Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Voice of Muni

It happened again last night! As I arrived at Montgomery Station, a clear voice came over the p.a. and announced, "Due to an injury accident at 22nd and Taraval, the L Taraval will only go as far as West Portal. Disembark there, leave the station and board one of the buses to continue. Buses are at the station and waiting."

Sure, it's a pain to have to take the bus instead of the train, but for the second time in as many days, Muni was alerting passengers to a problem and providing a solution in advance. I don't have to go out to the Sunset, but I imagine that passengers who boarded the trains with this knowledge in advance were a whole lot less grumpy than if they were ejected from the train at West Portal.

Hey Muni! Are you listening? If you are, consider doing the brave and correct thing to close your budget gaps. Raise the prices.

Today's Stats:
I drover to work today.
I will pay about $15 for parking.
I did not get fresh air or read a book.
It took about the same amount of time as taking Muni and was somehow less pleasant.

Monday, December 10, 2007

No Cost Goodwill on a Bad Day

We arrived at the Castro this morning just as an announcement was made.

"We are experiencing a delay at Montgomery Station due to a medical emergency. Outbound trains are not running. We expect them to begin again shortly."

Clear, concise, specific. While I wasn't thrilled about finding another way for my child (and a couple of his buddies who were already on the outbound platform) to get to school, at least we knew we had to do something. I rounded up the kids and called my husband, who got in the car and drove the kids to school. They were thrilled to get a ride. I was back down on the inbound platform 10 minutes later.

The announcement was made three times as I waited for an inbound train. Each time, the message was clear and specific. The final message was that outbound service was going to start again, but it would be slow going for a while.

This type of messaging is the sort of thing that Muni should be doing all the time. It costs nothing and it gains an enormous amount of passenger goodwill. People are less irritated if they know WHY and HOW LONG they'll be waiting for a train.

The experience today gave me an idea. Since lots of kids ride Muni to school (saving the city beaucoup bucks in bus costs, no doubt), it might be cool to have simple maps for them to use when alternative transit is required. Instead of addresses, show the school name and give them specific instructions for bus routes, etc.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 5 minutes - after re-routing the outbound kids
Ride time: 15 minutes
Muni Reading: What is the What, by Dave Eggers. This could very well be ideal reading for all Muni passengers. It provides a much needed perspective. Getting jostled, being late, sniffing bad smells - all that pales in comparison to what these kids endured.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Measuring Muni

This morning's Examiner has an article about Muni's poor ontime performance. It talks about bus lines and owl lines and light rail and bonuses for Muni brass. What it doesn't talk about is common sense.

Of course night owl buses run on time. There's no traffic then!

Of course the obscure 81X Caltrain Express has a terrible ontime performance. It's running to and from a train station that's situated next to a freeway. That means traffic.

These "on time" statistics make no sense to me. In these days of and Nextmuni, printed schedules are just not that meaningful. We can easily check when the next bus/train/etc. is due (more or less) and plan for that.

Frequency is the thing. You want to measure performance - ask riders HOW OFTEN their bus comes, now when. It doesn't matter if the 24 is "on time" if it's a half a block behind the one that's "late." And for the passenger who waited twenty minutes for a bus instead of ten, it doesn't matter that the second on is on time. It's just irritating.

As for me, my rides over the past few weeks have been just fine. Even as the rains come and people start carrying giant shopping bags onto the trains and buses, I'm still a satisfied Muni rider.

I just wish that I could think of a way to get all that Prop A money into the public schools. I'm still rankled by our sell-out progressives.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 1 minute
Ride time: 15 minutes
Muni Reading: What is the What, by Dave Eggers. And if reading about hundreds of frightened, malnourished boys crossing souther Sudan on foot doesn't fill you with gratitude (even for Muni), I don't know what could. But really. Read this book. A compelling story brilliantly told.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Talking on Muni

Last night, I was chatting with my friend Tim about Thanksgiving dinner menus and this woman stepped between us. Was she inserting herself to make us shut up? (Perhaps she was offended by my anti-turkey stance?)

I said, "You can stand here." And I gestured toward the spot to my right.

She looked at me blankly, but I'm certain that she understood the situation.

"You should stand here so I can stand next to my friend," I said.

Reluctantly, she moved.

Tim cracked up. "I can't believe you," he said.

"Clearly you're from California," I said.

So today my friend Jen was telling me about people holding hands on N Judah this morning. They were positioned so that they blocked the door. For other passengers to enter or exit, they had to say "excuse me" to the hand holders. The N Judah must carry only Californians. Try that in NY and you're going to get your ass kicked.

Sometimes I miss the east coast. Then it snows and I don't. Also, Muni is way cheaper than NY or Boston.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 1 minute
Ride time: 15 minutes
Muni Reading: New Yorker, again. Fiction by Roddy Doyle. It kind of bored me.
Irritation level: Very low. I was riding the J Church because I got my teeth cleaned in Noe Valley this morning. I love riding past Dolores Park.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

DiFi Disappoints, Again

At the risk of cursing the public transport goddesses, I'll report here that the past few weeks have been pretty pleasant on Muni. In fact, today's irritation has nothing to do with Muni. But it has everything to do with our world.

For the past three weeks, Dianne Feinstein has let San Francisco, California and Democrats down again and again. She has repeatedly voted as if she were powerless in the face of the Bush administration. She seems to forget that she's in the majority. Her lame excuse is generally, "We have to pick the lesser evil because Bush will find a way to make this happen anyway."

Sure he will, with spineless senators like Feinstein rolling over for him again and again.
This week alone she's expressed herself appallingly on two crucial issues:
The Attorney General: Waterboarding? Oh, whatever. Welcome Mukasey.
FISA: Spying on Citizens? Well, we need to protect our telecom companies from lawsuits.

She also had a predictably wimpy response to the disastrous oil spill in SF Bay.

I'm a lifelong Democrat. I have NEVER not voted in my life. I read the voter manuals. I write to my representatives. I have a stronger aversion for "direct democracy." But I've also had enough of Feinstein's bullshit. A quick Google search of "Recall Feinstein" reveals that I am not alone.

The thing is, a recall amendment would eventually turn federal electoral politics into a bigger version of screwed up California electoral system. So what do we do? There's some great discussion on Kos today.

I will protest, write, withhold money, organize, and foment dissent as best I can. Join me. Dianne doesn't deserve a free ride until the end of her term. Visualize ZZTop playing songs of protest at full blast outside of her mansion as she plots more ways to please the greedy corporate titans who feed her a neverending supply of greenbacks. It won't stop her from ignoring the values of her constituency, because she doesn't understand our values. But it will irritate the hell out of her.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Hungry? Wait Until You Get Off Muni!

Jen arrived at the office this morning with a story about a man who was eating on the N Judah. He was dipping his head into the bag and coming up with mouthfuls of cornflakes. Some might laud this as a sanitary way of eating on the bus. After all, the bus germs get on your hands, not your mouth. (Unless you put your mouth on the rail as I've seen people do.) Jen & her fellow N Judah passengers had to watch this guy, dipping his face in and out of his bag as cornflake detritus fell on his belly, the seat and the floor. It stuck to his wet jowls. And he chewed with his mouth open.

It reminded me of an episode I witnessed on Tuesday evening. A woman passed through the turnstyles at Montgomery eating a green apple. The station agent called out, "No eating on Muni." Apple eater shot her a dirty look, bit defiantly into her apple and headed for the stairs.

Next, the agent is on the p.a. "No eating on Muni. Please put that apple away!"

Still, Apple Eater is chewing away on this massive green apple. I'm thinking about that guy in Florida who was tasered for asking John Kerry too many questions. Who knows what Apple Eater is thinking.

The M arrives and A.E., still chewing on the fruit, steps on. A security guard follows, honing in on A.E. as the train heads toward Powell. Perhaps we'll never know if the security guy let A.E. go, or if he tasered her, or if she gave him a bite of her apple and they discussed creation myths like a subterranean Adam & Eve.

Here's the thing. There are many reasons that you shouldn't eat on public transportation. The bureaucrats would probably cite cleanup costs or some obscure health code violation.

For me, though, it's simple. I don't want to watch you eat while I'm commuting. I don't need to see you chew. I don't want to step on your cornflake crumbs. I don't want to site on your discarded apple core. And a sure as hell don't want to be held up while you argue with the driver or the security guard about eating on Muni. Just don't do it. It's gross.

In election news - they're going to be counting ballots for days. I still hope that this stupid Prop A goes down. How come all the supposed progressives think that this is good? You want to be a progressive? Pressure your elected officials to make a stand about more than slogans and "free" Muni improvements. SFist has an interesting take on all this.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 5 minutes
Ride time: 18 minutes.
Muni Reading: New Yorker - The Mitt Romney article. Man that guy bugs me.
Irritation level: Very low. My favorite driver made his usual announcements - "Through no fault of my own, traffic is heavy in the tunnel." and "The computer will not open the doors until we have arrived at the proper place on the platform." It makes me happy to hear this. It also makes me happy to parse his voice. Today, I hit on this: A mix between Truman Capote and R&B impresario Johnny Otis.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Good Morning Gavin

Like a lot of ladies and gentlemen in the city, I find the idea of "Good Morning Gavin" kind of appealing. I'd say good morning to him, he'd hand me a cup of coffee, and we'd peruse the morning paper. We'd shake our heads ruefully over Ed Jew's latest trouble and chuckle at Leah Garchik's overheard item. Then it'd be off to the shower for us......

This morning's "Good Morning Gavin" was a bit different. My child and I were entering the subway at Castro and Gavin was there campaigning alongside the ever-cheerful Bevan Dufty and the diminutive Aaron Peskin who had wisely positioned himself several yards uphill from our tall-drink-of-water mayor.

Gavin, as always, had a spanking white shirt on. He's moved on from the dark solid suit and wore a fetching striped number. I didn't notice the tie, because I was completely focussed on his impeccable shave and large, soft hands. All this at 7:45 a.m. I guess he's still on the program.

I wished Gavin good luck tomorrow and expressed my disappointment that he was campaigning for Measure A. Rather than get into a discussion about the importance of representational democracy, Gavin engaged my child in a brief discussion about the importance of equality for all robots. Charming.

Then I had an idea. If Muni really wants to delight customers, they should make Gavin an official greeter. He could be like those chunky erstwhile boxers stationed outside of the high-roller sections of casinos. You know it might not be good once you get inside, but you feel pretty special after your brief brush with glory.

I hope Gavin's still there when I go home tonight. Then I'll live out the second half of the collective San Francisco dream.

"How was your day, Gav?" I'll ask.

He'll smile quietly and point to his throat as we wait in vain for the 24 Divisadero.

"Sore throat, again?" I'll ask. "A steamy shower should help."

And even though we'll have to forgo the evening martini, it'll still be quite nice.

Don't forget to vote tomorrow. No on everything except Measure D Renewing Library Preservation Fund.

Oh yeah. And yes on Gavin. Definitely yes on Gavin.

Today's Stats:

Wait time: 3 minutes
Ride time: 15 minutes. Could have been longer. I was dazzled.
Muni Reading: New Yorker - Roger Angell on baseball. He's great.
Irritation level: Zero! Thanks, Gav!

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I feel validated this morning! As we proceeded on a fairly crowded L from Powell to Montgomery, the train stalled in the tunnel. Passengers checked their watches and prepared to groan. Then the driver came on the p.a.

"Through no fault of my own, there's heavy traffic in the tunnel this morning. We'll be moving again in three minutes," he said. "I'll keep you posted."

The driver's voice was mellifluous and his tone was verging on humorous. The groans were stifled and, all around me, passengers smiled. We returned to our reading materials and three minutes later proceeded to Montgomery.

Cost of this experience: $0.

The driver's quick and personable update soothed his passengers and we disembarked three minutes behind schedule, but unirritated.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 3 minutes
Ride time: 19 minutes (including our 3 minute delay!)
Muni Reading: Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
Irritation level: Zero! Plus the Red Sox won last night. A bonus.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Problem with Ballot Measures

Let me just get this out there. I am a firm - some might say strident - believer in representational democracy. I believe that "voter driven" ballot measures give elected officials an easy out when it comes time to make a stand that may not be popular. A good case in point this week was Arnold Schwarzenegger. He vetoed a gay marriage bill, citing Prop. 22, the 2000 ballot measure that "defined" marriage as between a man and a woman, rather than any personal beliefs.

Here's a ballot scenario:
Let's call it Prop 1863.
Proponents promoted "Cheap Labor" and "Strong Economy" and "Diversity in the Workforce" and voters (all white men) said, "YES!"
Then Abe Lincoln says, "Actually, I can't sign the emancipation proclamation because the voters have said they want slavery to continue."

Ballot measures are marketed to voters and funded by businesses. Voters can be lazy and they don't look at what these marketing slogans really mean and who benefits from these measures. It's big money.

So this morning, as I waited for my train, a very earnest guy was handing out fliers for Prop A - a measure that he promised would, "Improve Muni and make it more reliable." The flier says, "Clean Air, Better Muni." Well who wouldn't want that, right? The Yes on Prop A site promises, "$26 million per year -- $300 million over 10 years – without fare hikes or tax increases."

I like clean air, faster commutes and investment in infrastructure. I like that idea that more people will ride public transport if it gets better. What I don't like is that the bill's sponsors are taking the easy way out. Why not raise fares and taxes to pay for stuff? When things are free, they are valued less. This measure is to be funded by parking fees. Not your typical regressive tax for sure, but it will still come with higher costs and higher administrative fees.

Muni is spectacularly cheap. My monthly pass - after my tax break - costs about $41.00. I suspect that a majority of monthly pass holders would be willing to bear a slightly higher cost (say $50) for better service. But no elected officials are willing to say, "Hey riders, downtown parkers, and tax payers, all of you need to help bear the costs for infrastructure investments in our public transport."

That's what a true progressive would do, but instead they're busy printing up fliers and paying earnest campaigners to get convince citizens that they're voting for "Clean Air" and "Better Muni."

Today's Stats:

Wait time: 5 minutes
Ride time: 18 minutes
Muni Reading: The San Francisco voters guide.
Irritation level: The ride was fine, but these ballot measures really piss me off.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sickout = Better Commute?

Yesterday a whole bunch of Muni Inspectors and Supervisors called in sick because of a contract dispute. I'm not sure what Inspectors and Superviors do, but in their absence, "Muni brass scrambled to fill the ranks."

Nobody I know experienced any delays in service yesterday as all the chairs of "Muni brass" emptied and these folks hit the streets to actually ensure that buses and trains did what they're supposed to do - pick people up and drop people off. The Muni management is threatening to fire the workers who called in sick - more 21st century union busting. (bad)

But union politics aside, it would be interesting to see what would happen if Muni acted like a 21st century private corporation and actually eliminated positions. Maybe they could start with the brass. With all those folks out from behind desks and occupied with the actual business of transporting people, maybe things would run more smoothly. Hmmmm.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 1 minute
Ride time: 15 minutes
Muni Reading: New Yorker - Jerome Groopman on brain function in persistent vegetative state people. Seems like these discoveries will spark a whole new wave of Terry Schiavo type protest - but really interesting. Or, in a more perfect world, discussion about what consciousness means and how it makes us human. A girl can hope.
Irritation level: None at all. (If you don't count this crap weather.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Muni 3-Step

The little stall area near the door is an attractive space to stand on a crowded Muni train. You're not pushing against an irritated person in a seat and you can generally reach some sort of handrail when the riding gets rough. But with this space comes great responsibility.

Are you reading this grumpy woman with the curly hair? Are you reading this sullen teen with the infected eyebrow piercing?

You are standing in a major traffic thoroughfare and you must act accordingly. When the train pulls in to a station, step off and to the side. That way, your fellow passengers can easily exit without jostling you. And you can stop muttering about being jostled. It's simple.

Step off, step the side, step back on. And if you choose not to do the Muni 3-step, please stop complaining when you're jostled. It's your fault. You are in the way in a public place.

That rant out, I will say that I experienced a very entertaining driver this morning. I think that he must be experimenting with cadence and sentence structure, as if he were the Thelonious Monk of Muni. I'll try to convey the oddity of his station announcements:
arrrivING. ciVIC CENNNNNter. now. we'rehere. CIviccenTER. CITTTTYYYY hall.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 5 minutes - three too full trains passing. Not bad for a rainy day.
Ride time: 15 minutes - I believe we could have shaved off a minute and a half if everyone practiced the Muni 3-Step
Muni Reading: New Yorker - Hendrik Hertzberg on Hillary's laugh. He is a fantastic writer. Sort of like a stern but avuncular social studies teacher.
Irritation level: HIGHthenlOW. Thanks Thelonious.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Catching Up

So it turned out that last week's meltdown was due to a power line that fell down in the tunnel. The Muni spokesowman in this article apologized profusely, blah blah blah. Nice sentiment. The thing that really got me though, was this detail: "Metro service was interrupted around 7 a.m."

When I got to the train at a little after 8 a.m., the station agent shrugged and muttered something about slow trains. By 8 a.m., I had already listened to three different morning radio stations, all of which updated me on weather, traffic, local news and sports. If Muni knew at 7 a.m. that 30,000 people where going to be affected by this power line, why the hell didn't they alert the media. A simple message on the radio could divert at least some of those people onto buses, or taxis, or encourage them to walk. It would be proactive. It would be informative. It would stop people from begin pissed off and put out.

Maybe Muni could consider allowing people to sign up for text alerts. That would be a great leap forward that COSTS NEXT TO NOTHING.

Anyway, on to today. For a Monday, the ride was very smooth. But for the second time in as many days (I rode the N on Sunday), the air conditioning was at full blast. I felt like I was riding in the refrigerator car. I guess it woke me up.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 1 minute
Ride time: 12 minutes
Muni Reading: Some Fun, a short story collection by Antonya Nelson. Really good stories, but a bit grim. I will never live in El Paso.
Irritation level: Low. Chilly.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


"Is there a problem?" I asked the station agent.

The platform in Castro station looked like a sci-fi film - perhaps a cautionary tale about overpopulation.

The agent shrugged, pressed his intercom button and yelled at a woman who was carrying a lapdog to show her pass for the animal. I repeated my query.

"Trains are slow," he mumbled, giving another shrug.

A garbled announcement came over the p.a. informing us that there was a problem in the tunnel between Van Ness and Church. Something, something, something. Trains are running very slowly. More info than the station agent was willing to provide.

The announcement prompted an exodus from the station to the waiting F train. Many of us exited the F at Civic Center and rode BART the rest of the way downtown. I wonder if there's a correlation between Muni service levels and BART riders who use Muni passes?

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 15 minutes
Ride time: 22 minutes
Muni Reading: The New Yorker with the hilarious "Narrow Stance" cover. Seymour Hersch scares the crap out me every time, but I'm glad to have him.
Irritation level: Extremely high. A little information and honesty would go a long way.

Monday, October 8, 2007


Like many who live in the Castro, I opted to leave my car in its spot on Sunday and take Muni everywhere. The Castro Street Fair brings throngs to the 'hood, with every available spot taken from noon until revelers come home.

We passed through the fair on our way to the very cool Bluegrass Festival. This year there were a lot of green-oriented booths and businesses. Ironically, this morning, neighborhood looks anything but green with fliers, smeared food, plastic cups, broken glass and styrofoam packing peanuts littering the streets. Aren't the fair organizers supposed to clean up?

Anyway, back to yesterday. I have to say that with all the events in town, I was anticipating nightmarish travel conditions, but all was well. We took the N Judah out to Golden Gate Park and the 5 Fulton back. The drivers were friendly and the crowds were good-natured. Go figure.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 2 minutes
Ride time: 12 minutes
Muni Reading: The New Yorker with the hilarious "Narrow Stance" cover.
Irritation level: Zero. (Holiday?)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Cause & Effect?

On Monday, I wrote about the new flat panel screens that are supposed to give Muni passengers detailed information about trains. As of this morning, I still haven't seen a single one working. Most have a standard windows message: This page contains secure and non secure items. Do you wish to continue?

Click yes and the page is updated. Do nothing, and well.... Maybe Muni has a requisition out for someone to click yes. Can I get that job?

Having suffered through statistics in college, I understand cause and effect, and logically I realize that the presence of these silly and redundant screens likely has little effect on Muni's efficiency. But....

Ever since the screens went up, the trains have been all screwed up. Weeks of smooth rides have given way to completely unreliable service.

Yesterday I had to take a taxi after learning that trains were "running, but slowly because something happened between Powell and Embarcadero." I exited the station, thinking that I'd just get the F streetcar, but there was no streetcar in sight. I shared a cab with a nice guy.

I had a mid-day Muni opportunity as I was meeting a friend for lunch at Embarcadero. I figured I'd save a few minutes by hopping on one of the six Muni lines that pass through Montgomery, only to find that the next train wasn't due in the station for 15 minutes. WTF? BART and got me there in seconds.

Yesterday's trifecta was complete with a classic Muni meltdown in the afternoon. A 2:00 accident at Sloat & 19th had snarled all traffic on the western side of the city. I checked NextMuni before my evening commute and saw that nearly every KL and M was stuck on the other side of the accident site and that other trains were stalled in downtown stations. Why, if everyone in the city knows that the intersection is shut down and will be for hours, would the Muni people keep sending trains into traffic Hell? Why not shuttle them between West Portal and Downtown and at least keep some passengers moving?

Perhaps the managers were huddled around a computer screen, trying to figure out how to click the YES button on their new toy.

Again, I took BART, taking advantage of the little-known perk - MUNI PASSES WORK ON BART as long as you begin and end your ride within SF. (Balboa - Embarcadero.) I had a nice walk home from the Mission on a lovely evening.

So.... this morning. Once again the trains are screwy. A T enters Castro station. The disembodied voice announces, "This train will not stop." Nobody moves. The train stops. The doors open for long enough that a sprite might have been able to pass. The doors close. The train sits there for a couple of minutes, then departs.

A few minutes later, an L arrives. We get on. It stopped in the tunnel 4 times. No explanation. Just sitting there.

Maybe our driver was thinking about the flat panels screens. Maybe she was thinking about how that expense might have gone toward her salary, or more trains, or better managers who can actually keep her passengers happy. Maybe she was stuck on Taraval for hours yesterday, and she was still in a bad mood.

Cause and effect? It's starting to make sense.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 12 minutes
Ride time: 22 minutes
Muni Reading: The New Yorker fashion issue. I finished the article on Donatella Versace. The part about the ballet she commissioned to honor Gianni made me weepy. I must have PMS. Or maybe it's the flat panel screens.
Irritation level: High. These screens are bugging me. So are the stats.

Monday, October 1, 2007


This morning, a large flat panel video screen greeted us Castro Commuters. Presumably, it will provide us with exact train locations from West Portal to Embarcadero. I also fear that it will be used to deliver important advertising info to its captive audience. As of this morning, though, it was displaying the stations and a windows error screen.

Its presence sparked a few questions:
1. Why do we need this? We have the hanging screens and soothing female voice that announce train activity pretty accurately.
2. How long before this thing is working?
3. How long before it is stolen?

As with all things Muni, the answers may reveal themselves in due time.

After pondering the sign for a few minutes, I hopped onto a Castro Shuttle. The air conditioning was at full blast. It's a little chilly this morning and train was like a refrigerator car. Why? As I type, my icy fingers are thawing.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: 5 minutes
Ride time: 15 minutes
Muni Reading: The New Yorker fashion issue in which I found out that Donatella Versace has her 'staff' cover the surgeon general's warning on her cigarettes with an embossed DV sticker. She is delightfully freaky.
Irritation level: None. But if the trains start running late because flat panel screens are needlessly being installed in stations, then I'll be very irritated.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Muni Jump

The train arrives at the station. The passengers rise and crowd by the door. And....

.... Nothing. We watch the river of commuters pass. We wait. Veteran Muni riders know the drill. At some random moment, the train will jump forward. Tourists and other non-regulars will lurch about. Toes will be stepped on.

Which leads to today's mystery:
Why the hell can't the driver say, "Hold on, people. We're about to lurch forward."?

I know why today's driver couldn't. He was multi-tasking. In addition to driving the train, he was talking on his cell phone and clipping his fingernails, letting the detritus fall where it may. Gross.

At least my toes weren't crushed. It's flip-flop weather after all.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: None.
Ride time: 15 minutes.
Muni Reading: The New Yorker fashion issue. (How fabulous can people with unlimited amounts of money and huge Manhattan apartments be? Very, very fabulous.)
Irritiation level: Mild, with a moderate level of grossed-out-ness

Monday, September 24, 2007

Miles on Muni

Today's driver was a delightfully gravelly-voiced guy who sounded like Miles Davis. Since it was too crowded to read even the New Yorker, I entertained myself by imagining what it would be like to have Miles as a Muni driver.

"We're swinging into Church station, so get yo asses out fast," my imaginary Miles driver would say. "Com'on muthafuckas, I got places to go."

Then I started thinking about the fun things they could do on Muni. Like when New York got those pre-recorded tapes in cabs that said things like, "This is Broadway legend Charles Nelson Reilly reminding you to buckle up."

Muni could enlist famous San Franciscans to provide on-board entertainment. The 12 Galaxies guy could be a roaming Muni map; the Bush Man from Fisherman's Wharf could scare the people who block doors at stops; and maybe they could have Marian and Vivian Brown do platform fashion commentary (an underground version of Melissa and Joan).

A girl can dream.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: None.
Ride time: 15 minutes.
Muni Reading: Too crowded to read.
Irritiation level: None. A good day to fantasize about what Muni could be with just a little more imagination.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Three Kinds of City Kids

As Muni continues to exceed expectations by running on schedule, I have time to share more Muni ruminations.

I was hosted for cocktails recently by friends-of-friends. Once we were finished discussing real estate (they own, we rent), talk turned to schools and I revealed that my son rides Muni to and from school each day.

"That's the bus, right?" Mrs. X asked.

"Well there's the bus and the subway," I told her. "He rides the subway."

"Aren't you afraid he'll forget his stop and ride all the way to Concord?" she asked.

It was revealed that the child of Mr. & Mrs. X had never been on Muni, even with his parents. He gets a ride everywhere with either his mom or his babysitter or some other kid's mom.

This contributed to my theory of Three Kinds of City Kids.

1. The kind who never ride on Muni. They will be getting rides until they get a car.

2. The kind who ride Muni to get where they need to go. They know their 38L from their 1BX. They probably started with short little rides and now can get from the beach to the ball park for 50 cents.

3. They're just like the second kind, but very, very loud, and they swear a lot. Whenever they start to piss me off, I think about the first kind of City Kid, and I think that at least these loud, swearing, sweaty kids are independent. And they're expert cursers. I wonder if Little X knows how to use the f-word in the subjunctive. The kid who sat behind me on the inbound L this morning did. And I admired him.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: Under 2 minutes.
Ride time: 15 minutes.
Muni Reading: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - almost done.
Irritiation level: Goodwill, even for the the little f---er who sat behind me swearing in my ear.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Yesterday I lamented not having anything to complain about. Today the lament continues. My Muni experiences of late have been strangely peaceful. Even on a relatively crowded train this morning, everyone - even the gigantic wolf-looking dog who boarded at Civic Center with his human companion - behaved.
What's the deal with dogs on Muni, anyway?
Are they just allowed?
Is this one more thing to like about Muni or something to not like?
I guess, as with all things Muni, it depends on the day.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: Under 2 minutes.
Ride time: 15 minutes.
Muni Reading: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - really fun read.
Irritiation level: None. All is well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Free Muni?

When I started this blog, it was with the intent to give me a place to vent about my daily Muni commute in a place where my co-workers - most of whom also 'experience' Muni - don't have to listen. Alas, I've had little to vent recently. Thanks Muni! You've been briskly efficient for a full week!

Of course, this gives me time to start thinking about the movement to make Muni free. The thinking is that if it's free, more people will ride Muni. This strikes me as colossally stupid. Muni is already one of the cheapest public transit systems in the country. Monthly passes with unlimited rides, transfers, and deep discounts for students and seniors make Muni extremely attractive to many riders.

The fact is, a lot of people who drive to work could ride Muni, but making it free is not going to get them out of their cars.

My neighbor pays about $100 a month to park his car a block from his office. The Muni stop is two blocks away. He drives because he wants to and because he is not price sensitive. Making Muni free is not going to change this.

A coworker drives in to work with her husband, who also works downtown. For them, the parking fee is just a little more than two Muni passes would cost, so it's easier for them to drive. They're used to it now. I don't think that an extra few bucks in their pockets is going to get them on the 38 Geary.

My friend works at a downtown city agency that has a large and free parking lot. She needs to use her car for work about once a week. The parking is free and she's able to jump into her car without any hassle. (The agency would reimburse a cab ride, but who wants to wait for a taxi?) All the free Muni rides in the world won't get her to take Muni to work. Here's the kicker. As part of her job, this friend gives away loads of free Muni passes. It's how her agency entices reluctant clients to show up for appointments where they receive city services. "We know that they probably sell them for $20 and go buy booze or drugs," my friend says. "But those Muni passes at least get them to show up."

(Yikes! Where can I get one of those $20 Muni passes? I'm going to start hanging around outside of City agencies instead of standing in line at Montgomery Street station every month.)

What Muni needs to remember is that it's always cheaper to KEEP an existing customer than to land a new ones. How can they keep us existing customers? By doing what they've been doing the past few days. Show up and transport customers with minimal hassle. That's worth a buck-fifty. A pleasant smile might even get them a tip.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: Under 2 minutes.
Ride time: 15 minutes.
Muni Reading: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - delightfully immersive.
Irritiation level: None. All is well.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Does Prayer Make a Difference?

This morning's ride falls under the "most of the time Muni is fine" category. The only problem was that I forgot my book. This gave me the opportunity to observe my fellow passengers, and to consider whether prayer makes a difference.

Praying Lady had her eyes closed and her hands clasped the entire ride. Is that why Muni worked so well today? As my mother used to says, "It can't hurt, for chrissakes."

Blonde Cathy Griffin looked exactly like the real Cathy, but blonde. She caught me staring, but didn't seem bothered. It must happen to her all the time.

Kid with iPod listening to Steve Vai. I am surprised that kids still listen to Steve Vai.

I wasn't the only one who was fascinated by Make-up Applier as she studiously applied mascara to each individual lash, never once slashing the black across her face as the train lurched through the tunnel. How did she do it?

Today's Stats:
Wait time: About 6 minutes.
Ride time: 15 minutes.
Muni Reading: Argh. I left my book at home. Didn't even have an old New Yorker in my bag.
Irritiation level: None. All is well. Thank you Praying Lady.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Three Kinds of Muni Trains

It might be Barack Obama's fault that I missed my stop this morning. I was right there with Barack as he drank moonshine in a rural Kenyan village with his uncles and brothers and cousins. I only looked up when the driver grumbled, "Last Stop." Not a big deal. I crossed the platform, enjoyed a couple more of Barack's paragraphs and arrived back at Montgomery in minutes.

Walking to the office, I had this thought:
There are three kinds of Muni trains.

1. The kind with the driver who makes nice announcements like, "Powell Street. Cable Cars, transfer to the 5." Stuff like that. I like this kind of train. It makes me feel connected to the city in a more human way. It makes me like the driver and Muni. Even when the train is stuck in the tunnel, we feel like we're all in this together if the driver says, "They're stacked up at Civic Center. We're going to have to wait a bit."

2. The kind with the automated female voice. "Next stop, Montgomery." This is okay. It prompts engrossed readers to put down the book and get off the train. It's helpful when the train is so full that you can't see where you are. It's smoothly efficient, even if it's a little impersonal.

3. The silent kind where the train proceeds from one end of the track to the other, leaving passengers wondering whether there's even a person at the controls. This kind of train mystifies me. All you hear is the tinny noise from iPods and the heavy sighs of grumpy commuters. This is the kind I had today. I don't like this kind of train.

Today's Muni mysteries:
Do drivers get to decide which kind of train they want?
Do some drivers just switch off the p.a. and the automated voice so they can ride in silence?
Or are the p.a.'s broken on some trains?
I suspect that it's the former.
Again, I ask, how hard is it to flip the switch and let the passengers know where they are?

Today's Stats:
Wait time: About 2 minutes.
Ride time: 15 minutes including my back track.
Muni Reading: Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama. The third section is riveting.
Irritiation level: Low. "But still."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Today It Begins

I ride Muni every day from the Castro to Montgomery Street. Most days, it's fine. I get on, I read, I get off. A pretty good deal for a buck fifty. (Less with my Muni pass.)

Some days it's not fine. Some days it's a mystifying journey into ineptitude, and I've just got to vent. Like today. I arrive at the platform in the Castro. A garbled message comes over the p.a. That rare bird, the Castro Shuttle, approaches. It doesn't arrive on the inbound platform as usual, but rather stops on the outbound side.

My fellow commuters and I steal nervous glances at each other. None of us has ever seen this. The driver makes her way to the back end of the car. (The one facing inbound.) She glances at all the confused passengers on the inbound platform. She sits in the driver's seat and surveys the crowd one more time. And THEN SHE HEADS INBOUND WITH HER EMPTY CASTRO SHUTTLE.

How hard would it be for her to step onto the platform and call out to the crowd, "Hey, come over here. I'm headed back in." ?

Maybe the guy who sits in the booth upstairs could have said something.


A single-car T came along. My neighbors and I crowded on. We get to work.

Muni talks a lot about all the money it needs to improve service. Courtesy and common sense cost nothing.

Today's Stats:
Wait time: About 5 minutes (including watching the empty Castro Shuttle come and go).
Muni Reading: Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama
Irritiation level: Mild. A "but still" day.

Until tomorrow.