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23 trains to nowhere

Nothing against the shop, and I still like wearing drag and handing out their flyers, but it's starting to feel like a job, and a job isn't really what I want. Me free-lancing is supposed to be about variety, not doing the same thing every day, y'know? So I used my day off from the shop to paper the city with more of my "I'll do anything legal for $5 an hour" posters.

I got about 60 posters tacked, taped, and glued up in all the laundromats on the N, K, and L lines, until a major Muni malfunction marooned me on Taraval at about 5:30.

The streetcar stopped, and the driver said nothing, but we could see that the track was blocked by another L Taraval. I got out and strolled around, and saw that the L blocking my L was blocked, too, by another L, and another, and another. There were twenty-three L trains to nowhere stuck in traffic, up Taraval and down lovely Ulloa Street. 

Was I aggravated, furious? Nah, I had nowhere to be, and there's a soft spot in my heart for monkey-wrenches, so this was a beautiful sight.

At West Portal, hundreds of stranded souls were milling about, asking Muni staff what the hell, but that was a question no-one could answer. You didn't need much expertise, though, to see that Muni had lost power to the streetcar system's overhead grid.

No trains were going in to the Twin Peaks Tunnel, very few were coming out, and when one did emerge from the darkness it was packed, and I mean packed, even by Muni overflow standards. It seriously looked unsafe to be inside that crowd of elbow-to-ass angry commuters.

Muni sent an emergency fleet of diesel shuttles to run between West Portal and downtown, so hundreds, maybe thousands of grumbling inbound passengers were able to leave their stalled trains and clamber into a shuttle instead. I could've made my way home, too, but it was fun admiring the chaos, so I leaned on a building and simply enjoyed the awful injustice of all these people being late for their sitcoms and TV dinners.

Nobody had a kind word for Muni, but other than their ordinary refusal to explain anything to the passengers, I was impressed with how well they handled the clusterfuck situation. At the tunnel's West Portal, someone was clearly in charge, which helped.

With so many trains lined up, blocking cars and trucks and buses, pedestrians and commuters needed to walk blocks just to cross the street, but there was one woman in a Muni uni doing something about that. She stood in the middle of the street, directing the trains in four directions, and she knew what she was doing, and single-handedly got the backlog unclogged, via some clever cross-tracking.

The first inbound M couldn't go into the tunnel, so she crow-barred the track at the switch, allowing the M to roll across the street onto the outbound L tracks. She did this one-by-one with all the different trains queued up on both streets, and while each driver changed the train's signage, she announced to the crowd, "This is now an outbound L-train," or whatever. These were the only plainspoken announcements anyone made to any of the throngs waiting for trains and buses.

Then she did it again with the next train in line, and the train after that, again and again.

That woman was why I stayed an hour longer than I needed to, not because she was a babe or anything — just this once, that's irrelevant — but because it isn't often you see someone doing difficult work, under pressure, competently.

From Pathetic Life #12
Wednesday, May 3, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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