People in San Francisco don’t agree on much, but just about everybody likes to hate on MUNI. The system takes a lot of grief, much of it justified. But I grew up in So-Cal, a place with notoriously rotten public transit, so even when I’m fuming with several hundred other stranded souls as an N Judah languishes between Van Ness and Civic Center, I try to remember that MUNI, for all its faults, is a far sight better than what I had to deal with as a kid. I also try to feel grateful that I get to live in a city where you (usually) can use public transportation to get around, because I believe mass transit creates a better society. It’s a wonderful social equalizer and it brings all kinds of different people into contact with each other. Sometimes this contact can be unwelcome or unpleasant, but so what? That’s kinda the point. Most people in Los Angeles don’t get the privilege of standing on crowded buses or trains with all sorts and sundry of humanity. They seal themselves inside their cars. In my opinion, this mass isolation instead of mass exposure is one of the main reasons LA sucks. It appeals to and caters to a certain kind of personality. Not that everyone in LA is a preening narcissist. (I dig LA in a lot of ways, and the people who live there. It’s a grittier, more diverse city than SF.) But let’s be real. Its preening-narcissists-per-capita quotient is quite high. The same is true for Silicon Valley, which—not coincidentally—also has shitty public transit.
Anyway this is a long preamble to an awesome thing I just saw on the train. This old Asian woman was hanging out in a seat near me when she noticed a friend of hers down at the other end of the train. The smile she suddenly displayed was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long, long time. It was radiant. A blooming of spontaneous surprise and genuine joy. Somehow, the fact that she was missing several teeth only increased its loveliness. It made her look younger, more childlike. I’m glad I was on the train with her and that I was lucky enough to glance over at her at the exact moment she smiled. It changed my whole day.