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Summer of Muni: Meltdowns on the bus

A San Francisco dad and his two kids will attempt to ride every Muni line—from terminus to terminus—this summer

Lands End.
Photos by Mc Allen

Inspired by San Francisco Chronicle journalists Peter Hartlaub and Heather Knight, who embarked on a the entirety of Muni in a single day, one father and his two kids will ride every Muni line from end to end until the school year starts.

82X-Levi’s Express

We started the week jumping aboard the 82X-Levi’s Express—the city’s only line with a brand name attached—which departs from the Caltrain station in SoMa and skirts along the Embarcadero to Rincon Park, then heads west into the East Cut and then through the Financial District and to Levi’s Plaza. Getting off the bus at Levi’s Plaza, we found a pair of bus shelters clearly neither built nor maintained by SFMTA. Large glass cylinders with ample bench space and an attractive and functional glass roof, the Levi’s structures by far set the benchmark for best bus shelter in San Francisco.

Levi’s Plaza bus stop.

My kids and I explored the lawns, gardens, and other landscaping of Levi’s Plaza until a private security guard booted us out for climbing over parts of the fountains. Oops.

Undeterred, my kids shifted their playful rambling to the sidewalks and retaining walls of Battery Street as we made our way toward Bay and Embarcadero. Along the way we passed the ghost bike dedicated to Kevin Manning, the pedicab operator who was killed by a driver in June.

8-Bayshore

Once we arrived at Bay Street, we waited in a decidedly less stylish Muni shelter for the 8-Bayshore. Though we were the only ones to board at the first stop, our bus quickly filled up until it could fit no more. Our 60-foot-long articulated coach was carrying what felt like a couple hundred passengers when it climbed the ramp onto the freeway. I reflected on how many cars these same passengers might be occupying were it not for the bus, and in my estimation, it would’ve been at least two full light cycles worth.

My kids and I tried to help ease the crowding by tripling up in our seat, but the crush of people turned sparked an argument between two stressed passengers who each felt the other was taking an unfair share of space. Concerned the altercation would escalate, I could think of few spots worse for a Muni fight to go down than rush hour on 101. But the dust-up ended as soon as it began.

81X-Caltrain Express

The following morning we boarded the 81X-Caltrain Express, and watched from our seats as several people sprinted from the Caltrain platform to our idling bus. I suppose these runners have been left behind before. The bus plows up Third Street and crosses Market Street. At Kearny and Sutter nearly everyone got off, leaving my kids and I to complete the final eight blocks to the Transbay Terminal in blissful transit solitude.

2-Clement

From there we took the 2-Clement to the Richmond District. In general, my kids get along with well and enjoy each other’s company. Most of the time. Unfortunately, this ride turned out to be the least fun my kids have had on a bus this summer. The two put on a master class in being cranky, arguing with each other, arguing with me, and making it impossible to have a conversation. I barely managed to keep the kids from melting down.

San Francisco’s Internet Archive building.

Things improved from there after getting off the bus. We stopped at the glorious home of the Internet Archive, an excellent Greek Revival building the organization purchased because it matched their logo, according to an interview founder Brewster Kahle gave to the New Yorker. We were allowed to use their restroom, though it really isn’t meant for the public. (In retrospect, I realized that both kids needing the toilet could easily explain the rough ride we experienced.)

31-Balboa

Our next ride, on the 31-Balboa, was the opposite of the dreadful 2-Clement haul: a pleasant ride for me and the kids. Shortly after our bus left the terminal, the trolley poles came off the overhead wires, and an F Market operator, rocking an old-style conductor’s hat came to our aid.

From there we made the long trip west into the fog, eventually arriving at Playland at the Bus Terminal, a cluster of perforated steel images called “Playland Revisited” by the artist Ray Beldner. It’s a little monument/memorial to Playland at the Beach, an erstwhile amusement park remembered fondly by generations of San Franciscans.

Ocean Beach Safeway’s exterior cutout remembering Playland.

We popped into the Ocean Beach Safeway, which also has a little mural recognizing the history of the site. The small historical touch made me think that every San Francisco Safeway should mark what came before the mega-chain grocery store. For example, the Potrero Safeway should have a Seals Stadium mural. And so on.

Fortified with jelly beans, which give children an added boost, we climbed up the sand-strewn wooden stairs to Lands End near 48th and Cabrillo. After exploring, we boarded the 38R at Point Lobos, the last unfinished bit of that line, allowing us to cross off our sixth route of the week.