Tales from the 22

The Muni: A San Francisco transit line composed of buses and light rails that provides both locomotion and a primary source of rage and entertainment– craftily blending the two, sometimes it’s hard to discern whether you should laugh or just be flat out irritated. In fact, once on a plane heading back to San Francisco, I got in a conversation about public transportation with a civil engineer

who’s description ofMuni just about sums it up: “It’s like a moving psychiatric ward,” he said.

The 22: A bus that is forever a clusterf*ck.  Packed to the max, I often wonder if there is such a thing as a ‘bus capacity’, like elevator capacity, because I’m pretty sure the 22 would violate it each and every minute of the day. Traversing the city from the collar-popped, bleach-blond, posh Marina through the beats of the Fillmore to the buzz (or chaos) of 16th and Mission and ending in the barren Dogpatch, the 22 picks up all sorts of characters that, when packed tightly together like sardines, continually provides me with silly stories to share.

As an ode to Muni, I’d like to share my two favorite stories from the 22.


The Man and His Foot
Sprinting down McAllister to catch the 22 in the nick of time, the driver waves to me to get on in the back. While at first that gesture brings a bit of cheer—a free ride! One of the perks of not having a clipper card yet is that the only way to pay is up front, so a wave to the back is a nod of ‘don’t worry about it’. But the naive Courtney has quickly learned that this free ride comes with a consequence. The wave is more like, ‘A free ride IF you can squeeze in.’

So today was no different. Yes, I scored a free ride, but then had to jam up next to all sorts of characters. Sometimes it’s not so bad, but when one of your fellow sardines is a very drunk and very smelly man with a bad and nonsensical attitude, that’s when the irritation begins…. but also the hilarity.

So I crammed myself into the bus and the very next stop this said (smelly and intoxicated) sardine gets on the bus… well kind of. He was so intoxicated that he could only make it up one step on the bus, which is taboo in Muni code as it often means the door won’t close. And if the door won’t close, then the bus won’t go, and that’s when people get pissed. Standing on the first step, the driver realized the bus was so packed that he just closed the back door and took off. A the next stop the door opened, lightly pressing the against the said sardine’s foot, triggering desperate cries of help as if someone were murdering him—“Ahhhh, ahhhhhh, ahhhhhh,” cried the sardine followed by weeps and sobs. “My foot, my FOOOOOOOOOOT, ahhhhhhhhh.”

Stunned, everyone just looked at him confused. The door was only lightly touching him—how could it possibly elicit such drama and pain?

As the man cried for minutes—and consequently the bus was not moving—people started yelling out, “Just step up!”, “Just move your foot. It’s simple man!”

Finally the words of advice penetrated his drunken fog and he stepped up one step. The door closed and the bus took off.

The man stepped back down to the first step. The bus stopped at the next stop and the same thing happened again. People were pissed, especially since this time as the man cried out in desperation, chunks of spit were flying everywhere.

By that point I had found myself a seat, so I missed the sprays of spit—barely.

As the screaming continued, and was finally resolved once the man stepped up one more step, I couldn’t help but giggle, uncontrollably, which made the girl across from me laugh uncontrollably, which then spread like a yawn to the neighboring seats. The unnecessary theatrical display of the situation was just so ridiculous.

Walking the Plank
Along the 22’s route, just before it heads up over the hills to enter Pac Heights, there seems to be a stop quite popular with the old folks—and by old I mean 80+. The only reason why I really began to notice this trend is because the naive Courtney used to sit at the front of the bus, mostly since it would be empty when I would get on at the bus’s very first stop. But then I would soon get bumped to the back as senior citizens piled on (the front seats are given priority to the disabled and old).

So on this bus journey the trend was no different—old people piled on, and I moved to the back. Within the next few stops the bus was packed, and I was now wedged into a seat in the second half of the bus. Once we began the descent into Lower Pac Heights, an old woman in the front rang the bell for the next stop.

Due to the intensity of the bus’s carrying load and age of the woman, her departure was a process. People poured off the bus to make way for this woman, who was sitting in the very first seat on the bus. Once the runway was clear, she slowly stood up, hunched over her cane, and hobbled ever so slowly to the ‘landing dock’ of the bus. Once on the dock, the bus driver extended the dock out over the curb with the intentions of lowering it to the ground so that the old woman could smoothly de-bus. (It’s the same mechanism used for wheelchairs). However the old woman seemed to be confused, and was using the landing dock as more of a plank. As the dock moved out from the bus, so did the woman—she just kept on hobbling, seriously approaching the very edge of the dock.

Since I was in the back of the bus, I didn’t notice this until I heard shouts coming from the front of the bus as well as from the passengers outside.  They were all shouting, “STOP! STOP! NO! STOP WALKING!”

While this may not sound funny, it actually was slightly humorous, mostly because it was a commotion in slow-motion and no one could believe it was actually happening. The woman was walking so so so slowly.

As the yells continued, people in the back of the bus all looked at each other confused with the expression, ‘Is this really happening?’ One person even mouthed ‘O-M-F-G’ as he pressed his face against the window in disbelief.

The woman finally stopped at the very edge of the plank and was lowered down safely to the curb. The outside passengers helped her off as the rest of us applauded the gallant efforts of the bus driver and passengers who helped.

This city makes me smile every day.