Riding Muni with MaryAnn

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another San Francisco story, an essay on how to be

It's so heavy right now, so hard, so hard trying to keep the faith in people, so hard seeing up close the way people are with each other, that every day I'm fighting that urge to constantly reach back to grab a memory, to just pop in my Bobby Brown cassette and then watch it all go away, blast "Every Little Step" and think of him doing the Running Man video. I would have done that before, maybe twenty-five years ago, before I had to grow up and see all this. Now, fuck, now I don't even know where that old white cassette is, and the player has long been disconnected. But I can still grab onto a memory. Of something real, people being real. So what if today I have to go back thirty-five years.

1977-1979. I'm not always late, but this morning I am. There's the rumble of the 31 Balboa leaving the curb, without me on it. I bang on the back side of the bus three times with my right palm without missing a stride because I'm tearing towards the front door. It stops, I get on and say thank you and the driver nods with that gruff look.

I'm not saying that this, me being late and hitting the back of the bus, happened often, maybe once a week was all, and as a high school student at the time, what did you expect? But the drivers stopped, almost all of them, almost all of the time.

No car, no ride, no money, guess it will have to be Muni, the city's bus line and boy is everybody down on it these days, that it's dirty, smelly, crime infested, unsafe, not on time, and packed like sardines. Maybe. But I want to tell you something. That's not the way it always was. Not when these stories took place. Well, maybe the buses themselves were horrible, but the drivers made it worthwhile. Let me take you back.

I'm standing in the middle of the bus, holding my large duffle bag full of school books; it's really crowded today, like it is every day after school. I can't put my finger on exactly what the bus driver keeps looking at, but he's definitely looking at something towards me through his rear view when he's not watching the road. Bus stops, back door opens, there's some commotion at that door and then the bus driver is out the front door in a flash, hustling down the block in the direction towards the back of the bus and we can all see him right outside the windows as he scares the would be thief that just ran out the back of the bus into dropping an elderly lady's purse onto the sidewalk and continues running away. The bus driver gets back on the bus and hands the purse back to the lady, like it's just another day driving his bus, just another day west bound along Turk Street, from Western Addition towards the Richmond District and Ocean Beach, passing along the Housing Projects we called the Pink Palace.

There are bad memories too. Every city kid riding the bus then has bad memories of the Muni, all the fights and near fights, the overall tension. Trust me. As a grown-up, I've spoken to other locals, including those I never knew before. Many similarities, things we've seen. Those were the times. But what's unforgettable? What's still staying strong? For me, a little, favorite moment.

My favorite moment on the bus was with MaryAnn. She went to the all-girls high school right across the street from my all-boys high school. We were never close but we were friends that had known each other for a long time, having gone to first through eighth grade together; actually, I think we were even in the same kindergarten class. In eighth grade, I sat behind her in home room and that's when we got closer because I was her confidant. She could tell me everything and knew it would never get past me, and that nothing she said to me would be judged or seemed too wild or scandalous, even though besides being pretty, she could be pretty wild and scandalous for a thirteen, fourteen year old at that time, at least relative to our school, smoking weed, carrying it on her in class, that kind of thing. We were never sweet on each other. She was way out of my league, like grown up while I was just a kid. She was on the naughty side while I was straight as an arrow, but that may be a whole bunch of other stories; let's just say it may not be what you think. I had no fear of being a bad kid; it's just that I had older relatives and friends that went way 1970's bonkers on drugs and crime and it didn't look so fun close up.

But that was K-8th grade and I never got to see her in high school, until this one time, when we were maybe ending our freshman year, and there we were waiting for the 31 Balboa. She got me caught up on some of our junior high school classmates, the ones that she still saw now because they went to her high school, two in particular, how they were still silly and as close as they were in junior high, still like two peas in a pod. Standing together at the bus stop, just the two of us, under the blue sky that warm, late afternoon, we just continued where we left off; I was once again sitting right behind her in eighth grade and she was just talking to me about anything and everything. When we got on the bus it was really crowded so we walked towards the back and I made sure she got the last seat, on our right. She sat down, and as I was standing beside her holding my duffle bag with one hand and the bar above with my other hand, she did the sweetest thing, like it was nothing, just natural for her; she smiled and pointed at my duffle bag full of books and she put her hands out. I gave it to her and she carried it for me on her lap. That's so city, city charm. In the city, you get bus ride memories. Every so often you get one as a boy thinking about a girl, feeling, she's going to make someone really happy one day.


Created: Mar 03, 2014


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