Muni Street Theater Bonanza: A Cavalcade of Whimsy and Mayhem, Courtesy of Your Tax Dollars

In the past, MUNI Street Theater has been a chance affair, with bit players and short one-act plays. On Friday, August 25th, however, patrons of the arts were treated to a spectacle of a performance, courtesy of MUNI, the SFPD, Critical Mass, NewMindspace, a Misdirected Set of Priorities, and Irrational Fear. It made for what I had originally believed to be a 20 minute detour out of my way to journal a minor piece of performance art into an epic of Wagnerian proportions.
The opening act was provided by the thousands of enthusiastic Giants Fans who were on their way to see them play at Willie Mays Field. If you got on an inbound you were treated to a sea of Orange and Black as fans took the N to the ballpark and enjoyed the somewhat sunny weather.
However, they were only bit players in the evening’s performance, a chorus of goodwill, as it were. No, the star attraction of Act I was in fact, Critical Mass, aka the Critical Massholes, who partook in their monthly lawbreaking mob, jamming roads with their bicycles in a self-indulgent wave of lawbreaking, as they have done so for years.
A sea of white, self-righteous young people got a SFPD escort (taxpayer funded of course!) and jeered at those of us on the side of the road who wanted to cross. It was disappointing to read the Chronicle’s less than stellar review of Act I, since they gave the Critical Massholes cover with their phony “tribute to Katrina” spin as they broke the law once again.
Which, of course, was hilarious to read, since not one person in that sea of white hipsters had a banner saying “Help New Orleans” or whatever. I guess it’s easier to just ride one’s bike and act like a spoiled child from the ‘burbs, than actually help Katrina victims.

It was also disappointing to read in the review that the SFPD claimed “no complaints” about the lawbreakers. Perhaps the law enforcement officer near us didn’t hear the out-of-town visitors complain about how they were being denied a chance to walk across the street. Maybe they didn’t notice how the Critical Massholes did not bother to get out of the way of an approaching ambulance, with sirens blaring. Strange performances by our players.
The message of Act I was simple – if enough people break the law in San Francisco, the police will give you a pass, and the city will allow you to do what you want, your fellow citizens be damned.
I’d had enough, and as someone who’s seen the Critical Massholes wreck more than a few Friday commutes and Giants games, I decided to engage the enemy on its terms and do some audience participation, Rocky Horror style.
I walked in the crosswalk when the light was green, stopped, waved my hands in the air and said “Look at me! I’m a white guy with a sense of entitlement! Look at me!” and stopped right in the middle of the onslaught of doofuses on wheels, then kept walking. It was a dumb thing to do, but there was no other recourse for myself or others.
Oddly enough, if I did anything serious to try and protest these morons, I’d go to jail courtesy of my tax-funded SFPD. I would love it if at the next Critical Masshole Convergence a group of people would use non-violence to stick it to these people, locking arms and holding a sit-down strike, then see what happens. But that is for another column, and for those better at organizing Street Theater than myself.
Best line, though, goes to the unnamed older gentleman from the City of Brotherly Love who was overheard saying “If these little punks pulled this back home, there’d be some cops to knock the sass outta there mouths.” Amen, brother. But this is San Francisco, where the police escort the lawbreakers, it seems. Critical Massholes can take comfort that no matter how big a pack of jerks they are, no one can stop them.
As stated earlier, this was simply Act I of the evening’s performance, and once it was over it was time for Act II. Like Act I, the SFPD had a prominent role, and they were joined by MUNI Fare Inspectors, some MUNI bureaucrats, and their newest cast members, A Midirected Sense of Priorities and Irrational Fear.
Normally these players would be dispersed throughout Our Fair City, dispensing justice on the behalf of the taxpaying citizens who pay their salaries.
Not tonight. No, they had a higher calling, thanks to a small group of young artists who announced their intention to pay a MUNI fare and celebrate mass transit as they had done in bigger cities, such as New York. This, apparently, was akin to Al-Qaeda attacking our N-Judah, in the eyes of La Policia y El MUNI, and the commandos were out in force, keeping the N safe for something.
The resulting performance by our employees was so absurd, and so stupid, the audience had to laugh, otherwise they’d get rather ticked at the lack of common sense and arrogance of City employees – and how their misplaced priorities endanger us all.
Now, bear in mind, unlike the Critical Massholes, the 12-15 young people who were participating in this form of performance art had no intention of not paying the required MUNI fare or willfully breaking any laws. But MUNI was not taking any chances – they had 3 fare inspectors on one car, 1 for every 5 passengers – to make sure the Youth of America knew they had to pay. They didn’t just get regular fare inspectors – they got the meanest, nastiest, pissed-off-even-though-they’re-getting-overtime fare inspectors in the fleet.
This led to some comical moments, such as the skinhead female fare inspector, who, upon hearing one young person exclaim something loudly, walk over and say in her nastiest, sternest tone MUNI regulations about “disrupting” the ride and how they’d be taken off to jail for breaking such regulations. Ooh, I was so impressed by her performance. Plus, not many women are willing to shave their heads to really “own” the role. Nice.
That did it. I decided to cross the line and engage in some more “audience participation” when I heard this line of bullshit, coming from some skinhead chick who clearly couldn’t pass the police exam, so now she’s hassling a group of kids whose biggest offense was colorful clothing.
I stood up and said “Yes, we should all be mindful of the rules and be respectful. You certainly don’t’ want to be like the drunk that barfed on my shoes, or the smelly deadbeats that didn’t pay their fares the other day, or the meth addicts on the bus. Too bad we didn’t have such tough fare inspectors those times on the N- Judah.”
It didn’t get a reaction from Miss Skinhead. But it had to be said. Someone had to put the stupid bullshit that was being pulled by MUNI in perspective and who better than the nerd in charge of the N-Judah Chronicles.
The SFPD also provided some hilarious moments. Most of the time they sat around in a group, waiting for Something Big To Happen, barking out “homeland security” at the drop of the hat.
Best of all was their thorough search of everyone’s bags – even lunch bags – far more than they usually do. They certainly did their best to look busy when the camera crews were around, but there really was not much to do.
Now, let’s review for a moment the casting: 15 artists under 25 + 1 goofy blogger vs. 6 cops + 3 fare inspectors + 1 MUNI suit. Multiply that by the amount of overtime, the number of actual crimes being committed at that point in time and the number of fare jumpers on MUNI, and you begin to see how this street theater became the Theater of the Absurd.
More importantly, it made me want to retract all the positive statements this blog has made about fare inspectors, and the SFPD because the whole performance by the players was ridiculous – especially when you consider the Critical Massholes were breaking the law and got an escort.
Eventually the leader of the artists decided a strategic retreat and regrouping was in order, thus rendering totally wasted the efforts of the police and the angry skinhead fare inspector. This was a twist in the plot that was unexpected by all. I suggested they take a 30 Stockton and get back on the N downtown. Once it was clear 16 people were headed to use their perfectly good transfers to board the 30-Stockton, SF’s finest heeded the call, and the bus was faithfully escorted by a member of La Policia.
Yes, you read that right. 16 people who’d paid their fares and were riding the Stockton got a police escort. Apparently there was no crime that night, so the SFPD allowed one of their own to stay with the performance until it was over. When we got off at Market St. he did some improv by straddling the sidewalk with his motorbike, and glaring at the MUNI paying customers. Why, oh why, can’t we get him on the 22 or the 6 Parnassus when the junkies are on board?
The performance ended at Act III, when our merry band of artists decided to board an F line historical streetcar and go to the Castro. Frankly, if anywhere would be amenable to such performers, surely it would be there. So the group boarded, made an attempt to use the portable sound system (but didn’t in the end), and finally ended up at the corner of Castro and Market, holding an impromptu dance party, amusing many passers by, and getting some to join in.
It was a lighthearted end to the biggest drama I’d seen in ages in MUNI Street Theater. This one was unlike the others, where we saw malcontents unpunished by the Man for their transgressions, only citizens arrests and the like. It was certainly the longest – I had guessed the group would board, and I’d ride with them on the way home, and get a little missive to post later that evening.
Instead this was a thoughtful and lengthy performance that made you wonder: just what kind of people run MUNI, the SFPD, and the City of San Francisco, that a pack of Crtical Massholes can screw up traffic and get an escort, and 15 under-25 artists get the SWAT team turned on them for doing nothing more disruptive than ride the system legally, en masse, as Giants fans lawfully do?
If anyone with some common sense had simply talked with, not at, the folks legally paying their fares, the angry skinhead fare inspector and her clan could have gone out and been more productive. The SFPD could have ensured domestic tranquility aboard the bus and turned their attention to the waves of alcohol-infused patrons of local bars trying to drive home, or perhaps caught a murderer.
True, the MUNI Street Theater would not have had as much drama, and this entry would not be nearly as long or colorful, but I think our City would be a bit safer.
Meanwhile, I’m putting a lot of people “On Notice,” Colbert-Style because clearly these problems come from the top. Folks, if you can’t discern between real threats and non-threats, you have no business spending our Homeland Security dollars.
Frankly, I wonder if we’re safe at all in San Francisco from a real threat. We certainly don’t prosecute murders in this city. But we are good at wasting time at 4th and King.
Anyway, you’re all “On Notice”:


Special Note: While riding the F-Line, I counted the following transgressions by patrons of the MUNI system:
– The Homeless Drunk Guy with a barely concealed “40” of “OE”, chugging away (who snuck on at the back door)
– The Unmuzzled Dog with Wack-Job Owner
– The Friendly Neighborhood Meth Addict, talking to the window about how he was gonna “party with Tina”
And so on. Too bad our City players didn’t board that train. There woulda been a whole lotta fun for everyone.

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13 Responses to Muni Street Theater Bonanza: A Cavalcade of Whimsy and Mayhem, Courtesy of Your Tax Dollars

  1. Josh Krist says:

    What’s funny is that I know the exact fare inspector you’re talking about, and honestly she seems pretty cool most of the time. I’m surprised she lost her cool, but Lordie knows what kind of pre-ride frenzy the fare inspectors were whipped into. Also, it’s funny that you touched on Critical Mass (partly becuase I became so disgusted with Muni I’ve become a bike rider so have been thinking a lot about the politics/etiquette of non-motorized transportation in this city) because before I became a bike rider I thought Critical Mass was a cool idea (in my mind it was making a statement about the sheer volume, or “mass” of bicyclists) but now that I ride there are enough of us on the main thorougfares where our presence during commute hours is a pretty good statement on the practicality and ease of biking. Now that I ride, I’ve heard enough stories from friends of mine who tell me they don’t like those “damn bicyclists” and when I dig deeper, two reasons for their contempt come out. One, they had a bad experience with Critical Mass–one person I know had her car spit on, others were simply held up in traffic when all they wanted to do was get home after a long week. Two, the way that bicyclists run stop signs pisses off and scares drivers. What it comes down to is that nobody is above common decency or civil discourse. I don’t like cars either, (it doesn’t help that I was dragged by a truck once when I got hit from behind on my motorcycle) but what this city needs–on Muni, from bicyclists, from cars, is the realization that we’re all on this densely packed peninsula together and none of us–people on bicycles, the bums barfing on your shoes, the drivers on cell phones, are entitled to disregard the comfort, safety, and dignity of others. Well, it’s Sunday so that’s my sermon. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  2. hi Josh!
    Thank you for your comments…they are a appreciated.
    I think you raise some points, but for me common sense and a rational assessment of situations is what is missing.
    I don’t hate bicycles or bicyclists as a group – heck my brother rides his bike a lot on the Peninsula and I’d hate it if he got hit by a care. BUT – he also obeys the rules of the road, including stopping at stop signs, which bicyclists in this city do at their own peril given the topography of city roads.
    With regards to the (many) fare inspectors – whatever they were told was bullshit. These folks came to the scene treating paying customers/riders/citizens like criminals assumed guilty before presumed innocent, and frankly, that’s bullshit.
    As we have posted previously we support the role of fare inspectors, but this was not one of those situations where it was necessary to do the hardass bullshit routine. Common sense, including the fact everyoen was HOLDING A FRAKKING TRANSFER IN THEIR HAND should have made them realize they were needed elsewhere. These were NOT those loser anarchists who have caused damage on our mass transit.
    Thanks though for posting and engaging in some dialogue (I mean it, I”m not being sarcastic) – that is one of the duties of this site 🙂

  3. Mark Ballew says:

    Well, now I’m sort of glad I missed out on the MuniParty. Nothing urks me more than law enforcement that over-extend their privledges. This is another clear cut case of the misallocation of resources and political allingments. As the Cron pointed out, the cyclists have a lot of political clout, maybe this would point to why CM has free reign every last Friday of the month?
    On that same note, I’d like to say I’m very much pro-cyclist and the city needs a group to push for more bike lines, lockups, and criminal punishment for stealing bikes. I just wish they wouldn’t abuse their power much like you showed in your Muni Theater.

  4. Eric C. says:

    Thanks for telling the tale so well of our Friday night frivolity! Great post, not to mention the awesome On Notice.
    Have you started traveling with a basketball hoop yet? It’s only a matter of time, you know…

  5. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    It’s too bad you had to bring up that old false canard about Critical Mass blocking ambulances. That tips your hand that you either weren’t really watching, or you just like to make things up to hurl at the riders. I was in that ride and the mass pulled over quite quickly and easily for a fire engine and later an ambulance. Of course, these emergency vehicles were headed the wrong way down the road because all the *cars* were blocking the proper right of way. When was the last time you saw a traffic jam consisting of automobiles move out of its way for an ambulance?
    Critical Mass means different things to different people, but to me the point of CM is to demonstrate that, although 5000 cars headed to the same place would be a disaster, 5000 bicycles pass by without incident in a few minutes. It’s a demonstration of why the bicycle is more suited to city life than the car. And the way the Mass can easily get out of the way of emergency vehicles is one facet of that demonstration.

  6. Barce says:

    Hey Josh,
    I’ve been a fan of the N-Judah Chronicles for quite some time.
    I am a car commuter, N-Judah commuter and Caltrain commuter.
    Your perspective seems a bit too anti-cyclist.
    You write, “But this is San Francisco, where the police escort the lawbreakers, it seems. Critical Massholes can take comfort that no matter how big a pack of jerks they are, no one can stop them.”
    As a pedestrian who has been hit by a car that ran a redlight:
    I think the bigger danger is redlight runners, and cars. I don’t see cyclists as a threat. Each one of them is one more parking space I can have in this city. Many car drivers are law breakers who speed and don’t stop at stop signs. Many car drivers in the Bay Area drive more wrecklessly and dangerously here than on the East Coast.
    Here’s what I’d like to work with folks on:
    1) Better transit
    2) More folks who drive nice like in Maryland. Even during a rush hour with lots of cars, Marylanders give each other space.
    It’s one day a month that these cyclists take to the roads. Shouldn’t we let them have their fun and focus on other issues like car traffic congestion and better transit?

  7. Perhaps in my bid for verbal hyperbole and effect, I’ve come off as anti cyclist and a bit harsher than I really am. So, my apologies to my longtime readers!
    Nothing could be further from the truth.
    I have no problem with bikes, and my brother rides his all the time so of course I don’t want to see anyone get hurt by a car!
    That said, I don’t think to be pro-cyclist (and other mass transit and transit options) one has to be pro Criticial Mass.
    Plus, I think it’s important both cars and bikes observe the rules of the road so everyone can get to their destination safely.
    I have to say, I’m a bit saddened to see so much attention by so many on the issues regarding CM, when in fact the only reason I even brought it up was to contrast it with the treatment by MUNI and the SFPD, which seemed a bit overboard. Did none of the CM defenders get that far down the text?

  8. Mark Ballew says:

    In reference to Jeffery’s comment on blocking emergency vehicles. I’ve participated in CM before, and I’ve seen cyclists block/delay an Ambulence. The last time I recall seeing this was on upper Haight in June.

  9. Mr. Feasor says:

    Mr. J. Baker’s comment requires response.
    My apologies in advance for my candor (a trait which severely lacks here in the City):
    “Of course, these emergency vehicles were headed the wrong way down the road because all the *cars* were blocking the proper right of way.”
    RESPONSE to No. 1 – Could it be that certain said “*cars* were blocking the right of way” because a certain mass of bicyclists were blocking a major City artery and ignoring the traffic signals appurtenant thereto?
    Moreover, even when there is no traffic, emergency vehicles still go against the flow of traffic.
    Talk to the DPT if you have a problem with one way streets. Which you don’t, ’cause you’re on a bike. This means you think you can violate the Vehicle Code and go against traffic whenever you want.
    “When was the last time you saw a traffic jam consisting of automobiles move out of its way for an ambulance?”
    RESPONSE to No. 2 – Every time I hear a siren, whereupon emergency vehicles roll by. More specifically: today.
    I have no problems with cyclists who follow the rules of the road.
    I always look out for them; specifically when I must merge into the bike lane prior to turning onto another street (and yield the cyclist the right of way prior to doing so).
    It’s unfortunate that you seem to think self-righteousness excuses adherence to the law.
    I kindly refer you to subdivision (a) of Section 21200 of the California Vehicle Code:
    “(a) Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle”
    Not to “tip your hand,” but note that the law doesn’t just give you “rights,” it also requires your adherence. Take another look if you don’t believe me.
    Mr. Feasor
    PS: Excellent blog entry, Greg. I’ll get you a shoe-polishing kit if you want me to…I feel your pain.

  10. Mike says:

    My first thought on this post was that the party-goers were guilty of the crime of trying to make a MUNI ride fun! We certainly cannot have that now, can we? The inspectors went way too far in looking for trouble where none was to be found.
    As far as critical mass is concerned, I think it does more harm than good because of the stop sign and red light running. A rude or agressive driver is not going to be more likely to brake for a yellow light after seeing hundreds or thousands of bikes stream through red lights down Market Street on a Friday night. I think a ride where all cyclists took care to obey the signs and lights would be much more effective.
    I do not cycle regularly now, but I used to commute by bike when I lived closer to work. I do most of my SF errands on foot or by MUNI, saving the car for grocery shopping trips. I am well aware of the problems caused by aggressive and especially inattentive drivers in our beloved city.

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  12. mattymatt says:

    Great post. I love bikes, but Critical Mass drives me nuts — for example, the way they refuse to let busses through, forcing bus passengers to roll slowly along at 5 mph. The story about the Muni party is also infurating … maybe someone should organize a party on one of the routes that see lots of REAL disruptions, thereby providing them with opportunities to ticket actual criminals — I know I see a ridiculous amount of fare evasion in Chinatown, for example. It would be fun to throw a party as bait for fare inspectors to come and do their actual job.

  13. mark says:

    Muni raises prices, cuts services…Go Gavin ..strike another pose for the media

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