Sunday, July 07, 2013

BUS STORY # 348 (Muni! Part 1)

Muni! by busboy4
Muni!, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to use BART -- Bay Area Rapid Transit. (You can read about it here.) But that was outside San Francisco. And so I did not have the opportunity to use the legendary Muni -- short for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency -- which includes buses, light rail, the F Line which uses restored historic streetcars, and, of course, the cable cars.

What makes Muni legendary is captured in large part by Muni Diaries. (See side links under “Elsewhere.”) As far as I can tell, this is the only blog about a municipal transportation system that is maintained by a large community of its riders. Like San Francisco itself, the blog can be rambunctious, and I didn’t feature a link to the site when I first discovered it. But such a vibrant, eclectic, articulate ridership proved irresistible. It also made me wonder just how well this mild-mannered Albuquerque boy would do in the big city.

When my wife and I made our initial plans for a trip to Seattle, San Francisco was not in the picture. But as we were planning our return route, Mrs. Busboy suggested we spend a couple of nights and see the sights. I agreed on the condition we not attempt to drive in the city. I will tell you right now this was not a ploy to use the buses, and Mrs. Busboy agreed because she didn’t want either of us trying to drive in San Francisco. That could have been a marriage breaker.

And so we pulled into our motel one afternoon, parked the car, and left it there until we headed southwest two days later. And we saw the sights.

Let me say right here that using Muni to get around and see the sights could not have worked any better. There are three reasons for this success story: 1) Google Maps; 2) my younger son, who showed my wife how to use this amazing app; 3) Muni itself. No matter where we were, we could enter where we wanted to go, tap on the bus icon, and Google Maps gave us four or five options available in the next ten minutes for how to get there.

We started our tourist day by asking how we would get to the de Young Museum at Golden Gate Park. Maps directed us to the 28 at the corner of Laguna and Chestnut -- a half-mile walk (on level ground) from our motel.

When the 28 arrived (less than five minutes after we’d gotten to the stop), just to be sure, I asked the driver if her bus went to Park Presidio Boulevard and Fulton Street. She said it did, and to come on aboard.

I think I may have discovered the primary reason Muni buses sometimes run late: tourists like us asking if this bus goes to ____ and if not, how can they get to _____. There were a lot of us using the bus system and asking questions on our day in the city, and the drivers were remarkably patient and helpful.

So were the riders. On the 28, which was relatively empty when we boarded, a rider wearing an orange SF hat pointed out a building overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and bay, and told us it was originally a Burger King before the Feds kicked them off the hill to make a national park. (You can read one former resident’s memories and account here.)

He also told us he was getting off two stops before ours, and that we should go left after getting off at our stop. When he did get off, he went up front to the driver where we heard this conversation:

“There’s two riders back there that need to know when to get off at Fremont.”

“OK. How’s you’re wife doing?”

The driver let us know when we reached our stop, and reminded us to go left. We reached the museum in less than 10 minutes.

We spent a good two hours in the museum where we saw, among other things, a fine collection of New Mexico pueblo pottery and some examples of pottery we had not seen before, from the Hopi. (The Hopi reservation is in northern Arizona. You can read about the museum’s exhibition here.)

We’d decided to eat lunch in North Beach, the Italian section of the city whose restaurants sounded in several guidebooks much like those in Boston’s North End. We would need two buses to get there.

Continued next week.


Blogger Busboy said...

Just want to share this email response I received from England from my British brother-in-law:

"Nice story and you know what - I believe that I stayed at The Presidio in about 1964 when on a family holiday. My father had access to all the military bases and their visitors quarters and they made a pleasant change from being under canvas. I don't remember a BK but it probably came later or we just didn't know about BK!
I did once insist on designing one of my BKs so that the staff could see the wonderful view across Portsmouth harbour from behind the counter and the customers had to come in from the front. I'm glad to say that it was also a huge commercial success but it wouldn't surprise me if it gets changed around some day to get another 20 seats in."

12:47 PM  

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