Our previous episode featured Smiley Poswolsky, a self-described Millennial workplace expert who quit his stuffy Washington, D.C. job to become a writer in San Francisco. His story about personal growth and change, with NOPA/Western Addition in a prominent guest-starring role, really got our listeners talking more broadly about the state of our city—a hot topic lately.
For this episode, we invited Peter Hartlaub and Heather Knight from The San Francisco Chronicle, and Bernalwood blog founder Todd Lappin, to give us their take on San Francisco’s oft-discussed existential crisis, and to share their own experiences with this town we call home.
Smiley Poswolsky left his suit-wearing days behind in Washington, D.C. to start a new life as a writer in San Francisco. Today, he’s an expert on Millennials in the workplace and author of the book, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough. A few years in to his life here, he found himself realizing that some of the things he enjoyed about the city were also having a negative impact on his beloved new home. This prompts him to consider a timely question: Who has the right to define a city and what it is (or should be) all about?
This has been a hot topic as of late, even in national news. This prompted us to turn to our listeners: If you could give the city a cultural health score, what would it be and why?
Rider Michael Z. cuts and polishes stones for a hobby. Since the stones are super heavy, he decided to go multi-modal this day, jumping from his bike to a Muni bus. The journey didn’t go exactly as planned. In his own words:
Rush hour traffic on the #7 to the upper Haight:
I, an avid bike rider, already had a long day messing with a lot of heavy rocks and minerals all day long. I was backpacking about 55 lbs of rocks in my pack while riding my bike and decided to ride the bus to my destination.
I boarded at Market and Van Ness with my bike on the rack in front of the bus; it was so crowded that I was standing right at the front of the bus. The driver and I struck up a conversation about bikes and we were pulling up to Market and Haight Streets; some passengers got off and some got on.
The driver was about to leave when this kid ran up to the bus, threw down this pink sorry thing of a bike, ran to the bike rack, and proceeded to pull my bike off the bus.
The driver said [to me], “Hey, isn’t that your bike?”
I looked and said, “Yea.”
The door flew open for me as the kid was trying to figure out how to shift gears to go faster. That was not going to happen since my bike was only geared for single speed. So, with 55 lbs of rocks on my back, I ran and caught up to him and clotheslined him over the handle bars of the bike and got on top of him. I was about to nail him in the face. But seeing how young he was, I decided against it and told him it was his lucky day (or not so lucky) and told him to get a job and buy a bike.
I got my bike, and, to my surprise, the bus driver had waited for me. I put my bike back on the rack and got on the bus, and the whole bus started clapping their hands, some saying good job and so on.
What a crazy day. Thanks to the bus driver on the Haight Street line who waited for me at the scene of the bike-jacking. There IS a story to tell on every line.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a fixie and an action-movie-worthy chase scene beg to differ. Thanks, Michael, for this cautionary tale! (Legit wondering what happened to the pink bike, though.)
Yesterday I crossed over. I became one of “those people,” the ones who fail to pretend not to hear the crazy shit that people say on public transportation.
“White people always pay their fare,” white dude sitting across from me said. Loudly, because I could hear it through the music I was listening to in the earbuds. He said it again. “White people always pay their fare.”
“That’s not true,” I said.
He looked shocked and surprised that someone had responded and that someone was me.
The conversation continued as you might expect: “What country are you from?”
“I was born here.”
“I wasn’t raised a racist. I’m not racist. I’m not prejudiced. Are you?”
I confessed that sometimes I did harbor some prejudices and that I thought most people did.
“Speak for yourself!” He said.
He had the gall to try to cozy up to me by talking up our shared historical cultural experiences (because railroad building apparently), trying to create an “us vs. them” connection, presumably “us vs. other black and brown people.”
And then when he figured out that I was a “bleeding heart,” he started accusing me of being someone who would hire a bunch of “illegals from China” if I could, [just] to undercut his wages.
“In America,” he said, “we don’t live like they do.”
“I’m tired of hearing you,” piped up a young white man from the back of the bus to this dude.
“This is America. This is my First Amendment right,” the dude said.
“Well, it’s my First Amendment right to tell you to shut up.”
Angry dude starts to get off the bus and young dude in the back of the bus said, “It’s also my right to do this!” and began sexily kissing his boyfriend sitting next to him.
Angry dude starts screaming, “F____t!” But the door of the bus has closed, and we’ve started moving.
Oh, that sweet, sweet bus revenge as the back door closed in on the angry dude—and on Pride weekend, too! Thank you to rider Shirley for submitting this tale. It’s good to know that your fellow riders have your back.
Our commutes are a mere microcosm of life in San Francisco, and we are always looking for your stories to round out the experience. Add your own diary to our collective online journal by tagging us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The good folks that brought you these fun transit enamel pins have a mashup for you this Pride weekend: these “Gay for Transit” stickers celebrate our love for public transit and features accurate (and adorably illustrated) vehicles in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston.
What’s even better is that all the profits made by June 30will be donated to local Bay Area orgs that support LGBTQ+ people: Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, Larkin Street Youth Services and Trans Lifeline.
The San Francisco stickers are also available with a BART design, as well as in t-shirt form if you so desire.
Thanks to rider Lauren P. for tipping us off the transit.supply store goodness.
How do you express your pride? Join us to add an entry to our collective journal.Tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter—or, our email inbox is always open to hear your Pride weekend stories!
As he carted his belongings to the bus stop, Kurt Schwartzmann knew that he relied on the kindness of the Muni driver, lest he face another cold night on the streets of San Francisco. When the bus door opened on one particular night, he was relieved to see the familiar face.
This was a lifetime ago, before Schwartzmann conquered his struggle with drug addiction, found his way as an artist, and met his now-husband. While he was homeless, Muni had become the refuge for Schwartzmann.
We first met Schwartzmann on Instagram when he posted about his art series, and we were thrilled that he told his story at Muni Diaries Live in April at Rickshaw Stop.
Growing up in Fresno as a young gay man, Schwartzmann said that San Francisco had always been a symbol for “freedom of expression and refuge from intolerance.” In honor of Pride weekend, we are sharing his story in today’s podcast episode. Take a listen: