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 respondersâ€”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.
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, â€œYellow Line,â€ 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 Franciscoâ€”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:
One of the most sobering moments for me at the beginning of the pandemic was walking by Le Central on Bush and seeing the bistro window covered with plywood. Once the popular lunch spot for Willie Brown (who’d play dice with his pals at the table by the window), the bistro’s board-up was the first time I really sensed the fear and emptiness that would soon permeate downtown.
As plywood boards sprung up all over every neighborhood, though, a couple of San Franciscans created a project that truly made lemonade out of all the lemons that 2020 has thrown at us. Within weeks, pedestrians started seeing beautiful murals on plywood boards that covered closed shops and restaurants, starting in Hayes Valley and extending all over town. The project is called Paint the Void, which matches mural artists with shuttered storefronts. Since April, Paint the Void has matched artists who beautified over 84 shops and restaurants, making walking around in San Francisco a joy again.
In today’s podcast episode, we invite Lisa Vortman, the Co-Founder, Director of Photography, Media and Storytelling of Paint the Void, to share the story of the first mural she photographed for the project. All the photos in this post are also from Lisa and Paint the Void.
The beautiful flower mural in Lisa’s story is by Nora Bruhn (@konorebi on Instagram), which covered Chez Maman in Hayes Valley. The restaurant has since re-opened for outdoor dining, but you can scroll down to see photos of the mural and Brunh working on-site this spring.
Seeing these murals on my daily walks has been one of those things that makes me say, “This is why I live here.” You can even make a day of itâ€”follow this map to more murals via the Paint the Void website, where you can also contribute to the nonprofit’s excellent work.
If you know someone who’s doing something great to help San Franciscans get through this terrible year, we want to know! Our submissions inbox is always open: email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tag us @munidiaries on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
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.
You’ve walked past them and under them a thousand times, seen them from afar and used them as landmarks. But do you really know the history behind San Francisco’s neon signs? We invite two neon historians to this episode of San Francisco Diaries podcast to tell us all about one very memorable neon sign that they are still hunting for.
Al Barna and Randall Ann Homan are the creators of San Francisco Neon, an organization of historians, educators, and advocates for the vintage neon signs you see all over our city. They are also the authors of the book, San Francisco Neon: Survivors and Lost Icons.
Scroll down to see the transcript of this episode.
San Francisco Neon has evening virtual presentations about the history behind historic neon signs in the Tenderloin and Chinatown, and an online version of their festival, Neon Speaks, is in September. You can find out more at SFNeon.org.
If you’re looking for more stories from San Francisco’s history buffs, be sure you check out this episode about the Transamerica Pyramid’s bohemian past.
We are dedicated to bringing you more stories about our city as told by everyday San Franciscans. If you have a story to share, or know someone with a story you think everyone should know, email us at email@example.com.
“I was open late one mid-December night when a guy walked in, and right away, I knew he was going to rob my business.”
Eden Stein, the owner of Secession Art and Design, has seen the ups and downs of San Francisco in over a decade. Her shop is an art gallery and boutique that represents over 60 artists. In this podcast episode, Eden shares how she kept her shop afloat and what happened that one December evening.
Eden recorded this story in her home during sheltering in place, so you might hear the cooing of her new baby in the episode here. She says that she is transitioning from in-store to online sales these days. In the past, 80 percent of her sales came from people shopping at the store in person, and itâ€™s been a major change to transition to an online-only business.Â You can find Secession’s online catalogue as well as their GoFundMe campaign atÂ SecessionSF.com.
San Francisco is still a city teeming with thousands stories. We’re not letting up on documenting the ins and outs of living here, starting with life on public transit and expanding into the life off the bus lines. If you believe that these real-life tales can help us care for our city, we would love your support on our Patreon page. Your support will help us keep the lights on until we can bring you these stories on stage live.