Maya Angelou and Market Street Railway

Something about the poet and author Dr. Maya Angelou escaped most people’s attention, until now. She was once employed by our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, Muni’s old competitor, as a streetcar conductor. The first black female conductor in San Francisco history, in fact.

She said this decades ago in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, when she describes in some detail standing on the back platform of a streetcar rolling along the edge of Golden Gate Park, collecting nickels from boarding passengers. But now it has become national news, because she talked about it with Oprah. Here’s a clip from that interview, courtesy Harpo Productions.

How Dr. Maya Angelou Became San Francisco’s First Black Streetcar Conductor, from Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday. If the video doesn’t appear above, click here.

Dr. Maya Angelou says the love of her mother, Vivian Baxter, encouraged her to live a life full of pizzazz. It was also that love that helped Dr. Angelou to become the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco at age 16. “I loved the uniforms,” Dr. Angelou says. “So I said, ‘That’s a job I want.'” When she went to get an application, Dr. Angelou says, the staff refused to give her one. Find out how her mother encouraged her to persevere. Then, see how Vivian made sure her daughter was safe at work during her early-morning shifts.

We provided the program with some photos of Market Street Railway streetcars next to Golden Gate Park. (It’s not entirely clear from her writings and interviews whether she worked the 5-McAllister or 7-Haight line.) The producers added photos of female transit workers from other systems, not San Francisco’s. The program promotes “How Dr. Angelou Became San Francisco’s First Black Streetcar Conductor.” Hiring records no longer exist, but anecdotal evidence we’ve gathered over the years indicate several African-Americans found employment on the streetcars a little earlier than Dr. Angelou. That, however, in no way diminishes her incredible story of perseverance and determination in overcoming both racism and sexism to land the job she wanted — when she was just 16 years old and still used her birth name, Marguerite Johnson.

The video clip is well worth watching.

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Cate Blanchett and Woody Allen Film on a Streetcar

The town’s been buzzing about the locations being used for Woody Allen’s new movie now being filmed. No one knows the title yet (if it even has one), but today we learned at least one scene is being filmed on a Muni PCC streetcar, No. 1060, to be precise.


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Cate Blanchett in the doorway of F-line streetcar No. 1060 during filming of Woody Allen’s new movie in San Francisco, August 24, 2012. Photo copyright Rick Laubscher.

That’s Cate Blanchett in the doorway, waiting with the car on the Eleventh Street wye trackage, out of the way of revenue streetcars. We were told by the crew member that they would be shooting a scene as the streetcar rolled down Market Street. The last time a film crew drew so much interest on a rail vehicle on Market was 1906!
Of course, the F-line streetcars have been used in movies and TV commercials numerous times before. The publicity’s great, and those filming fees can’t hurt either.

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More F-line Service. But More Streetcars?

The good news: Muni has added more sorely needed F-line service on weekends. The bad news: the additional service is mostly provided by buses, at least for now.
The additional service was long planned, and depended on additional streetcars being available – specifically, some of the 16 streamliner PCCs being renovated by Brookville Equipment Company of Pennsylvania. But that contract does not appear to be going well. The first PCC of the batch has been back in San Francisco more than a year and is still unreliable. (Our members will get a full report on the nature of the problems in the new Inside Track newsletter being mailed next week.)


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Pilot PCC No. 1071 on a test run at the L-Taraval Zoo terminal, September 29

Trying to push things forward, Muni put the pilot streetcar, No. 1071, into passenger service this summer, but had to withdraw it almost immediately because of unreliability. It went back into service last Tuesday after more testing without passengers, but it failed on the line two out of its first three days in service, having to be towed back to Beach Yard (formerly Geneva), where the vintage streetcars are maintained.
Nonetheless, Muni plans to start putting six additional streetcars from the Brookville order into service as early as this week, after modifying some components that were found unreliable in the pilot car.
Meantime, buses are filling those new weekend runs on the F-line, but there are a couple of problems.
First, it appears that most bus operators are not turning on the GPS transmitter that makes their vehicle visible on the “NextMuni” displays at F-line stops or on our live F-line map. (If you see a four digit number beginning in 8 on the live map, without an image of a streetcar next to it, that’s a bus with GPS turned on.)
Second, as SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin volunteered to us the other day, lots of riders just plain don’t want to ride the buses, letting them pass them by at F-line stops. So they’re not helping reduce overcrowding as much as more streetcars would.
To their credit, SFMTA project, maintenance, and operations leaders have been open in discussing the challenges of the renovated streetcars with it, and they express a resolve to end up with reliable vehicles from this contract.
We’ll see how those new streetcars do in service when they appear, and we’ll keep you updated on this important issue here and in our newsletter.

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