San Francisco Diaries: Meet a local historian who is anything but jaded

What can history teach us about this pivotal moment as we drop most COVID-related restrictions in San Francisco? Between mask-ne treatments and socializing awkwardly, we chatted with Chris Carlsson, the director of Shaping San Francisco about his experience and his perspective on our reawakening city.

Chris is a writer, San Francisco historian, tour guide, and writer. He recently published a new book, Hidden San Francisco: A Guide to Lost Landscapes, Unsung Heroes and Radical Histories. Chris has seen a few cycles of San Francisco history since the 1970s. He was involved in many activist groups in the city, including a group that modified billboards about Muni fare in the 1980s. Who knew we would still be arguing about Muni fares today.

You might think he has seen it all, but in our conversation about his new book, we found out that this historian is anything but jaded about the future of San Francisco. “The more you understand history, the more you realize there are constant moments of possibility,” he told us—and I’m inclined to believe it’s true.

Listen to his conversation with Muni Diaries here:

We are looking forward to hearing your tales about returning to life, work, and other ways that living in San Francisco means to you now. Submit your own story or photo by tagging us @munidiaries on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Photo by FoundSF.

Welcome back, Muni streetcars!

I commuted on the streetcar from downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf for seven years with a dense hodgepodge of locals, tourists, 30-child field trips, and the occasional iguana named Skippy. The experience didn’t often match the old-world charm and good intentions, so complaining incessantly about the F-Market/Wharves became my theme. As a newly minted San Franciscan, it was my duty to find a bug for my bonnet and take to the internet with that rage.

But lots of strained relationships improve with time. I can hear the distinctive “whrrrrrrrrrrr honk honk” from my apartment as streetcars fly along the tracks, and can even tell the difference between the PCCs and the wooden, Milanese ones that kick like bucking broncos. I went public with my change of heart, calling it my favorite line during the TotalSF installment of Betabrand Podcast theater.

So let me acknowledge again that I’ve gotten over my attitude problem and am thrilled that the streetcars are back in commission after a long, covid-prompted hibernation. Check out these recent photos from our enthusiastic transit community, and tag us in your own happy snaps of normalcy @munidiaries on Facebook, Insta, or Twitter.

The story behind @boattramsf AKA Boat Boi, as relayed by Chris Arvin, remains a Muni Diaries Live crowd favorite. Listen for it soon on the Muni Diaries Podcast!

Featured photo by @vickys_photo and @panobug

Support these SF AAPI orgs and stop telling the Muni ‘chicken story’

San Francisco is approximately 37% AAPI*, and here at Muni Diaries, we are 2/3 Asian women, the first-generation American children of immigrants, and proud of our heritage. We’ve spent more than a decade documenting life in San Francisco because we love our city. But that love letter can be harder to write in the shadow of violent crimes against Asians in San Francisco and a mass shooting targeting Asian women in Atlanta.

Like all people of color, we were hardly surprised—this is the reality of being non-white in the United States. But we were horrified for the victims, current and future. As Asian women, public transit enthusiasts, and longtime urban adventurers, we wonder how easily it could have been one of us.

Even in our tiny universe of collecting your stories on Muni, race has been a constant. We started the conversation about race on Muni Diaries in 2009 after an audience member made fun of a Chinese stereotype at our live show (henceforth named the Muni Chicken Story Incident). And we continue having these conversations with one another and within our community today.

Early in the pandemic, our Asian-American readers asked, “Do you feel that people are glaring at you on Muni?” We were almost relieved because we were experiencing the same.

The issue of race remains one of our most frequent editorial judgements in story submissions; ethnicity is often included as a descriptor when relaying a tale, even if it doesn’t add anything to the story. It usually seems unintentional, but from our perspective behind the scenes, it highlights how descriptors of “others” are noteworthy, whereas descriptors of the perceived default—white—are not.

Every incident reminds us that we can’t only be philosophically against AAPI hate, we actually have to do something about it every single day. We will continue to make Muni Diaries a fair and inclusive place to talk about our city, and we encourage you to support these San Francisco-based Asian-American organizations who are on the front lines of advocacy.

If you have other organizations to add, and other actions to share, our comments section and inbox are always open to your point of view.

Photo by Right Angle Images.

Muni Art: “San Francisco United” takes the mobile stage

Local art and public spaces go hand-in-hand, and we’re glad that Muni will once again serve as a mobile gallery for the citizens of San Francisco.

SFMTA is partnering with San Francisco Beautiful and The Poetry Society of America to showcase the work of five local artists and five local poets on our hella local public transit system. In its sixth year, the Muni Art theme is, appropriately, “San Francisco United.” Look for the works on display inside 100 Muni buses through April.

The 2021 Muni artists are:

The 2021 Muni poets are:

Congratulations to all the winners! Learn more about the 2021 Muni artists, poets, and poems here.

Though the city is quieter (disquieting at times), storefronts have shuttered, and anxiety pervades our everything, I’m thankful that creativity is still coursing through this town. United, we’ll get through.

The Muni Diaries and San Francisco Diaries podcasts feature stories about life around town—on and off the bus. We’re Muni Diaries on all your favorite listening platforms, so don’t forget to subscribe today.

Pic: SF Beautiful

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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