says my bus arrives in 18 minutes and the next one comes in 32 minutes. Next I check it’s 9 minutes and 23. Then the ETA jumps up to 12/18…then 13/16…and finally 4/4. By the time I get to my stop, both buses are pulling in together. Just another typical morning waiting for the 33 in Upper Haight Ashbury.

San Francisco MUNI bus
The MUNI 33 bus during a going away passenger appreciation celebration

I hop on the first one, frustrated that yet again it would have been faster to drive. The bus driver apologizes, saying the two buses that were supposed to be in front of hers aren’t running today. Then she offers me my choice of wrapped candy from a dish by the fare machine and for the first time I actually look around at bus 2442 driven by Tammy.

It’s like a Fourth of July party inside Tammy’s bus. There are red white and blue streamers, balloons, coils that say “happy,” banners and party lanterns hanging from the railings. Large handwritten posters adorn the windows thanking her riders and spouting truths such as “Until MUNI realizes that without our passengers there’s no MUNI!” and pretty much everyone has a smile on their face.

As I sit in the bus watching new passengers board, I witness a MUNI miracle: a sea of frowns turn into big grins as people enter and see what awaits them. I overhear nearly every newcomer commenting on the scene to either Tammy or their fellow straphangers.

The sign in front of the MUNI 33 bus
Tammy’s sign in front of the MUNI 33 bus

“How cool is this,” they ponder aloud. “Is this for Mother’s day?” “Is someone retiring?” “I can’t believe I got candy.” Even the woman on her cell phone discussing how her doctor just found a lump in her breast seemed upbeat, enjoying her Tootsie-Roll lollipop with her lips curled up from ear to ear.

Pretty much everyone who boarded asked Tammy a quick question about the decorations. “I just want to show appreciation for my passengers,” was her standard response. Those who pressed further often heard “If not for the passengers, drivers and managers have no job.” Tammy also was more than happy to advise passengers frustrated by the delay. “I strongly encourage you to call MUNI and complain,” was advice that seemed to be doled out at every other stop.

Tammy, the driver of the MUNI 33
Tammy, the driver of the MUNI 33

The bus thinned out just before I got to my stop and I had the chance to briefly chat with Tammy and ask her what inspired her display of gratitude. “It’s for all of you. I drive this bus every morning and have the most amazing relationships with my passengers.” She next revealed that her last day is this Thursday, but when I wished her an amazing retirement she responded, “nope, not retiring, just moving to the 24 line.”

So to all you lucky folks who take the 24, please greet Tammy with a smile and enjoy the ride, because she is one of the rare gems in the MUNI system who makes the inevitable delays bearable.

I originally wrote this post for the San Francisco Web site, Muni Diaries on May 4, 2010. Since submitting it, the story has been picked up by the San Francisco Chronical and CBS5 Web sites. In a time when MUNI is facing service cuts and fare hikes, it seems to have become a rare feel-good story about the beleaguered San Francisco public transportation system.