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.