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.