Editor’s note: Today, we introduce the first installment in an occasional series of profiles of Muni riders and the lines they ride.
The 28-19th Avenue passes through two cities, a national park, Golden Gate Park, and the city’s second largest undergraduate institution, touching both the southern and northern border of San Francisco as it travels over city streets and two highways, with dramatic views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge along the way. It’s a key route for San Francisco State University students, as well as teenagers who live and go to school in the Richmond and Sunset districts, which seem to be the largest groups that identify it as "their" route.
Keith Montanez is one of those students, a gregarious audio production major at SF State whose personality pops out despite the dreary grayness on 19th Avenue on a Wednesday afternoon. He’s easy to talk to and instantly engaging, and probably shares many of the same frustrations with his fellow Muni riders, but apart from trips with his friends, talking to a random fellow rider seems to be an unusual event.
Even before we begin talking, it’s clear he’s serious about music. Waiting at the bus shelter, he’s sporting stylish Skullcandy headphones, not the ubiquitous iPod earbuds that are standard-issue around the city. When he amicably removes them, he reveals that he’s on his way to host a weekly radio show ("The Mighty Tree") on KSFS. When asked whom he looks up to as musicians, Montanez gives a long pause, contemplating the question deeply before answering, treating it as a matter of great importance (he starts with the poet and rapper Saul Williams.)
When I first encounter him, Montanez is waiting for the 28-19th Avenue, his connection to school, his apartment near Stern Grove in the southern reaches of the Sunset, and his job south of the city. Moving to San Francisco from Southern California for college has been a chance to shed his vehicle – which stays at his family’s home in SoCal – and live a lifestyle centered on walking and transit. He’s in his last year at SF State, and has been a 28 rider since moving earlier in college to the Sunset from the Excelsior, where he relied on the 29-Sunset.
In fact, Montanez prefers walking, but the 28 is his line when that’s not an option.
"Depending on the weather, I’ll walk to school usually, but I also take the 28 to get to the BART so I can get to work," Montanez explains. "I have a lot of friends who live in the Richmond, and the 28 takes me to their house, so I’m always on the 28."
After growing up near Los Angeles, Montanez said Muni ranks well against the other transit systems he’s encountered. "Compared to other cities, I’d give it an A," he said. "Compared to BART, I’d give it a B, because BART is fast, quick and I feel like it’s reliable. Very rarely do I get stuck on BART, although I do get stuck on BART."
The L-Taraval is Montanez’s other line, and unlike the occasional delays on BART, he said he can rely on a delay in the Twin Peaks tunnel. "If I’m trying to get downtown, I always wait between West Portal and Forest Hill, and Forest Hill and Castro. The train stops in the middle of the tunnel and I’m like, ‘great, no service, and it’s dark, and this just sounds like a bad movie.’"
His A-grade for Muni compared to other transit systems comes with some caveats on the 28 line as well: "Make it come more frequently. That’s really my only complaint: it takes forever." And does it move fast enough once it does come, I ask. "No, it’s super slow! That too."
Montanez adds: "Then there’s really crowded buses. I get passed up like all the time. I just hate it when I get passed up and I’m running to school."
But on the whole, his A-grade stands. Not only does Muni go everywhere he needs to go, it also is far cheaper than a cab home on Friday night. "Actually," he clarifies, "I’d say it’s our cab there. We’re out too late for it to be our cab home."
Like many riders who rely primarily on the 28, Montanez said the December 5 service changes, which touched a huge cross-section of the Muni system, didn’t much affect him.
"I feel like all my friends, all the buses that we normally take haven’t been changed at all, which is weird because they said they were doing major changes," Montanez said. "Maybe I just haven’t noticed them because they still work with my stops. But I feel bad for people whose stops got screwed or whoever they got rid of."
For the most part, he also hasn’t seen violent incidents on Muni, though it’s been a hot topic in the media recently. There was, however, an exception. "On the 28, I saw this lady hit her husband," he recalled. "They were an old couple, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was pretty funny." The other exception is teasing. "I’ve seen kids gets teased, like little kids that are in high school. But I feel like that would happen anywhere, so I don’t really associate it just with Muni."
His most disturbing moment on Muni, however, didn’t happen on a bus, but rather on the L-Taraval. "I’ve seen people have sex on the Muni. That’s pretty gross. On the L, late at night. It was really nasty."
People, as in multiple incidents? "Just once," he clarifies. "I hope I’ll never see that again."
More wholesomely, he also remembers seeing someone rush to help a woman to her feet after a bad fall on the 29-Sunset. After a day of interviews, that seems to be a common "nicest moment" memory for many Muni riders.
Montanez is proof that breaking the invisible bubble between riders can be well worth the effort. Finally, the 28 shows up, and Montanez hops on, quickly blending back in to the crowd on the standing-room-only coach.