jack in the box on muni

I was walking along California on my way to the bank on Friday when I spotted a bunch of tourists getting off of the cable cars. Guess who was waiting for them?

jack 2 muni

Too bad I had to rush off before the bank closed. The funny thing was that nobody batted an eye. Jack was looking at his phone the whole time…videotaping people’s reaction, perhaps?

My Love Affair With San Francisco Cable Cars

Image by Omar Lee

Ed. note: To read this story with a prettier layout, please visit it on The Bold Italic. BTW, pure coincidence, but this guy, featured a few weeks ago here on Muni Diaries, makes an appearance in this story (his name is Freeman).

I was born and bred in the Bay Area, which means I grew up ignoring San Francisco’s cable cars. I don’t even remember my first and only time on the trolley. Even though riding the carousel at Pier 39 is an indelible childhood memory, the cable car is not. That’s right: Pier 39 trumps the cable car for as long as I can remember. Ouch.

And I’m not the only local who feels this way. We can rattle off bus lines, poppin’ neighborhoods, and new restaurants and bars in the blink of an eye. But ask us where the Powell-Hyde cable car goes, exactly, and you’re likely to get a blank stare and a raised eyebrow in response. We’ll ride the cable cars when friends or family visit, sure. But it doesn’t stop us from dramatically sighing and complaining for weeks about the northeast part of town.

It’s sad, really. But admittedly, there are some very good reasons for this. Cable cars are limited in where they go and also in the diversity of its riders. They’re arguably kitschy, something urban people hate unless it comes with a heaping dose of irony. The cars’ relative slowness could shame even the pokiest crosstown bus line and, to add insult to injury, it’s $5 a pop if you don’t have a pass.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. I took my first memorable ride in 2008, the first year I had my own Fast Pass and therefore got “free” rides on the world’s only operating cable car system. I rode one because, well, why not?

Immediately, I was hooked, but no one else seemed to understand. These charming transit vehicles are too good for tourists’ use only. This story is my attempt to shed some light on the most misunderstood of SF icons, the trolley.

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Photographer Kristen Holden: Love Stories on Muni

Photographer, poet, and model Kristen Holden‘s pictures of Muni riders have caught our eye for a while. We found her on Flickr as “SFLoveStory” and tracked her down to find out what makes Muni such a great subject. Holden grew up in Chicago and has lived in San Francisco for almost seven years. She lives in Russian Hill with her musician boyfriend and their “talentless dog.”

What is it about Muni that inspires you to take photos there?

This simple answer is: I ride a lot and I shoot my surroundings more than I do anything else. But what makes Muni rife for photographic capture is that the exterior environment is always changing around the same structure or, like, bones of the scene. There are endless characters to make up stories about.

What’s it like taking pictures on Muni?

I think people generally assume I’m a tourist. Once in a while someone will ask me about my camera and why I shoot film (I’m currently shooting with a second-hand Canon EOS Elan II SLR with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens.)

Got a favorite Muni line?

I ride the 45 and 30 to get from Russian Hill, where I live, to downtown and vice versa. I take the 47 and 49 quite a bit. Oh, and I’m one of those weird people who actually rides the 19…it gets the closest to the film-processing center I go to in SoMa. I love the cable cars and streetcars too. The mint-green colored streetcar from Brooklyn (Car 1059?) is my favorite.

You can see more of Holden’s photographs on her website, Kristen-Holden.com.

Archival SF films show old streetcars, cable cars

By now, you might’ve seen a video floating around the intertubes called, to varying discrepancies, “A trip down Market Street.” If not, go watch it. If our guess is correct, and you have this soft spot for San Francisco in the middle of all your frustrations and angst, you’ll love this footage of our city in its simpler, yet equally fascinating days. It shows the view from a streetcar traveling east toward the Ferry Building, on a Market Street free of cars (easier to do in those days), with pedestrians and horses and buggies crossing the tracks ever so lawlessly.

Owing to the popularity of that video, we came across the above program, sponsored by The Long Now Foundation. The very long program is broken up into easy-to-digest chapters. The un-embeddable chapters we want to call your attention to are: Fillmore Hill Cable Car (lots of great footage of Fillmore and other old cable car lines) and South of Market (which includes archival footage of the Transbay Terminal around 1941). There might be other transit-related bits, but frankly, we haven’t had enough time to watch it all. Here’s a link to the entire program, but you can watch it by the chapter.

The man responsible for the footage, Rick Prelinger, will be presenting more archival video of San Francisco on December 4 at the Herbst Theater.

Cable Car routes, explained

Pardon the slightly pamphlety approach here, but CBS 5 ran this story about the three cable car routes over the weekend, and it’s just too feel-good for us to pass up on a Monday morning. Call this Getting the Week Started Right.

The story also links to a cool map of the extensive network of cable car lines that existed in the late 1800s, when South Van Ness was called (properly) Howard Street. That map is hosted on the Cable Car Museum’s website, by the way, which you should while away the hours on. You should also visit the museum. If you’re into that sort of thing.


Cable Car Confessions: The new cable car and its presidential guests


Presenting the July 2009 edition of Cable Car Confessions. This month, Laura tells us all about the newest addition to the fleet, as well as some of its VIP first riders. Our last president and his family never dared set foot in our little burg, much less hitch a ride on one of our historic treasures.

“Ding ding. All aboard. Next stop Powell Street Chinatown. Tickets please, show me your tickets please.” I heard about the unveiling of the new #15 San Francisco cable car from a blogger friend, who lives in Arizona. After hearing about this great cable car confession, I immediately talked to some of the conductors to hear their thoughts on the new car and the special guests riders.

Max, a cable car conductor, told me, “Even though so much has happened and changed in San Francisco, our cable cars are still the center of the inner workings of our city. To us San Franciscans, the sounds of the cable car bells chiming day and night are the natural sounds to the city. “

In fact, I must confess to you that when I travel and can’t hear the cable car bells at night, it feels too quiet. I can’t get to sleep! And if you told me this when I first got to San Francisco, I would have never believed you. I now can’t live without hearing passing cars, car alarms, foghorns and the ringing of bells. Read more

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