Before I moved to San Francisco, people warned me of the horrible public transport situation in the city. “It’s nothing like the German transit system. It’s unreliable, inconvenient and, basically, pure evil.” But when a room in the suburbs is all you can afford, you suck it up and just take public transport. ‘Cause honestly, how bad can it be, right? The answer is: Pretty Bad, actually!
After 10 months of taking Muni daily and spending an average of 3 hours each day commuting, I have stories that could fill a book. Here are situations you will encounter sooner or later, when taking Muni:
1. The Train-That-Never-Comes
I usually take the M-train. Someone somewhere must really dislike this specific line. I cannot count how many times I have been waiting at a station for “Outbound: M train in two minutes” only to have two minutes turn into five turn into twenty turn into forty. Mind you, that this change in schedule is immensely spontaneous and so, naturally, the announcement cannot be adjusted. Instead, this lovely voice stubbornly insists that the next “Outbound: M train” will most definitely come “in two minutes”.
It is even worse during unpopular hours, such as weekday afternoons or early Friday nights. When heading downtown, the board often reads: “Inbound: M train in one minute and 47 minutes“….
2. The Let’s-Play-Change-Seats
Sometimes, you might be lucky enough to snatch a seat in a moderately crowded train. Your train leaves the tunnel and continues on its path above ground. Suddenly, an announcement is being made over speakers that stopped working five years ago. What do you do?
A. Stay seated. It’s probably nothing of importance anyways.
B. Leave the train immediately, because who knows what’s gonna happen next.
Right answer is option B. I know, because I have chosen Option A before and got screwed over. Multiple times, actually.
Once, the second part of the train (the one I was sitting in) got disconnected, changed to a different line and rode off into an entirely different direction. I cried a little when I watched the first part of the M ride on homebound without me. On various other occasions, the entire, overcrowded train stopped at a small, random stop, was changed to a different line, thus forcing everyone to sprint out, wait forever for the next train and then fight for a seat in a battle that would upstage Katniss Everdeen by a country mile.
3. The Pushy Person
There is always at least one of those at every station. The train is nearing its stop and people start gathering around the spots they assume the doors to be at. That is the pusher’s moment of glory! He or she will join the waiting bunch in the last second, push their way to the front and, guaranteed, will get the last seat available on that freaking train.
4. The Ignorant Person
There are few golden rules in riding public transport. One of them is very simple: If there is an old, disabled or pregnant person entering a crowded train, you offer them your seat. No matter how much you are dying to stay seated, you suck it up and do it!
Another golden rule is widely disregarded unfortunately. Dear lovely fellow commuters: If the train is crowded and people are pressed against each other and tired and sad because…well, being on a train and all…YOU CANNOT RESERVE AN ENTIRE SEAT FOR YOUR BAG. We are talking bag in singular.
I vividly remember the encounter I once had with a girl my age, who had placed her bag onto the window seat while sitting at the isle.
Me: “Excuse me, would you mind if I sat down?”
Girl: “Can’t you see? The seat is taken!”Me (jokingly): “By whom, your bag?”
Girl: “Erm…yah! Problem?”
Just…you know…be nice. That’s all I am asking. We are all in the same train.
5. The Creep
This is a true story. I was once sitting on the train going home from school. A man sat down in the seat in front of me. After a while, he takes out a little hand mirror and looks at me through it. I was horribly uncomfortable. I could see his eyes stare at me through his stupid mirror, so I looked away and tried to hide my face with my hair. In response, he extended his arm and held his mirror in all different angles, trying to glimpse at me. That was enough. I got up to change seats but, apparently, that was not part of his plan. He jumped up and shouted “Don’t you leave the train, you (insert degrading curse word here).”
I told my friend this story and, a few days later, I had a pink pepper spray in my mail. Thanks Jess, you are a rockstar!
6. The Intimidating One
Another time, I was sitting on the train going home with a mentally disabled person being in the same compartment. He shouted random words every few seconds and tried making conversation with people. After a while, our eyes met for just a brief second, which was long enough for him to get up and sit down next to me. Babbling on and on about random things, he got his face really close to mine and became mad when I told him “Sorry, I’m really tired, I don’t wanna talk.” When I wanted to get off at my stop, he wouldn’t move, forcing me to squeeze past him. Then, he got up and clearly followed me out. I freaked out and started sprinting. Luckily, it wasn’t hard to get rid of him, but it was a very uncomfortable experience nonetheless.
7. The Annoying One
Dear person who is blasting your music through the entire train: NO ONE WANTS TO LISTEN! DO NOT FORCE US TO!
8. The Romantic
Depending on the hour of day, people riding on the train with you can be drunk, homeless, delusional or plain desperate. They seem determined to use the time spent riding to find themselves a date, a girlfriend or sex. Too often have I been in situations like this:
Random Guy: “Pssst.”
Me: confused, looking around.
Random Guy: “Psssst.”
Me: taking off headphones.
Random Guy: “Got a boyfriend?”
Me: “Yeah, sorry.”
Random Guy: “You beautiful. Sure you got a boyfriend? You sure are beautiful!”
Me: “Thanks but yes, I have a boyfriend.”
Random Guy: “Mhmmm gal, you look so fine, I think you should be miiine, ditch ‘dat boy of yoours and get with me off cooourse”
Me: Smiling politely while slowly backing off….
9. The Random One
It was a Sunday afternoon, I was doing a tired ride of shame back to my apartment and didn’t pay attention to my surrounding. After a while though, I noticed a guy from the corner of my eye. I noticed him, because he seemed to keep looking up at me and back down and then up at me again and back down. Once I turned and faced at him, there was no question about what he was doing: He was drawing me! Sitting at the other end of the compartment, he had a sketch blog on his lap and studied me, while seemingly drawing my face. I was extremely confused and just stared right at him, assuming that he would get up and explain himself eventually. Maybe he was an art student or just randomly liked sketching people on trains. Either way, I was waiting for that explanation (and yes, a big part of me was just dying to see his sketch). So, I stared and stared and stared even more when he eventually calmly got up and got off without any further interaction. Somewhere, someone now has a sketch of me. Am I the only one who finds that kinda odd?
10. The Nice One
I am an optimist and so I want to close my list on a positive note. Truth is that Muni is also a good opportunity to get into a conversation with strangers, if only you manage to leave your phone in your bag once in a while. I had an old man tell me about how the city has changed over the decades. I have heard people compliment each other, making each other smile and offering their seats because the other person looked more tired than they were.
I once rode home after a long, exhausting day and noticed that a guy opposite of me was studying me. “Not again one of those”, I thought. Eventually, he came over, smiled at me and said: “Hi! I was just wondering if you are alright, you look like you got a lot on your mind.” This spontaneous, heartfelt, genuine interest in the people that surround you instantaneously made me feel so much better and we ended up having a really nice conversation.
Muni has it all, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It will always seize to surprise you, fail you more epically than you could imagine and yet let you rest assure that it will get you home eventually. Safe and sound. Muni is unique, just like its city and you, too, will get into a love-hate relationship with it eventually. Emphasis on the “hate” though….