Growing up in New York, the subway served as training grounds for people watching for artist George McCalman. When he moved to San Francisco, Muni naturally became his first inspiration of observing life in the city. In today’s podcast episode, George shares why he founds Muni riders so fascinating, and how this resulted in his Observed column in the San Francisco Chronicle.
George sent us the drawing of the stylish grandmother he spotted on the bus, and you can see many more of his drawings on and off the bus by following him on Instagram @mccalmanco.
Sketching life on Muni seems to be a favorite past time of many riders and submissions (including this fun time-lapsed video of a portrait on Muni). Perhaps the same fashionable lady was the Muni fashion muse from rider Meli? One can only hope.
Muni Diaries is made of your stories, whether it’s in drawing, prose, or poetry form. Submit your own tale on the bus by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tag us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook @munidiaries.
Transcript of this podcast episode:
I moved to Brooklyn in 1980 with my mother. We moved up to the island of Granada in the West Indies and I was overwhelmed with the sights and the senses and the aesthetics of New York City. I remember going into the subway, and looking around and realizing that I could settle my eyes on the people who were sitting around me.
Meet Letizia and Nathan, a couple traveling the world and Instagramming their adventures along the way. A recent leg of their trip brought them to SF, and it sounds like they experienced some of our most striking dualities. The Mission, they observed, was “where families fight to retain their homes, history, community, livelihoods threatened by increased property prices. Soon signs saying established in 1961 will be taken down and replaced by vegan burger bars frequented by lumberjacks who are yet to fell a tree.”
They wrote us on Facebook because they were lucky enough to meet Muni driver Tammy, hands-down one of the best people we’ve met through Muni Diaries. From their IG post:
On the way home, we connect with the bus driver She had so many questions about why we would travel the world and what prompted us to do this trip. Between stops she told us her story is one of loss, courage, and strength. Losing her son to a drunk driver, she set up a project to help family’s [sic] facing similar pain. Sharing tears and hugs at the end of our ride. What a beautiful, inspiring ‘random’ connection to make!
We’ve known for 11 years (more if you count our pre-Muni Diaries days) that damn near anything can happen on public transit. Today’s story, told by Sureni Weerasekera, contrasts the magic of good juju on BART with a distinctly Bay Area brand of racism and othering.
Sureni was born in Sri Lanka, raised in San Diego, and is currently based in SF doing stand-up comedy, writing, and acting. She’s a contributing writer and actor for “Life of Trying” and runs two of Berkeley’s top comedy shows, “Pizza Party” and “Subhumans.” Follow her on Instagram @sureni, and check out her upcoming shows at: https://surenicomedy.com/.
Living in the city in which “Muni humper” incidents polluted our transit experiences not once (the first we were tipped off was in 2009), not twice (2017), but three times (2017 the sequel), I’m more than a little wary of crotch-to-shoulder distance. I’m also more than a little wary, full stop.
Japan, Mexico, and Brazil, among other nations, recognized this pervasive (and disgusting) problem and did something about it with women-only trains. In Osaka recently with girlfriends, I finally got to experience one of these myself—and it’s as good as I thought it would be.
In addition to beholding the wonder of trains running like clockwork, amid a culture that demonstrated an amazing level of public politeness and modesty, I appreciate the acknowledgement that the female experience on public transit —or at work, or in our home lives, or, or, or…—can be different in a bad way. Also them seats were heated and Hello Kitty is on the train car wrapper.
One Muni rider was recently privy to a scene that was nothing like the Sunday school you remember:
This guy on the 38R has a blunt in his ear, is taking pulls from a bottle of Patron, and is reading the New Testament aloud to his trans woman friend. They’re legit having bible study. This is wild. Even for 11 pm in The Fillmore.
He just got to the part where Judas hanged himself. “That’s crazy, huh.” The woman is falling asleep. Just when you think you’ve seen everything…
Now they’re at the part where Peter denied Jesus three times. He’s surprisingly empathetic. “I mean, I get it. If hella people would have been mad at me for being his friend, I wouldn’t have said anything either.”
They got off on Masonic. I have so many questions. I feel like Ed Norton when he met Tyler Durden in Fight Club. They were the most interesting single-serving friends I’ve ever met.
Our pre-show rehearsal is a necessary part of the live storytelling game—but it’s also a nice reminder of why we’re still collecting your stories about San Francisco commute life and, since 2017, of life all over this city we call home. We call the phenomenon surprise tears, where something universally true or poignant hits us all and then the eyes get stingy and we’re rooting around in our purse for tissue.
You’re in for a treat come Saturday. Get tickets today:
Muni Diaries Live (<- tix on Eventbrite) Sat., April 6 Doors: 5:30 pm Show: 6:30-8:30 pm
The Rickshaw Stop 155 Fell St (between Van Ness and Franklin)
Also! Today, April 3, is our 11th birthday: Thanks for coming along on the ride, however unpredictable and kooky it may have been, for all these years. We’d love to celebrate with you in our new home.