Excerpt for The Trolleybus of Happy Destiny by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Trolleybus of Happy Destiny


Douglas Meriwether

Driver Doug’

Smashwords Edition

Copyright: © Douglas Meriwether 2018

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The author of this book does not dispense medical advice or prescribe the use of any technique as a form of treatment for physical, emotional, or medical problems without the advice of a physician, either directly or indirectly. The intent of the author is only to offer information of a general nature to help you in your quest for emotional and spiritual well- being. In the event you use any of the information in this book for yourself, which is your constitutional right, the author and the publisher assume no responsibility for your actions.

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery: Thinkstock.

Books by Douglas Meriwether

The Dao of Doug: The Art of Driving a Bus OR Finding Zen in San Francisco Transit: A Bus Driver’s Perspective

The Dao of Doug 2: the Art of Driving a Bus: Keeping Zen in San Francisco Transit: a Line Trainer's Guide

The Trolleybus of Happy Destiny

Contact at:


To all those who take mass transit on a regular basis, those who have encouraged me to write my story, and the hundreds of family and friends who know someone who drives a bus for a living.

Table of Contents

Alpha Dog

Rider Alert

The Squeaky Wheel

A Rose by any Name

Tree Trimming

Tree Trimming - Poem

Great Expectations

Summertime in the City

Kitty Corner

One-Armed Bandit

Past Half Way

The Sisters of Charity

Sakude !

Retarder Control

Bus Bunching

Pass on the Left

Tagging the Coach

Drug Roll

Flu Shot

The Complaint Department

Leading Green

Quid Pro Quo

Driverless Cars

Night Park

Safe than Sorry (Be Ready to Move)

Safe than Sorry (Friday the 13th)

Pudding Pants

Transmitter Ball

Twenty Questions

Ferry Plaza

The Weird Curve

The Fulton 500

Let it Settle

Scuff Left

Game Boy

Timed Transfers

The New Fare Box

The New Radio System

Helter-Skelter Shelter: Rear Door Boarding

Powerless on Post

Taxi Patterns

Hitting Hard

Water Truck


Recycling Day on the Bus

Muni Bathrooms

Compulsive Honking Syndrome

Lane Closed

Gate Hopper

Stop Request: Old Dog, New Tricks

Behind the Yellow Line


Blind Spot

Vision Zero

SF Railway Museum & Gift Shop

Alamo Square


Why be a Driver?

End of the Line

About the Author

Other books by Douglas Meriwether

Alpha Dog

People watching is the greatest job benefit of being a transit operator in the Bagdad-by-the-Bay. Friends and family always ask about the great benefits a civil service worker must have in being a government employee. I usually mention the post office as having the best, defined contribution plan or pension. But in the day-to-day flow of ants moving to and from the anthill that are the skyscrapers built on the bones of boats in the bay downtown, it isn’t a column of numbers in the year-to-date tab on a paycheck that is a job perk in being a bus driver over and in the arteries flowing from the heart of San Francisco that make for daily job benefits behind the wheel. The benefit is not being stuck inside an office. It is feeling as though you are on the outside. And yet when the fog is freezing the bones, the wind is whipping through your layers, the bus is like a shelter from the elements. To comfort those at the mercy of the weather, it becomes important to stop close to the alpha dog in the queue on the sidewalk, so all can enter the bus as soon possible, without blockage at the gate.

Visitors are easy to spot as the alpha dog always holds all the transit passports in their hand for the group. They usually follow at the end of the queue. When a large family passes by the fare box without paying, the alpha comes up the steps at the end with the fares. Sometimes, a large group passes, and there is no alpha with no fare! To keep my ambassador role as a representative of the city, I don’t say anything. When I do, they usually have their fare, buried in the back of their backpack. This is another example of how we fail the city. No one assumes responsibility to inform visitors on how to ride, where to stand, or how to validate their pass.

A fare only becomes valid once the month and the day or days are scratched off on the passport sheet, which is not unlike a lottery scratcher ticket. Fortunately, the 21 Hayes is a great bus line, which permits the time to teach visitors. Other arterial lines are not such. Rear door boarding is allowed and little time for conversation is allowed between the rider and the driver. Crosstown buses are best for enlightenment and understanding.

Many times the person asking the questions is in front, and the ticket holder is at the rear. I can usually tell who they are. If they are asking a question I don’t understand, I ask them where they are going. If they can’t answer this, I then switch over to intuitive mode and say yes and ask them to step up. When this fails, I beckon them with my hand.

When this fails, it is because I have put too much expectation and hesitation in my voice, and I have to let it go. A simple nod is all I need. Then, if it turns out they are going the wrong way, there is usually a better transfer point down the line that will get them on the right bus with less confusion. I need to remember when I was new to the city and I did not know inbound from outbound because tall hills or the fog, make it impossible to know which way is downtown or east v. west.

Talking to just one person, the alpha dog as Zen Master, best to keep the herd in line!

Rider Alert

Nothing is more disconcerting than seeing people waiting for a streetcar that isn’t coming. Especially in the afternoon when the fog is rolling in and visitors are caught in shorts and without a jacket. If you plan to visit San Francisco between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, prepare for early spring-winter conditions. Even though century mark temps are only a few miles away from San Fran’s city limits, maritime conditions prevail in the city. Mark Twain’s phrase, “The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” applies to July and August in the city. If you are dying of the heat back east and in our Central Valley, then do come and enjoy our natural air-conditioning! I am familiar with the challenge of packing in hot weather back home, going to ‘sunny’ California, but not here between the ocean and the bay in the late summer.

When I do the 21 Hayes, I travel down Market Street and see all the tourists waiting for the streetcar to take them to Fisherman’s Wharf. They pack in to the cars like sardines and creep towards the Ferry Plaza. Little do they know, they can take any bus or trolley down the street to Kearny and take an 8 to Chinatown, Coit Tower, and then Pier 39. The 19 Polk at Hyde on Market is a great way to start site seeing at Aquatic Park at the end of Van Ness.

Any disruption on the rails can block the track and cause a large queue of intending passengers on the islands on Market Street, particularly at Fifth, Fourth, and Main. It is at these times it pays to take a 6, 21, or 31 to Ferry Plaza and transfer to the ‘E’ Embarcadero streetcar. An 8X crossing Market at Third to Kearny is a great crosstown ‘shuttle’ to pier 39 and helps to clear the islands and get you moving to have fun.

The SFMTA posts Rider Alert signs in red and white, or orange, to let you know when stops and streets are closed to traffic. Its important to notice these a day or two before an event. Indeed, many who find a never again attitude about transit is because of a lack of communication about rider alerts. This is where an Amber alert type message can and should be adapted to our smart phones and with GPS technology developed by Tech and driverless car coding. 

Rather than stymie new creative GPS tech, Muni should work with Tech community to track not only their own ride share cars, but with buses. This would open up bus stops to ride share pickups when no buses are arriving or departing. Minutes go by where it is safe to use a bus zone, and this priceless curbside real estate can be easily shared with GPS tech. So too, could the large tour bus shuttles also be included with this zone sharing. The key here is transit is being looked at as a unified body of vehicles, not separate entities fighting and blocking each other. Geo-fencing is a great aspect to deny boarding in certain critical choke points.

As a governmental body, our transit department just had another resignation, and now brings the vacant manager positions to eight. Coordination is lost. Creative new ideas are vacant because self-preservation mode is on, and no bigger picture can be established, much less horizon goals of integration as a whole.

Eventually, Rider Alerts could be all done electronically from an application rather than to have to manually park a vehicle and go out and attach a laminated alert sign to a bus shelter. The labor to then go ahead and remove all the signs would be a thing of the past: remember, with a sense of community, anyone lacking a smart phone could be instructed by those nearby who do have a transit app on their phones. I ask all the time when I am at a shelter with others who are on their phones.

When Rider Alerts, Next Bus arriving times, and trip template suggestions all match to real time GPS and bus timetables. Interactive GPS system can suggest changes to avoid congestion and blocking at transit stops. This is really an exciting time to be in a manager position to integrate stoplights, trip tracking, and headway adjustments between Ride shares, driverless tech, and transit schedules. Transit Metro Control (TMC) need not be in the dark about conditions and buses. It can see what Rideshare customers see, inclusive of buses, including the Silicon Valley shuttles.

Being in the Zen means asking others about Rider Alerts and Next Bus arriving times when I am without the phone or application to be in the know. The same goes for tourists on the islands waiting to go to the Wharf!

The Squeaky Wheel

Gets the grease, as the saying goes. Most of us doubt we can make a difference. In rare instances, however, one person can affect change on a large scale. In the following four cases, one change is created by one passenger being persistent, and another by using political capital as Mayor, to meet his own need. The other two examples are rare cases when city Supervisors step-in to make transit change. More often than not, nothing happens.

Our new trolleys have a redesigned seating area in the front of the bus. Seating bays for wheelchairs appear more prominent, and there is a padded paddle with a drop down handhold allowing for placing a leg in an outstretched position without blocking the aisle risking a hit from a passing passenger. A passenger can stand erect without sitting, and be protected from getting hit in the aisle. I have asked passengers and operators if they have ever used or seen anyone use this device. No one has.

But I know who got this piece of equipment added. She also did it without any call to engineers, capital equipment procurement, planning or project management! She persistently made a passenger service request over and over and over every time she boarded a crowded 14 Mission bus, usually in the crunch zone at 13th Street, and was unable to rest her leg in an outstretched position by the flip-up seats. Log after log, statistic after statistic, her call volume, over time, made it appear that this was a necessary seat mobility adjustment needed to be made to the flip-up seat area. I was able to contain her anger most of the time, but I had to get her off my bus once by threatening to call the police! She had become so angry she would threaten a wheel chair user in the pop-up area.

Placing this leg pad on all new trolleys shows how just one person can affect a multi-million dollar order for equipment by persistence and perseverance. This pad is used as a seat back when facing the rear of the coach in a walker with seatback, or someone who cannot sit because a leg is immobile, and one woman single-handedly got what she needed on a large new order of Flyer trolleys from Canada. Wow!

The number 3 Jackson was to be eliminated without a hearing, and the battle cry went out. The riders along Jackson Street made sure SFMTA kept the line. This is a good example where residents along a line can fight city hall and win. All it took was to point out that procedure was sidestepped by making a route “change” without citizen input. In this extremely rare case, city representation worked to prevent the cut.

The other example is from our esteemed mayor, Willie Brown, who would continually get passed up at the Stockton tunnel into Chinatown by the 30 Stockton bus. I almost passed him up twice, but when I saw he was waiting, I picked him up. After all, he was responsible for me getting hired when he was elected, and then by having a city job fair at the Moscone Center in 1996! The least I could do was honor his commitment to Muni by picking him up! 

Truth be told, in almost every case, even though it does not look like we have enough room to pickup anyone else because our bus is full, the miracle is, somehow, some way, you guys can fit in up the rear steps and we can roll!

Anyway, to topic: Willie Brown’s pass-ups at the tunnel created the impetus to build the Central Subway. This is a stellar example of why politicians, such as city supervisors, should ride on the SFMTA: it becomes obvious we need help!

The 24 Divisadero got appropriate overhead utility poles that do not detract from the neighborhood because Supervisor Tom Ammiano rode the 24 on a regular basis and was in the right place politically to get it done. We seldom dewire or have any overhead problems on this residential stretch because of adequate structure and grace added correctly based on responsive feedback from those living and using the system.

Approaching Zen on a bus line can be affected through political capital and by calling in on a transit: Decisions were based on users, not by those removed from taking the bus on a daily basis!

A Rose by any Name

One of the subtle aspects of joy about being a transit operator are the many people we see on a regular basis. We may never talk to them or get to know their name. They inadvertently become a part of my friends and acquaintance list, even though I have no written list, or could I tell you of what would qualify you to get on it. After about three ‘visits’ or if I catch you twice in one day as I pass by your routine more than once, you may be unconsciously put on the list. 

At the 33 terminal on weekends, I would see a nice lady tending roses behind a narrow fenced yard between a house and the sidewalk along our terminal. These rose bushes were mature as they had a thick trunk and looked like they had been pruned many times over the years. She wore a scarf and gloves as she tended to her rose garden. My thoughts turned to my grandma and her sister and the gardening techniques my mom taught me as I paused during my day at this bus terminal. Gardening was one joyful gift my mom taught me as we worked together in a rare moment.

Then, working one weekend assigned to the 33, which I hadn’t signed on to for several years, I noticed weeds and grasses had grown up taller than the rose bushes, and it looked like the yard had not been groomed at all in this growing season. I was overcome with sadness for my grandma passing, and was sure the unkempt garden was a sign that she too, had passed.

A few weeks later, when I did the 33 on OT for a Sunday, the garden was completely gone: no weeds, but no roses either. I wistfully departed, wondering if anyone knew the story of what happened to the garden. There was a big raccoon who would stare back at me from the fence line when the garden was in full swing. I would pass by after dark, in the wee hours before pull-in, but he wouldn’t talk to me, and I never saw him or her again.

Losing the Zen Garden of Roses was a sad day on the 33 Ashbury. 

Tree Trimming

Of all the calls I make to TMC, (Transit Metro Control), none is more gratifying than seeing the response to a tree trimming request. Homeowners are required to trim the trees in front of their home or business, but this has created some disparity in when limbs and leaves get cut away from our overhead wires. The decision to make property owners responsible for tree trimming has created a dead-beat culture that makes for a disparity of time of when a tree gets its branches cut away from our traveling wires. Fortunately, our overhead crew responds quickly, and they cut down limbs effectively, any complaints from the landlord or tenants about the manner of tree cutting, falls on deaf ears when ‘life and limb’ is made under a public safety action. Fortunately our crew does a good pruning job so as to not distort the tree’s canopy. Even so, trees are forced to grow in a way that is somewhat unnatural, as they cannot overhang our wires.

If a building on a corner has doors that open onto two different streets, and only one address is used for the mail, the owner can discount the tree by the door that is not officially recognized as a mail stop and say that the address does not exist, and hence not their responsibility to pay for tree trimming by the unused entrance.

The delay in maintenance we renters face in our older rent controlled buildings is astonishing. This is matched only by our denial or hesitancy to report or call in a problem to the owner via a building manager. Hence, most repairs come in the nature of an emergency. This can be disruptive, especially regarding water leaks and electrical hazard, and elevator repair. So much of our maintenance culture has shifted to an emergency case only.

The only thing more shocking is the cost of a rent increase in a vacant unit. Some say that doing away with rent control would bring down rents overall, but most of us don’t believe it in a second. As long as a shortage of housing exists, rent control at least keeps some of us in a stable or more realistic budget to survive in San Francisco. If an exodus of population occurs, such as what happened in 1999, in what we call the dot com bomb, large leaseholders just keep units vacant so as to keep rents up, to wait out the cycle until the next boom. This city has a history of boom and bust, and the siphoning swindle of taking cash from unsuspecting newcomers or visitors. So too goes the escape from responsibility with tree trimming. 

Transit Metro Control no longer asks us for an address for a tree trim request, as the mandatory owner responsibility law for tree trimming can create more problems in a lack of action necessary for safety. When my poles come down from a tree, I do get results very quickly now that the law seems to be off the books, at least unofficially: This is how most city departments work. We can only guess what the current modus operandi is, with or without a law on or off the books! On and off changes baffle even the best of us with what the current Standard Operating Procedure is in play.

The one good thing about major street construction, when pipes for a sewer or water line upgrade occurs, are that trolleys are moved temporarily to a curb lane and all the overhanging branches get cut down. I guess this is because eminent domain and public safety are much more obvious to point, hence the fear of litigation remains close to zero. A huge overhanging limb on Hayes was finally cut down because pipeline installation is on the way. Other smaller tree limbs have been cut so we can travel in the curb lane without threat from tree limbs. 

Indeed, as any bobtail delivery or pickup driver can attest, trees on the curb get damaged or cause damage when attempting to park properly by the curb. The fear of tree and vehicle damage make for a double park situation that cuts off free travel in a lane. Tree trimming helps all large vehicle drivers great and small; including trolleybuses, because our poles fall off of the wires when the tap the branches, especially after a heavy rain when the limbs droop lower, laden with water.

A branch from a gum tree inadvertently fell in front of my trolleybus by the corner Walgreens at O’Farrell and Divisadero. Luckily, no one was hurt, and I saw it in time to stop nearside at O’Farrell and call it in. Just a few moments later, a cyclist was hit up the street in the other direction so the line was blocked. Because of this delay with the tree branch, I was put out of harms’ way from the distracted cyclist that got knocked off his bike by another bus. I felt a wonderful feeling of Providence as the tree protected me from harm, from another accident. My gratitude for the shade they provide is immense, and I felt as though this love came back to me by this gum tree.

The Fire Department came in ten minutes to direct traffic, and our Overhead Crew arrived in 15. I love it when passengers and bystanders marvel at how fast our city responds to an emergency. In less than half an hour, I was on my way, with all the branches cut down and cleared to the curb. 

A poem follows about our median trees making way for the BRT on Van Ness. I am not saying cutting them down was bad; I am just thanking them for their existence on a hot summer day. I also thank the Friends of the Urban Forest for planting new ones, and can’t wait to pitch in when I have more time when I retire. Hah.

Being in the Zen in transit means the overhead crew has trimmed branches, or we get an immediate response when we make a call after dewiring!

Tree Trimming Poem

Van Ness BRT Median

Published on February 11, 2017 - LinkedIn

Douglas Griggs

Transit Operator at SFMTA

Thanks for your service,
In the Middle:
Noticed very little,
By the by,
Many in the Cars,
The Trucks, the Buses,
Have passed you on the way:
To Bars
And you stood quietly,
Giving us fresh air,
As we didn’t seem to care,
Now that you are bare,
More aware,
Of your trunks, and your twisted
Your swaying branches and course,
A lone man takes a photo,
And gives a hug.
It’s Driver Doug!
And he won’t forget that hot,
July in stopped traffic,
Where he did stop
Under your shadows’ shade;
A Glade! A Glad,
Preventing another Radiator,
Go. Go. Go.
And wave goodbye.

Great Expectations

I pick up a runner crossing from the far-side corner after I turn the corner and wait for him to come to the rear door as I toggle the rear door open toggle. A little boy with tears in his eyes giving the constant low moaning wail of not getting something he wants, lights up and goes quiet when I hand him a transfer for being a big boy. A late boarder slips in a dollar and takes a transfer from the top of the fare box and moves back down the aisle without showing the discount card. Sounds like a commendation on the way for being an expert operator, right?

Fat chance. In fact, these actions may work against me in the long run, especially with my coworkers. The common thread in these three examples, and many such others is this: I am creating Great Expectations. The most cunning baffling and powerful demon facing a transit operator within this city by the bay are unrealistic expectations from the service provided by the SFMTA.

Allowing large tour buses to use our bus zone for pickup for a dollar a day is an unrealistic expectation from our elected leaders about the value and worth of this curb space real estate, and keeping the city bus running on time. Not reading the head-sign of our coach and asking questions after boarding and passing the yellow line create distraction and delay that need not be if the questions were asked in the zone while waiting. Texting on a phone or wearing ear buds cuts off this important connection between riders. All of this has a theme: a lack of willingness, coupled with Great Expectations, leads to failure of service.

Summertime in the City

The inability to see or read the head sign of a bus, or to know where to stand based upon stalled traffic or double-parked vehicles notwithstanding, one detail that usually does not escape notice in our fair city is when our air temperature is not fair. The afternoon fog moves in, the temperature drops and those who do not live here become obvious to even the denizens of sidewalk cracks, the suits leaving a tower of high finance, and unfortunately, the thieves and pickpockets looking for a quick take. 

As I drive my bus past the humanity walking by, I point out to visitors on board my bus how we spot tourists instantly. They are curious as to how I know they are not residents of our city when I pick them up. True, the ability to read others becomes fine tuned within our senses as the years add up behind the wheel, but it can also be much simpler. We key in on what you are wearing.

If an entire family is wearing brand new hoodies and sweat tops with Alcatraz images, it is obvious the ferry ride over to the famous prison island caught them unawares of how cold our sea breeze hits the skin. Especially true when traveling the rails of a boat over the bay or waiting for a bus on a hill.

The current gold rush becomes apparent. The gold is not in the hills at Sutter’s Mill. The gold is found by selling hoodies and sweatshirts to tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf, or out of a blanket atop Twin Peaks. It can even be mined from a handbag held sidesaddle with a wide-open top or side pocket.

Not limited to the wharf, other places, such as tour bus vista stops, also become a bazaar for clothing sales. In order to bypass permits, vendors have all the shirts and gear laying on large blankets and sheets. If the spotter sees police cars coming up the hill on the road below, they quickly wrap the garments in the blanket and throw them over the rail. The clothing becomes invisible to the police in the patrol car when it passes by the vista point area.

Most crime occurs because the police never exit their vehicle. Beat patrols are always requested, but hard to fill. I argue with others, it is not more cops we need, but pavement pounders on the beat. We are not a car culture city. Our streets have not changed when it comes to foot traffic. In fact, more people are walking than ever before. This is one reason we become slender after living here for a few years.

July is the number one month for visitors: Central Valley residents beating the heat, Europeans using their generous vacation time, and the occasional and rare Midwesterner’s family visiting a young family member just moved into the city. It’s fun to watch a new city resident train their family on how to pay the fare and ride the bus. I really have to watch my self to make sure I don’t go overboard on being a driver guide instead of a city transit operator, but it makes for a fun ride.

Great places for selfies and shots with friends are the Hearts of San Francisco on the corners of Union Square. Alamo Square by the Painted Ladies has landscaping of new trees and freshly sodded green grass. New plumbing for sprinklers and a bathroom have also been upgraded. The Victorian beauties abound around the four blocks, and look great as a backdrop for a picture. 

I like to point out the four different styles of the turn-of-the-century architecture, and to see where a house lost a complete story in the ‘06 earthquake. In some cases, the cupola, lost its original windowpanes, and is replaced by conventional flat window sashes. Often, a newer house stands to point to a fire in the past where an old house didn’t survive with its’ neighbors. Our city history is chock full of these old hotspots. Not so with the afternoon temperatures in July!

If you want to cool off on a vacation in July, San Francisco is the place to be!

Kitty Corner

“Is this the way to Powell Station?” intenders ask as I open the door. I tell them they need to take the bus in the other direction. This question gets asked often at Steiner and Hayes across from the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square. They have arrived at the park from the crosstown 22 Fillmore or 24 Divisadero, and are not familiar with where to stand. “Just wait over there.” I jest, knowing from experience that it won’t help. 

Pointing to the rear of the coach and telling them to cross to the other side to go inbound only results in a polite smile of thanks, but when I pull away, seven of ten times, they walk in the wrong direction, or stand transfixed, looking to ask again. 

Most United States born and raised folks get it when I say, “Kitty Corner.” Not so with visitors unfamiliar with our common US phrases. The blank stare I receive means I did not get through. Back to geometry class: “The ‘opposite adjacent’ angles, are not only congruent,’ by going the other way, but on the oblique corner as well.

If this doesn’t compute, then I need to be willing to pop the brake, step down on the sidewalk, and point like a hound dog’s tail right next to them, so there is no doubt. It may not be the patience in stalled traffic that is the hardest trait to master as an operator, but being gentle in answering repetitive questions throughout the day, world without end! Getting my ass out of the seat solves so many problems so fast, I would do well to get the concrete out of my britches, for when I do, my legs give thanks, and I am energized to be in service mode.

This would never happen on Market Street or at Kearny because of a desire to get out of the zone as soon as possible. More runners are coming from the underground and any delay at the door means rear doors that won’t close, pickpockets can flourish, and other trolleys will back up from behind on Third Street. We got to go.

Not true on the 21 Hayes, mostly. God Bless the Muni lines that still give us time to chat and not shut the door and rush away. At Union Square, however, a large visitor group can throw off the beats to pull away from the curb, and I have to keep it short and simple. Our perceived rudeness is not a personal affront. It is because of the beats of the traffic, and holding back other trolleys or streetcars behind us in the queue. Cyclists are moving in a pack from the last light at a speed too fast for lane change judgment by motorists. The rails, when wet, can become deadly. The front wheel of a bike fits nicely into the groove and all bike momentum in the front stops.

The simplest way to convey Kitty Corner then, is to say, “You must cross both streets behind me and wait on the other side of this street. Choosing Zen to Happy Destiny means I can remain gentle knowing my work is never done. And shall be done again, and again, World Without End. Amen.

One-Armed Bandit

I picked up my papers for my second part and the superintendent was by the second desk and commented on my holding a cup of coffee in my right hand, paddle in the left. He suggested that I not bring personal items into the dispatcher’s office while doing business in the office.

I smiled, as I remembered what I was told that morning by a crewman in the tower. An operator got into trouble by holding a cup of coffee in one hand while using his other hand on the wheel, turning a corner. I have seen enough training videos to know that whenever I am turning or coming to an area of conflict, I must keep both hands on the wheel at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock position on the steering wheel. 

A few days earlier, acting as if I am being watched, I put my coffee cup down right before a left turn, because I knew the ride share shuttle might pull-away right as I was turning past him. Sure enough, the vehicle pulled out right in front of me and would have run into me if I had not anticipated his inability to see me from his left mirror. Wow, this is not a safe situation, I thought.

An accident occurred soon after by someone else; the superintendent was in counsel mode with me in the dispatch office, because he knew I was in violation, even though I didn’t get into an accident, and put my cup down before potential conflict. My intuition sensed they were watching me when this near miss occurred. This knowing happens often, and I wonder if I should put in a miscellaneous form for our safety meeting; if I can have any affect on our safety record.

If the drive camera is activated by contact or an abrupt stop, actions before and after an event are recorded. I must keep returning to good posture and hand placement on the wheel so as to demonstrate awareness in the event a ‘what if’ situation becomes a reality. It is this demand of continually scanning left-right-left, anticipating conflict, which seems not understood by planners or schedule makers. We operators need a mental break every hour, but some lines on some schedules don’t allow us this time if we are to remain on schedule.

Headway was extended to 12 minutes on the 22 line four years ago, and I some how managed to stay out of trouble by only registering one minor passenger complaint about moving too soon before allowing a senior to sit. 

Twelve minutes was double the headway between buses and my leader and leader’s leader wasn’t having it. They, the drivers of the two buses in front of me, would go out of service on a regular basis such that my effective headway time was tripled to 36 minutes. This went on for over 8 months. At no time did I do the ‘one armed bandit.’ 

One blessing occurred in the middle of this sign-up. A sweet grandma, somewhat confused, decided to stand up between two stops, and fell. She could not decide if she wanted medical attention. After calling the inspector and waiting for her decision to call for an ambulance to be taken to the hospital, I got the break I needed. My follower pulled around me and I was relieved from having to make 36-minute headway on a school trip to the Marina. 

The cameras showed I was driving in a safe manner and was not making any sudden or abrupt turns. I was safe from discipline. Both of my hands were on the wheel, and I made a safe turn into the terminal. These kinds of ‘almost accidents’ can plague our thought process and fears about our driving record or disciplinary action.

During my next classroom verified transit training, I smiled when I heard an instructor make a remark I will always treasure whenever I am unsure about what penalty may come my way from an injured or angry motorist or passenger. 

He said, “The real truth about our skill level and experience comes not from what is recorded as an accident, but from all the accidents we avoid and prevent. We, as operators, do far more in saving the company from damages and expense than in what we cause.” This was the most incredible compliment I could ever receive from the training department, and put me at such ease. Here was someone who knew what we go through.

Keeping both hands on the wheel and keeping an alert posture is the best defense against a fall on board. The jackpot from a one-armed bandit shall not come in the form of a lawsuit payout to a passenger. It comes invisibly as in keeping my job to retirement!

Past Half Way

Passengers using the rear door button to board in the rear must remember all coaches are not equal. Some buses require that you hold the button until the doors are opened at least half way. On other buses, the doors will slam shut and the chance to board may end right there.

The three tap rule, or the three second rule generally means that the door will stay open long enough for you to climb the steps and tag in.

If you are standing alone in a tenderloin bus shelter, come to the front door, especially if we stop and open it where you are standing. Wearing ear buds, or not seeing double parked cars or construction barriers, may mean you will be passed up if you do not board at the front door. 

Yes, back door boarding is allowed, but you have to understand we don’t want tailgaters with soiled clothing and bad body odor, talking to themselves, to enter behind you. You may find the green light is not on to push and board rear. This is a security issue! Please be aware of who is in the immediate area! 

The Sisters of Charity

Some groups of non-SFMTA employees get to ride for free. Police, Patrol Special Police, Auxiliary Police Reserve, Peace Officers, and Firefighters may ride for free if in full uniform after showing proper identification. The key phrase is showing proper identification. I guess Bus Drivers, Bartenders or Bouncers are best versed in excuses offered as to why proper ID is so hard to produce.

Happy is the day when a uniform or costume precludes an ID. The lively students boarding by USF are easy to spot on the 21, 31, and 33, even if they don’t show their student ID. University of San Francisco and the Academy of Art are two schools that have their Muni pass built-in to their Student ID. Like the Sisters of Charity, they stand out, especially at the beginning of the semester when they are riding transit for the first time. 

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are also clear to see from a block away during a special event such as the Folsom Street Fair, or the Castro Street Fair. White masked and dutifully festooned with a unique collage of makeup, jewelry, and costume, I enjoy according these Sisters a free ride as allowed by the nuns of the Most Holy Roman Catholic Church!

It gets interesting when a fire fighter, highway patrolman, or policeman enters at the front and I have difficulty in knowing if they are actually an on duty civil servant, or in costume for a party or contest! We have such a density of artists in this city and costumes are no exception to the attention to detail that separates reality from fantasy!

Volunteers for crowd control and security during a parade or street fair are also welcomed to pass by the fare box as we migrate the masses to and from downtown or Golden Gate Park. The cast-of-characters from Bay to Breakers, Santa Sunday, or other such costume event parties make for never a dull day behind the wheel of a bus in San Francisco. When the Wheel of Fortune and the Wheel of a Bus become one in the same in conscious energy, I have achieved my Zen in Driving Muni! 

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(Pages 1-24 show above.)