SFMTA head addresses challenges of reopening Muni

What must we do to bring public transit back into our lives? (Not a rhetorical question, please give us a list other than stay the f*ck home.)

In an NPR interview this week, SFMTA head Jeffrey Tumlin shares what he’s learned about how other cities got back on buses and trains, while waxing poetic about the cultural value of life on transit. We knew someday they’d see things our way.

Tumlin says that SFMTA had a Zoom call with the mayor of Taipei to learn about their approach. (Taiwan has been praised internationally for its COVID response). But he says that “fear and exhaustion” remain the biggest challenge in reopening public transit.

Our workforce, all of them are working ridiculous long hours and they are exhausted and our front-line workers in particular have been carrying with them a huge amount of fear. There is an emotional toll to our workforce that is going to take a long time to heal and it’s going to impact our ability to deliver service. That fear is also present amongst members of the public. If Bay Area residents retreat to their cars out of fear, the economy can never recover.

While public transit is essential to our city life and economy, Tumlin also sounds like a fan of the random acts of humanity on Muni—which this comMUNIty knows all about.

Public transportation brings us back to our common humanity. When you get on the bus you have no idea who you’re gonna see. There are the casual flirtations, there’s also the kind of witness of tragedy that kind of breaks your heart, and opens you up to gratitude if we’re lucky. Public transit is not always fun or efficient, but it certainly brings us back to our common humanity.

Listen to his full interview here on Planet Money. We think we’re on the same page about the importance of public transit, but how that takes shape safely remains to be seen. Tumlin says that most Taipei transit riders wear masks; there are temperature probes at subway stations; and importantly, the country has effective contact tracing. It wasn’t clear whether or how the SFMTA might consider similar measures in order to restore transit service.

What will it take for you to get back on the bus?

Photo by @mwichary.

San Francisco Diaries: how one Bernal shop survived the city’s ups and downs

“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 it’s been a major change to transition to an online-only business.  You can find Secession’s online catalogue as well as their GoFundMe campaign at SecessionSF.com.

Listen to Eden’s story:

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.

Poetry in motion on Muni

Sometimes when you see something that really speaks to you—you gotta have it. Rider David G. sent us the story of how he came to own a piece of honest-to-goodness Muni poetry, and we’re convinced it was meant to be. Here’s his story:

In the ’90s, the group Streetfare Journal and bus-advertising company TDI placed literary placards on Muni buses, streetcars, and cable cars. When visiting a friend’s apartment, I saw one of the posters. It featured a poem about fascist leaders and was written by the Serbian poet Aleksandar Ristovic. The last three lines read: 

Time of fools is coming, 

time of the know-nothing teacher 

and the book that can’t be opened at either end. 

I loved it and asked where she found it. Were they selling them? 

She chuckled and described how she saw the poster while riding the 30-Stockton through the Marina. She was struck by the words and so she asked a random fellow rider to hold her coffee. Then she simply took it down — in a bus full of commuters no less. She said that people stared, but no one uttered a word. “If you’re nonchalant, no one will do anything,” she suggested. 

Being less adventurous, I didn’t follow her advice. Of course, one day all the placards were removed. 

I was living in a residence hotel and taking the California cable car to work. Months later on my morning commute, to my utter surprise I saw the Ristovic poster. They obviously missed this one. Unfortunately, there was no chance of stealing it: in the closed confines of a cable car, both Muni operators were nearby.  

I resolved to go to the cable car barn that evening and see if I could ask someone for it. I  believed it was my last chance. 

Not knowing what to expect, I walked into the barn and was met with strong welding fumes. I gingerly stepped between rows of vehicles sitting on tracks. A middle-aged mechanic was on duty and he emerged from under the tracks. Nervously, I explained the situation: I’m looking for poetry.

He seemed surprised but he told me to “look around and take whatever you need,” and returned to his tools. My footsteps echoed as I explored the empty carriages. I finally found the poster and tucked it under my arm.

On the way out, I noticed the mechanic in street clothes and cleaning his work area. We nodded to each other as I departed. Not only did I walk out with the Ristovic poem; I also found one with a verse excerpt from Muriel Rukeyser

Time comes into it. 

Say it. Say it. 

The universe is made of stories, 

not of atoms.

Thank you, David, for submitting this story, especially in the midst of missing Muni—and all semblances of normal life—lots. Fun fact: For Muni’s centennial in 2012, we partnered with SFMTA for a “100 Days, 100 Muni stories” competition, where the most quotable winner earned placement on a placard just like these.

Since the universe is made of stories, we know there are many untold ones in our corner of the world. Indulge us with that tale that’s been burning a hole in your pocket by emailing muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com, or by connecting with us @munidiaries on all the socials.

Photo by Views from the Grip

A tribute to a fallen transit hero

We met Courtney Brousseau at Muni Diaries Live last year, and he was so immediately warm and full of joy that I thought we must have met him somewhere before. He walked right up to us to introduce himself, and it was clear he loved the city so much and wanted to make it better for bus riders.

On Friday, Courtney was shot in the Mission, a bystander caught in what The San Francisco Chronicle says were 50-60 bullets that were fired on that block. This was just minutes after he tweeted that he was enjoying a burrito in Dolores Park and that “for a brief moment everything felt okay.” He died Monday night. He was 22.

We can’t stop thinking about the evening when we first met Courtney. He was wearing a jacket full of transit buttons and had just hosted an afternoon transit pub crawl with Chris Arvin (one of our storytellers that night), which terminated at the show.

Read more

Wanted: A few good Muni drivers

Driving Muni is probably one of the most challenging jobs in the city, and a writer-artist pair is working on a book to honor their contributions to our community. Artist Keith Ferris and writer Lia Smith are creating an art book about Muni where Muni operators who participate will get their portrait drawn and participate in an interview to help us get to know the folks getting us from Point A to Point B.

Whether they are doling out life advice or playing Jedi mind tricks with you if you don’t pay attention, Muni operators have been a big part of the storytelling on Muni Diaries. Lia tells us that she and Keith have already interviewed 17 Muni operators, and are looking for eight more participants, particularly drivers who might be new to the job. The pair is also keen to interview Muni mechanics for the project.

If you are interested in participating in this project, or would like more information, you can contact Lia Smith at ljsmith[at]ccsf.edu. Lia and Keith sent us the portraits above, featuring Muni drivers David Chin and Veronica Jackson.

San Francisco Diaries: Discovering The Secret Alley

“I hear the door swing open, I take off my headphones, and all of a sudden I hear, ‘This is why I love San Francisco!’ ‘OMG, this makes me so happy!’ It never gets old, and it sends shivers up my spine.”

Who actually hears things like this about their office (home or regular)? It’s par for the course when you work at The Secret Alley, which Thrillist once described (accurately) as ” a private artist workshop-cum-performance space-cum-office park-cum-clubhouse o’ fun built inside of a second-floor walk-up in the Mission.”

We’re ever so glad to take a break from pandemic stories to listen to how this special place came to be. In today’s podcast episode, we learn about how The Secret Alley made a space in a nondescript building into such a unique community hotspot.

Secret Alley cofounder Noel Von Joo shared his tale on stage at Muni Diaries Live in 2019. Listen to his story here:

It might be a while before we can return to this wonderful space, where our friends at BFF.fm and Roll Over Easy also broadcast their shows. But we are going back to our roots, collecting and publishing stories for the ol’ internets about the people and places that make our city what it is today. If you have a story to share, please email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com. And it would absolutely make our entire day if you review us on Apple Podcasts and shared this podcast with your friends.

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