Friday, June 22, 2012

24 Hours on Muni Part 2

If you haven't done so already, you may wish to read 24 Hours on Muni Part 1 first.  The link can be found in the box to your right.  Or, if you just want to know what happens on Muni in the wee hours, read on.  When we left off, I was making my way towards the Cable Car.

7:03pm T Platform 3rd/Paul  13 lines ridden, 14 rides.  “Whoa, no brakes!”...
A raspy voices echoes around the platform, a woman--40ish--with a limp and a lean, discusses the joys of being stoned with a couple of teenagers.  When the train comes it reeks like weed.  I wonder who that could be?  At each stop, more orange and black jackets appear--gameday at AT&T Park.  Tonight the City will be full of drunk sports fans.

The T pulls in to Powell at 7:45 pm--halfway. I toss the Turfers a dollar and take my place in line at the Cable Car turnaround. The Cable Car is a blast! I hang on the outside, clinging for dear life when we go up and down the hills, yucking it up like a tourist. The conductors enjoy themselves, often yelling "Whoa, no brakes!" Occasionally, they're jovial moods turn serious. “Do not lean out, I said DO NOT LEAN OUT!”  When 2 Cable Cars pass each other, we’re so close you could reach out and touch someone.  If you want to steal an Iphone, this is the spot.

The Cable Car drops me off outside of Kennedy’s Irish Pub/Indian Curry House in North Beach.  I know this place well--an old after work hang out.  I used to rule the air hockey table with an iron fist.  The drunker the challengers got, the easier I could depose them.  Eventually, my boss got tired of my boasting and crushed me--in front of the whole office.  I peruse the menu and order Palak Paneer.  Kennedy’s has the type of service where the waiter stomps away as the last syllable slips out of your mouth.

After 12 hours of Muni, I’m starting to look rough.  The bar patrons cast nervous glances in my direction, and the servers bring me the bill quickly.  On my way out the door, I notice the Giants are losing, 0-4.  Make that angry drunk sports fans.  I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I need coffee.  One cool thing about staying up all night--you can have as much coffee as you want.

9pm  Stockton/Columbus  14 lines ridden, 16 rides.  whothehellknows thirty...
I see the 30 in front of Bimbo’s.  It’s a long shot, but I make a break for it--success--and a seat in the back.  Next to me, Alfonso and an ex-wrestler discuss prison self defense strategies.  In prison, they had a method called G.U.N.  Grab, Undo, Neutralize.  So, if someone tries to stab you, grab the wrist, make them release the knife, and then, um, neutralize their arm.  When I tell them about my project, a man from Queens in the back raises his eyebrows and joins our conversation.  We ride through Chinatown, debating SF vs. NY, Wrestling vs. Jiujitsu, and why on earth someone would ride Muni for 24 hours. “Once that blog drops, you’re gonna get a million hits,” Queens tells me.  Let’s hope so, Queens.  Let’s hope so.

In between phone calls, Alfonso regales us with tales of prison gangs, breaking his hand in a brawl, and fights over table space in the prison cafeteria.  Our party splits up at 5th/Market.  Queens stays on the 30 towards Caltrain, the Wrestler goes into the Bart station, Alfonso towards San Jose, and I walk to Starbucks.  Four new friends, who feel like old friends, shaking hands and scattering into the night.

After my coffee fix, I take the 38 to the new Temporary Transbay Terminal--which is pretty light on the terminal.  It’s only here until the California High Speed Rail project is done; currently scheduled for whothehellknows thirty.  I miss the old bus depot, with its ratty Greyhound station and seedy characters milling around.  It reminded me of all those times I got fed up with SF, buying a ticket out of town, only to come crawling back to that grimey bus station.

I break one of my rules, and pass on a 71.  I’m holding out for the Treasure Island bus.  I break another rule and look at the digital GPS board--Treasure Island: 36 minutes.  Great.  I watch five 38’s, two or three 5’s, and another 71 pass.  The GPS board spits out a new arrival time every few minutes: 9min, 2min, 36 again.  I’m ready to give up, when the 108 rounds the corner, and soon I’m on the Bay Bridge, riding towards Treasure Island.  I’ve always found Treasure Island creepy.  It’s just too quiet, too dark, and too spacious to be in the City.  The gated military-style checkpoint at the entrance doesn’t help.  The outpost doubling as a corner store/coffee shop--the only business I see on Treasure Island.

Riding the 108 feels like hunting for ghosts in an abandoned suburb.  Scattered streetlights give a dim glow to the foggy gloom.  The dark obscuring my memory of empty buildings and KEEP OUT TOXIC WASTE signs.  Like many ex-military bases, Treasure Island is a Superfund site.  The bus travels in a circle around the island, eventually passing through residential sections--some people will live anywhere for easy parking.  

Tonight, I find the spookiness intoxicating.  On our way back towards the bridge the entire SF skyline is an easy glance; the lights are still on at AT&T Park.  When the bus pulls back in, I think about staying on and riding around Treasure Island all night, like a needle stuck in the groove.

11:05pm  Temporary Transbay Terminal  16 lines ridden, 19 rides.  An addendum to the Golden Rule...  
I find the 71 driver on the bus and ask him, “Are you going out?”
He shakes his head No.  So, I say “Are you done?”
He shakes his head Yes. Then, he turns on the lights, starts the bus, and drives away, along the bus route.  I chase the bus to the next stop and enter through the back door.  It’s tempting to give him a piece of my mind--but why argue when you have no place to go?

When we get to Market st., the bus fills up with Friday night.  Outside, the Bucket Man drums on his buckets, and inside, hot girls and ugly dudes mingle with the homeless, the drunk, and the simply confused.  Close to Fillmore some idiots shake and kick the back door, yelling to be let out when we’re not at a stop.  They laugh amongst themselves and pound on the door until it finally opens; a crew of “bros” convinced of their own hilarity.

The 71 continues its climb up Haight st., passing Buena Vista Park into Upper Haight, of Haight Ashbury fame.  This the Haight st. of the Grateful Dead and the Summer of Love, the Haight st. of tapped payphones where “have you seen the ghost out?” means are there undercover cops around?  The Haight st. where I learned an addendum to the Golden Rule.

Way back when, I knew this hippie kid named Mooky.  Skinny, long dreadlocks, and what we used to call a wingnut: crazy.  I was grubbing some Chinese takeout on the sidewalk, and down the way, this fratboy type was picking a fight with Mooky.  He shoved him over, and was kicking him on the ground, while Mooky was yelling and trying to cover his face.  I looked away for a second, and heard a smash.  When I looked back, Mooky had a broken bottle, and was on top of Fratboy, beating him with it--I thought he was going to kill him.  Then, a guy in sweats and a t-shirt pulled out a gun and yelled “Police!” pointing the gun at Mooky.  Soon, Mooky was in handcuffs, Fratboy was on a stretcher, and I had an addendum to the Golden Rule: Don’t pick fights with crazy people.

Haight st. runs into Stanyan, and the 71 turns on to Frederick.  Soon, we’ll pass my stop at 23rd and Judah.  I’m running out of water, my hand is cramping from writing, and this whole thing seems silly.  If I hadn’t told so many people about it, I would just go home.  At 23rd ave., no one pulls the string, and visions of my bed recede through the back window.

Midnight at the beach.  17 lines ridden, 20 rides.  lost at home...
I walk down La Playa towards Taraval.  It’s a long walk, but I know the L runs all night, and it starts somewhere by the SF Zoo.  This is the same zoo where, a few years ago, a tiger escaped and ate someone at a coffee shop.  Imagine that, you’re just chilling outside, drinking coffee by the beach, and a tiger comes up and chomps your arm off.  Maybe I’ll walk a few blocks up, instead of waiting by the zoo.

It’s cold and windy, so when the L comes, I’m happy to see Muni again.  I ride downtown, through West Portal, Forest Hill, and the Castro, in what feels like a holding pattern.  I’m getting sleepy, and the lines are running together into a mishmash of directions, route maps, and irate passengers.  I spend the next few hours this way, somewhere between conscious and asleep.  I go into downtown, I come out of downtown, the lines and the people run together; they go up, they go down, from east to west and north to south, from rich to poor and beginning to end.

I slip in and out of conversations about weed, hicks, and pornographic Santa Claus parties in Northern California. A man on a cellphone searches desperately for a cellphone, “It’s only because it’s the second one,” he yells before getting off.
“The next L will be the last service of the evening. The J is next,” comes over the speakers in a downtown subway station--the man’s voice clipped and practiced, like a human imitating a computer.  I slump in my seat and nod off.  Out here, floating around in the corners of the City, too tired to care--there is no loneliness, no anxiety, no where to go or to be.  I run out of water, and energy.  Finally, I am lost at home.

At 19th and Taraval I wait thirty minutes for the 91 Owl.  The wind wakes me up.  I pace back and forth on the corner, shivering and seething.  Staring at the fancy new “wave” bus shelters, I decide they’re tyranny by experts.  They were probably designed by consultants--people with six figure salaries that don’t ride the bus.  How did I guess?  Because no one who has to wait in the rain for half an hour would design a bus shelter with a giant hole in the back!  The Tyranny of Experts--coming to a town near you.
When the 91 finally arrives the driver is auditioning for Go Speed Racer; I can only steal a glance at the Golden Gates and the Palace of Fine Arts, before we’re on Lombard where the stoplights slow us down.  Mel’s Diner and IHOP call out to me, they’re insides bursting with the young and the wasted.

Soon the bus fills up, a local has latched on to a group of young foreigners.  “You know what gave ya’ll away?  You wearin’ shorts nigga!  So I know you can’t be from Frisco.”  
His logic is undeniable, they’re small t-shirts and knee high shorts are hopelessly out of tune. One of them knows how to beatbox, so the man busts a freestyle for the late night crowd on Muni.  He neezys and beezys, shizzles and thizzles--a red ballcap worn sideways and a cigarette under one ear--his raps peppered with “West Coast” and “bitches,” finishing up with  “Stop the tape, cause I’m fixin’ to make this grape!”

The foreigners look like runaway prep school boys, thrilled to be hanging with Snoop Dog in the big city--the rapper just seems glad to have an audience.  He causes a huge commotion when they leave, yelling “hold up, hold up, stop the bus!” so everyone can exchange numbers.  5 new friends scatter into the night.  I transfer to the 38.

The 38 is bumping too--women in short skirts that can’t walk in heels cling on to each other.  Every stop brings a conglomeration of stumbles, missteps, and curses.  Two rows in front of me a tall, lanky, blond haired boy with a thick Irish accent sways back and forth yelling “Are you from America?  Is anyone from America?”
When he finds a friendly face, he leans down “Do you know where I can get any,” and here he tries to drop his voice to a whisper, but fails, “Asian pussy?”
His new friends snicker and laugh.  Instead of helping, they ask about Ireland.  
“I’m from a little village, when I come here, I’m like--look at all the tall buildings, ohmygosh.  In Ireland, when you see a drink for 99 cents, that’s all you pay, 99 cents.  It’s a simpler nation.”
“How are the Ireland girls?”
He pauses, “They’re not nice.”

At the beach the driver pulls up to a small outpost, walks off the bus, opens a locked door, and goes inside.  Quiet slips over the cabin, broken only by one man’s snoring in the back.  After a minute, a man in a black leather jacket, red baseball cap and blue jeans walks to the door, which is still open.
“I’m watching out in case somebody tries to come in here,” he explains, standing upright.
“I’m not trying to get my ass shot, I’m watching out that door in case somebody trying to come in here with a gun to kill someone.”
When the driver comes back, they slip into an impromptu conversation that feels like a jazz riff.
“I just got back from Atlanta man, man they killin’ people left and right in that city!”
“They doin’ that here too.”
“Yah well, I’m gonna do what I gotta do, ‘cause if they gotta gun, I will run.”
“The one who runs fast, is the one whose life lasts,” calls back the driver.

3:35am  Pinecrest Diner  19 lines ridden, 23 rides.  happy birthday...
Coffee.  Bad coffee.  Putrid, foul tasting coffee--but it’s warm, and doesn’t move.  The Bucket Drummer is outside on the corner.  The Rapper from the 91 is too--his arm around tonight’s prize.  I can’t come to Pinecrest without getting philosophical.  Before I moved here, I spent a night in the Pinecrest; coffee filling in for a hotel.  Then, I ended up living a few blocks away and would come here to clear my head.  Later, Dian--my girlfriend--worked at Ruby Skye across the street, and I would meet her here every weekend, around 3am.  We would take the N Owl to her place in the Sunset--it was like a mental asylum on wheels.  

After Pinecrest, I trace our old root back to Market st.  I miss the N Owl by 45 seconds.  I wanted to ride it for old times sake--instead, I’m reminded of our 30 minute waits in the cold.  Of how we would stand there and shiver, huddling like penguins.  I’m reminded of her birthday, when we gave up and took the L, traipsing across the Sunset instead--happy birthday.

A guy with blond dreadlocks, holding his pants up with one hand, and a small object in the other, waddles up to me.  “Hey bro, can I give you a piece of hash for a phone call so I can find my car?”  I just shake my head.  He leaves without a word, taking a cloud of stink with him.  Across the street a man sleeps on the curb, his head 2 inches from the street.  Two departing passengers step over him, and the bus goes by without a glance.  I take the K Owl up to Church and Market, where I wait for the 22.

I ride the 22 past Fillmore, Japantown, and into the Marina.  I can never take the 22 without thinking of a quote I read in the SF Bay Guardian: “If you can’t get laid on the 22, then you have a problem.”   Do people actually get laid ON the 22?  Or do they meet on the 22, and then get laid?  Either way, it’s never happened to me.  The driver calls “last stop” at Fillmore and Chestnut.  I climb off, pee in the bushes, and cross the street to wait for the 22 to come back.  It takes half an hour.

In the cold quiet of daybreak, I stop caring.  I don’t care about getting stories from drivers, how many lines I ride, or if anyone ever reads this.  I just want to go home.  When the 22 comes back, the driver says nothing; he doesn’t recognize me.  I step up and tag my Clipper card--beep.  The 22 ends where 3rd st., and 20th st., intersect. (How is that possible?)  I catch the 48, and meet the nicest bus driver so far.

Juyanni explains to me that bus drivers, especially at night, avoid talking to passengers.  If they get too friendly, “they could put themselves at risk.”  Her voice has an easy tone, which she uses to coax our struggling 48 up Potrero Hill.  This bus is acting like it’s not gonna go up this hill” she says, so calm that I don’t stop to wonder what happens if it doesn’t.  We pass through the views--and the projects--from yesterday, then down to the Mission, taking 24th st. all the way through Noe Valley.  In some places, the hills are so steep and cramped, that if another bus is coming, one of them has to wait.  Juyanni never breaks a sweat, or looks the least bit nervous, steering an exhausted Muni bus through an obstacle course at 5am.

The 48 ends at West Portal on the weekends, where I take the K Outbound.  I’m checking out the huge houses and exclusive subdivision look of Ingleside, when I hear a familiar voice, talking about airplanes, and Atlanta, to the driver.  For some reason, this excites me.  I mean, here we are, two guys riding the bus around all night.  How can we not be friends?  When he gets up to walk around the car, I tell him I saw him on the 38, but he gives me a suspicious glare, and walks back towards the driver--who is clearly ignoring him.

The K ends at Balboa Park, where the J begins.  I get off the train, walk a few steps, and wait.  One last ride from start to finish.  The J is a nice ride to go out with.  It passes through neighborhoods that are cute, without being pretentious, and up hills that have good views, but aren’t too steep.  It’s like a Disney ride for old people.  After 2 or 3 stops, who should pop in, but our pal Atlanta?
“I thought my cousin was in here,” he states matter of factly, with a “Hey Padna!” to the driver, taking a seat up front.  Atlanta only seems to like Muni drivers.

Close to downtown, Atlanta gets antsy.  He stands up, and starts dancing in the aisle--no music, no headphones.  Then he walks towards me and says “You following me?” I shake my head No. “I’ve seen you 3 or 4 times,” he tells me.  “That’s too many times.  I’m gonna have to have my people check you out.  Make sure you ain’t five-O.”  This worries me.  He doesn’t look tough, but he does look crazy.

Atlanta goes to the front of the car and yells at the driver “I need to get to BART!”  At Van Ness, he gets off and gives me an I know you’re following me stare.  It’s tempting to yell “There is no BART here!” but it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie, and walking wingnuts walk.

7:45am  Embarcadero station  24 lines ridden, 29 rides.  24 hours on Muni...
The J pulls into Embarcadero station at 7:43am.  I walk across the platform to wait for the N; after 24 hours on Muni, I still have to take Muni home.  I ride to 9th and Irving, where I stop for breakfast, at Howard’s Cafe. When I'm done with my pancakes, I pull out my Iphone, hit the Nextmuni icon, and survey my options.  Best bet: the 71.  I hustle down to 9th and Lincoln just in time, but I get off before my stop.  I think I feel like walking.

Thanks for reading,
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  1. Hi, Devin!

    Just wanted to say I stayed up late into the night reading parts I and II of your journey; I really loved it.

    Keep writing; I enjoy your view of San Francisco.

  2. Hey, thanks! It was a lot of fun. A rough weekend, but a lot of fun. I have more ideas stewing.


  3. I'm still writing, I just haven't put anything up. This was an epic project for me and seems like a tough act to follow. Ideas are stewing though...

  4. Hey! I really enjoyed reading this. I'm originally from San Francisco (born and raised) and moved away 2 years ago. Your story made me incredibly homesick and I just truly appreciate how you show your love for the city. :)

    1. Hey thanks! It was a blast; I'm glad you enjoyed it.