Playing Muni driver, if only for a few minutes

After a disturbing post-apocalyptic (or was it simply apocalyptic?) week, we’re bringing you a throwback tale of simpler times when the highlight of your year is when the Muni driver let you in on a few secrets. Today’s podcast episode was brought to you by rider Tara, who caught a Muni driver in a bit of a casual mood and fun ensues. Yes, a Muni ride that was actually…fun!

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.

Listen to the rest of her story, read by reader Amanda Staight:

To be fair, we have had a few stories where Muni drivers surprise the passengers, like this one time when a rider got to briefly drive an N, when the operator gave a rider some timely life advice, or when this driver played some Jedi mind tricks with the line number. Oh, those innocent times!

We’ll keep the stories coming on our podcast all the same, so if you have a story to share about life in San Francisco, pitch us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on any of your favorite listening apps.

Photo by @hamster@peter

Painting the pandemic void, one storefront at a time

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.

Listen to her story:

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 it—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 muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com or tag us @munidiaries on Twitter, Facebook, 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.

The Buena Vista gets beautified with art from Muni Diaries alum

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.

SF Neon historians in search of an iconic sign

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

Listen to their story:

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 muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com.

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Missing the Muni madness that connected us all

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.

Hear Amanda’s piece here:

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 muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com, on the socials @munidiaries on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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