It’s been a while since we brought you a tale from the stage, so we are extra thrilled to share a podcast episode featuring a story from Muni Diaries Live on April 7, 2022. Today’s episode features Muni operator (and Muni Haiku Battle alum) MC “Mack” Allen live from Rickshaw Stop, our first show back after our long pandemic winter.
We knew him from the Twitters as a transit fan and poet, but his love for the city and its transit system went above and beyond when he decided to become a Muni operator during the pandemic.
He jumped through many hoops to become a Muni operator (we think you’ll really enjoy the behind-the-scenes look into the journey), but MC had no idea what was yet to come. In mere weeks, he’d be briefing the entire Twitter universe about the ins and outs of driving Muni via a viral thread about the blockbuster movie, Shang-Chi. His star rising, SFGate called him the most famous bus driver in San Francisco, and we’re proud to have known him when.
Reader Kay Karpus Walker found a piece of her family history that’s very relevant to our interests. She shares this photo and family history on the Muni Diaries Facebook page:
A bit of Muni history—a photo of an early Muni driver—Jacob B. Unruh—my grandfather. This is from the early 1900s in SF. Jacob became a driver after he was forced to close his business in the early days of the Depression or right before it hit. An immigrant from the Ukraine and a Mennonite, he was a cousin of Jesse Unruh, the California politician, according to Jesse himself.
Jesse Unruh was also known as “Big Daddy Unruh,” at one point the California State Treasurer. In the early 1900s, the Stockton Street Tunnel opened, and J-Church streetcar line was just starting service. Muni as we know it started to transition from for-profit monopolies to a municipally operated agency around 1912.
Remember in the Before Times when you’d see a way-too-crowded bus followed by a nearly empty bus right behind it, and you’d wonder, why doesn’t anyone get on the empty bus? In today’s podcast, Muni operator Ricardo sheds some light on why this happens, and how he tried to bail out a rookie Muni driver in this predicament.
Scroll down to see a transcript of Ricardo’s story
We are always looking for stories about life in San Francisco, on or off the bus. What’s the best thing that happened to you here? Did something or someone in SF change you? We want to hear all about it. Anyone can submit a story to this collective online journal: just email us at email@example.com. Or if you have a photo or tweet to share, tag us @munidiaries on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Transcript of Ricardo’s story:
Driving north on Mission Street, I came up to this rookie bus driver running a “double-header,” slow and late. The rookie and his bus should have been about 10 blocks ahead of me. As a result, his bus was bursting at the seams, and my bus was almost empty.
We arrived at the 22nd Street bus stop together, him in the lead, me and my bus right on his tail. There were a lot of people waiting, and they looked angry and irritable. As soon as the buses stopped (he in the zone and me double parked behind him) the people waiting ran and jumped on his bus.
Here was this poor sap doing all the work for both of us. And now he was making me late too. Through my rear view mirror, I could see another trolley bus about five blocks back. I blew my horn at the rookie, and when he stuck his head out the side window, I called out to him:
“Hey, man, you’re making everyone late. Skip stops! Don’t stop for anyone in the betweens.”
The rookie made a face at me like he didn’t understand, but then he closed his doors and pulled his bus out into the traffic. He went past the 23rd Street stop and double-parked about half a block before the 24th Street intersection and started unloading passengers in the middle of the street.
Obviously, this goes against all the operating Muni rules, and, it didn’t work. The ten people or so waiting at the 24th Street Zone ran into the street heading for his bus.
Just as they were closing in on the rookie’s bus, the rookie slammed his doors shut and pulled his bus into the second lane, away from the running pedestrians. He left them standing there, in the middle of the street, stunned, confused, and completely pissed off. I wanted to pull my bus into the zone, but I couldn’t, that same group of people was blocking my way.
So I opened my doors. As they started boarding my bus, every one of them had something to say. “Did you see that?” one passenger asked as she went up the steps, “He just took off and left us standing in the middle of the street.”
“That’s what he was supposed to do, lady. That’s why I’m here–to pick you all up.”
But another passenger was not so polite: “What the hell do you mean? Man, you bus drivers are all a bunch of assholes.”
“Yes, sir,” I tried to calm the man down, but he wouldn’t let it go.
“I’m going to report you, you idiots.”
I could have explained, but I knew it wasn’t going to matter. The hype was up, and when the hype is up there’s really nothing you can do to stop it.
At times like this, the only thing a bus driver can do is to just sit tight and take all the shit as best as he or she can take it. Hold your breath until the stink passes by.
“Goddamned government employees!”
“I’m going to report you too, you son-of-a-bitches.”
Muni drivers may be ditching their brown uniforms this spring, depending on how they vote on this important decision, reports the Examiner. Voting ends Feb. 8, and right now gray is the leading choice. A little sneak peek about the new look, according to the Examiner:
The newest uniforms include a polo shirt option and new jacket options, according to SFMTA documentation. The Muni logo on the gray shirts would be stitched in red, whereas the logo on the brown uniforms would be stitched in white.
Alison Cant, an archivist and museum manager at the San Francisco Railway Museum, told the Examiner that Muni’s first operators in 1912 wore navy blue uniforms. This lasted until about 1968.
The operator uniforms then went from navy blue to green (with a maroon tie!) to the now familiar brown. Looks aren’t the only factor here. Drivers also told the Examiner that the current uniforms are not comfortable and they’d like to have a more breathable fabric.
This reminds me of that one Project Runway episode where the designers tried to redesign the U.S. Postal Service uniform, and the poor mail carriers ended up with a flowy hooded cape, a fur-lined cap with ear flaps (ok I liked that hat, but still), and pants that unzipped into shorts. I hope Muni drivers end up with something comfortable with a little bit of flair.