Smile in 3, 2, 1: Balloon Animal on Muni

Rider Anthony sent us this picture of ol’ yellow on a “very crowded 38L.” When you’re ass-to-crotch with strangers during commute hour, it’s the little things that count.

Balloon animals on Muni is my favorite meme, short of actual pets on the bus. (And the even rarer meme of the bus arriving just when I needed it.) I spotted my first balloon animal on a snoozing Muni in October, after which rider Kristin sent us a pic of its twin (or perhaps the same one?) on a 16X. Rider Heather sent us a blue balloon dog from 2010, and, stretching even further back, we’ve got this orange one on the 5-Fulton, via telluomo on Flickr:

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16X Swan Song

As the Worm Turns
Photo by Telstar Logistics

Joshua Kwan is moving to New York, but before he leaves, Muni gave him a surprisingly awesome parting memory.

I rode the 16X-Noriega Express bus for the first time on Friday to meet some friends for dinner in the Sunset, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. This will likely turn out to be my Muni swan song, since I’m leaving for New York City, and I’m glad it was this ride!

Even before I got on, I knew it was unlike any other bus I’d ridden in San Francisco. At the initial stop on the north side of 5th St. at Market, there wasn’t a crowd clustered around the stop waiting. Instead, there was a civilized line of commuters waiting to get on.

I thought I was going to miss the last bus, but I was saved by the inevitable (even for this line) rush hour Muni delay. When the bus came it filled up and I started watching it pull off onto Market, then Turk.

Side note: Actually, in true Muni style, the bus that I got on turned out to be the second-to-last one: it was actually 16 minutes late. I noticed this when a totally empty 16X pulled up alongside us on Fell — at which point all the riders kind of looked at each other for a second and grinned, a precious moment.

The first thing that got me about the 16X was the complete absence of the typical Muni jokers — people listening to music loudly on phones and teenagers trying to look tough with their friends. Instead, a few women were chatting about what they’d bought for dinner and how fresh their vegetables were. A man was snoring after a hard day’s work. Another woman was finishing up her paperwork. Total peace.

The second thing I noticed was that this driver was a pro. He would honk ahead of stops to see if people were actually interested in getting on, and if not, he would breeze by. Conversely, he would stop in between stops if he found someone who wanted to get on and it wouldn’t be too big of a delay.

The third thing is that really, the stops were totally secret, which I find to be common with Muni express buses. They were in the middle of the block and most of the downtown stops did not have shelters or even signs on poles announcing that this place was a stop. Only the splash of yellow paint and black stencil on the utility pole – and then again only at some stops – announced to me that this was indeed a Muni stop.

So you can imagine that I felt like I had inducted myself into a secret Muni commuters’ club — business class Muni, if you will, where the riders are courteous, the driver rocks, the stops are secret, and the ride is blazingly fast. I made it from 5th Street and Market to Lincoln and 9th Ave in 20 minutes flat at the peak of rush hour. On a bus. That’s good by *private car* standards.

So, rock on, Muni. And farewell, because I hear the buses in NYC suck compared to you. (But their Metro is better. Don’t take it personally, OK?)

How sweet of Joshua. And yes, you’re better of going underground in NYC.