo by @krobinsonphotos

San Francisco Giants fans, 30 years apart

Photo: @SFChronicle_vault

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.

Back in 2014 when the Giants won the World Series:

Photo by @jennyzhu

Remember how we won three World Series championships in five years? Don’t forget 2012, when one of the sturdier bus shelters of old kept the celebration going on what looks like Market Street.

Photo by Keoki Seu

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 muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com 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 TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

Why the SFMTA head says riding Muni is “the right thing to do”

Muni, like many other public transit agencies around the country, is facing a financial “death spiral” in the face of the pandemic. In today’s podcast episode, we talk with Jeffrey Tumlin, the Director of Transportation of the SFMTA who started in his role right at the end of last year—capping a year mired in underground meltdowns with high hopes of turning the train around (as it were).

He had a great honeymoon period, especially with transit fans on Twitter who have been advocating for a car-free San Francisco. But things changed quickly, through little fault of his own.

The pandemic hit right as Tumlin was settling into his new role, and it’s been some rollercoaster ever since. Muni has cut most of its 80+ lines since the pandemic, with only 17 lines currently running as the agency faces the biggest budget crisis it has ever seen. On Saturday, Muni will be restoring 11 more lines, boosting frequency on 13 bus routes, and reopening the underground Muni Metro stations, though the underground routes will also see some changes.

The SFMTA chief is not counting his chickens: “There’s a really good chance things will not work as well on Saturday as we hope. That’s part of the culture that I’m trying to bring to the agency. In order to get the system that we need, particularly in a time of dramatically reduced resources, we have to get creative. We have to move quickly. We have to try things. And sometimes that means getting more comfortable with failure. And quickly making corrections and learning from our mistakes.”

So what must the SFMTA do in order to make Muni awesome, or at least functional? He joined us to provide his take on tomorrow’s Muni service expansion, and some personal insight into the quirkier, more human side of our municipal transit system.

Listen to the interview here:

If you have your own Muni or BART story to contribute, especially if your Muni line has returned, we want to hear from you! Please email us at munidiaries.sf@gmail.com, or tag us @munidiaries on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Photo by via SFMTA.

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