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Monday, April 13, 2009

The Culture of No Culture: Muni's Museum Bus Experiment Failed, Why Not Cut it Now?

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2009 at 2:13 PM

click to enlarge Good night, sweet bus
  • Good night, sweet bus
You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

-- Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

Muni's pretty yellow culture buses have emptily traveled to and fro on roads paved with good intentions all the way to fiscal hell. Things have gotten so bad that a Kenny Rogers analogy not only fits but fits well. The culture bus never counts its money when it's either sitting or dealing -- because it's losing it prodigiously.

As far as walking away or running, those are both more popular options than the nearly abandoned culture buses. And as far as holding em and folding em, it's high time Muni folded the culture bus. Like now.

And yet, that won't happen. Like a good five-cent cigar or six-dollar haircut, the culture bus is soon to be a vestige of the past. But Muni spokesman Judson True told SF Weekly there are plenty of good reasons why the service can't simply cut its losses and strike the misbegotten bus line immediately.

A story ran in the Examiner today noting the culture bus is not long for this world. The timing of this story was something of a surprise, because the potential elimination of the culture bus -- and several other lines -- was announced at the beginning of the month and the Ex and others covered the hell out of it. While your humble narrator has heard from a reliable source that the content of the Examiner's national coverage, editorials, and non-local political stories is dictated by whatever the spirit of Jesse Helms tells the paper's national editors after they forgo their medication long enough to slip into a trance, the reporters and editors covering local beats work hard, work fast, and write plenty of quality stories. So this egregious re-tread is surprising.

But rather than report -- again -- on the culture bus' imminent demise, we asked True why the hell that demise can't be more imminent.

His first rationale: They'd have to reassign the folks working the culture bus route.

Okay ... fair enough. But we heard Muni was short on drivers and this reassignment is something that probably could be expedited quicker than by September with the aid of a word processor or something.

True adds that Muni made a commitment with its "cultural partners" (i.e. the city's museums) that it would run the culture bus as a pilot program for a full year. "We're working to honor that commitment." It's nice to know that someone in this city is actually working to honor their commitments -- but it's a shame that it has to be one of the most useless commitments anyone's bothered to commit to. Whether it was the voter-mandated commitment of extra money and autonomy for Muni being undermined by Mayor Gavin Newsom pillaging the public transit system -- which, by the way, somewhat tarnishes one's "green" credentials -- or the most recent example every of other department treating Muni like the only woman on a pirate ship, it seems like Muni's well-being isn't high on this city's priorities list. And yet, here's Muni running its empty buses between San Francisco's points of cultural interest out of a misbegotten sense of honor; did you ever think that Muni would resemble the tragic, doomed hero of an Akira Kurosawa film? Neither did we.

Finally, True held out hope that the King Tut exhibit coming this summer would boost the culture bus' flagging numbers. It's a reasonable prediction. But even if the number of riders doubled or tripled, we're still talking about peanuts here. The F-line carries around 20,000 riders a day -- nearly 47 times the folks who ride the culture bus according to the most recent tally.

If the culture bus were a Monty Python sketch, the Colonel would have broken it up long, long ago for being too silly. Watching empty yellow buses roll by is agonizing, as is Muni's insistence on making a good, earnest guy like Judson True jump through illogical hoops like this. It's time to make it stop.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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