Noe Valley Voice March 1998

Brief Encounters On the Muni

By Florence Holub

Since the day my beautiful white 1968 Mustang was stolen 10 years ago, I have been happy with my decision to give up driving. Except for a brief surge of pain every time I see a passing Mustang, I harbor no regrets. In fact, I am almost grateful to the thief when I recall the expenses and demands of driving!

As a driver, I did not enjoy devoting all my senses to coping with the rules and dangers of the road -- depriving me of any opportunity to appreciate the passing scenery. And like most San Franciscans, I was frustrated by the constant hunt for a parking space.

Fortunately my man Leo has a car, and we have a one-car garage to put it in. So I have no reason to encumber myself with another gas guzzler, especially when I have good public transportation close at hand.

One morning while I waited for the
J-Church streetcar, a young man in a hurry asked me about the J's timetable. We began to chat, and he told me that he worked and lived downtown but did not have a garage for his truck. To solve this problem, he parked the truck in Noe Valley and then came back to move it on street-sweeping days. In my opinion, this is one more example of the aggravations of car ownership -- to yourself and to others!

Generally, there is no more than a 15-minute wait for Muni. Even so, people will often strike up a conversation by asking, "Have you been waiting long?"

One afternoon as I approached the bus stop, a lady informed me that we had just missed the 48-Quintara. We passed the time with a pleasant chat, during which she mentioned that she was taking the bus up the hill in order to deliver the Noe Valley Voice to a friend. I remarked that I, too, hand-delivered the Voice -- a dozen or so copies a month -- to friends who had responded so favorably that I felt moved to continue my "paper route" indefinitely.

On another day at the same bus stop, a tiny lady sat down next to me and immediately began to stare at my hat. Then she spoke up, saying she would like to find a wool beret just like mine for these cold days. I told her I had bought the hat 20 years earlier, at the long-gone Sears at Geary and Masonic, then added that I wouldn't mind finding another beret myself, before the old one had to be retired. We talked of many things, and before our conversation ended, I learned that she had been born in Burma! This is one of the joys of Muni -- observing the faces and accents of people from faraway places.

Later that day, as I waited for the 24-Divisadero at the corner of Castro and 24th streets, I happened to glance in the window of the corner store. Lo and behold, there stood a mannequin wearing my black beret. I dashed into the store, bought it, and learned that they carried a good stock in a variety of colors. So if my friend from Burma is reading this, take heed -- your beret awaits you at Cotton Basics, 1301 Castro St.

Speaking of clothing, one afternoon I observed a young lady on the Castro bus who was attired in a stunning outfit. Over a black turtleneck and slacks she had on an elegant sleeveless jacket made of burnt-orange, long-haired angora. It was so attractive that I did not forget it.

Months later, while shopping at a fabric store, I spotted a bolt of fake orange fur similar to the angora but lacking the refinement. It was coarser, heavier, and, I feared, perhaps a little ridiculous. But I bought two yards anyway! Within a few days I had sewn up a long vest that was practical as well as fashionable -- in rainy weather, I felt sure those long synthetic fibers would shed water like a duck's feathers.

The coat has brought me much good-natured attention. Without fail, whenever I wear it, some grinning person calls out "Great coat!" or "Like your coat!" Once I was standing in line at the grocery store when the man in front of me turned around, got a puzzled look on his face, and asked what kind of fur I was wearing. I explained that although it was fake, I would guess it bore a faint resemblance to an orangutan.

...Or perhaps some other beast. One time, a little boy on the J-line -- who had been peering out the window, pointing and calling out the names of every bus he saw -- took one look at my coat and promptly forgot all about the buses. "Bear!" he cried out, pointing his finger straight at me. As I got off at the next stop, I gave the lad a friendly "Grrrrrr!"

The only other mildly impertinent remark was made by an acquaintance who, upon seeing my coat for the first time, said, "If I had a gun, I'd shoot you!"

I enjoy watching the many ways Muni riders make use of their travel time. Some catch up on their reading, others do the morning paper's crossword puzzle, a few close their eyes -- perhaps meditating before embarking upon a hectic day at the office. As you can see, I tend to prefer observing or conversing with fellow passengers.

One morning a pretty young woman came aboard toting a large, cumbersome portfolio, which she slipped into the space between her feet and my seat. I asked her if she was an artist. She replied that she was new to Noe Valley, having come recently from Illinois, and was taking some samples of her work to a job interview at an architect's office. A young man across the aisle overheard us talking and chimed in to say that he also came from Illinois. In no time, the two were comparing notes.

When they got off the bus together, still conversing, I could not help but imagine that this might be the start of a meaningful relationship.

In my Muni travels, I have also come to an important conclusion about teenagers: They are getting worse coverage in the media than they deserve! One recent weekday afternoon, I was sitting in the rear section of the J-car when a bunch of big, noisy high school students poured in at Dolores Park, packing the aisles so solidly that I wondered how I would ever get off at my stop a few blocks away. Hoping for the best, however, I stood up and said, "Pardon me," as we neared my street. Surprisingly, the mass of bodies quietly parted, leaving a space just wide enough for me to pass through.

Another time, when I reached my transfer point at Portola Drive near Tower Market, a group of McAteer High School students was already lined up ahead of me, waiting to board the 48. Glumly, I envisioned having to wait for the next bus while standing in the spot that always gets a full blast of wind from the ocean. But when the bus arrived, I heard a young man yell, "Hey, you guys, make way for the old lady!"

And they did! Everyone stepped aside. They even made sure that I got one of the seats reserved for seniors, near the driver.

People here complain about the bus system. But one has only to live in the suburbs, as Leo and I did for a while in the late '40s, to fully appreciate the efficiency and dependability of the San Francisco Municipal Railway. As the tiny lady from Burma reminded me, "We live in the best place in the world."

Of course we do!