• Rob Spectre
  • 19
  • Jan
  • 08
This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Tales from the L Line

3 January 2008 – 7:58pm PST, Outbound by West Portal Station

As we rolled into the West Portal Station stop, I was listening to M. Doughty talk about how we are all, in some way or another, going to Reseda. His argument I had heard before, but was zoning out the window trying to find some tender bits I had not yet chewed. Sight was thoroughly ignored until some biker who appeared to be cursing at me entered the frame.

Clad in a broken leather jacket, the angry person had face lines that sunk with topography as sharp as Norwegian fjords. Undoubtedly cut by the glacial effects of drugs and rock and roll, the practiced scowl all urban dwellers keep plastered on their faces certainly didn’t crack as the biker continued walking alongside me, gesturing wildly at the glass.

I was surprised to discover however the gender of my would-be assailant as the police came running up to do their thing. That chick looked older than my grandma and more masculine than Vincent Price.

9 January 2008 – 9:03am PST, Inbound between Van Ness and Powell

Nothing gets a packed train’s attention quite like the phrase, “You know, when I finally got out of prison…”

Richard SimmonsThe ex-con was lugging around a full size leopard skin suitcase and wearing some weird outfit combination that was somewhere between Boy George and Richard Simmons circa Sweatin’ to the Oldies. He had poorly applied mascara caked on like the frosting on a freshman Home Ec student’s first birthday cake. A dash of rouge and two missing lower incisors had this androgynous meth addict pegged as a person to avoid. And so it was as he regaled some poor bastard in a three piece about what the judge had told him at his last hearing.

Evidently the fellow with the neon pants was promised a spot in a training camp with the US Marshals, and he wasn’t shy about telling anyone about it. Though it is admittedly Hollywood inspired, my mental picture of the folks that serve our country in this capacity doesn’t include a blaze orange fanny pack.

16 January 2008 - 8:45pm PST, Outbound approaching Sunset Boulevard

“This happens every fucking night!” the man screamed at the driver, banging against the glass with a double fisted flip off.

The lady had gotten on the horn announcing that there was an accident on Taraval and we wouldn’t be continuing all the way to the zoo. This announcement ensured at least a six block hike for the couple dozen passengers still on board. A shuttle would be along soon enough, maybe a 15 minute wait at the most. As I walked away over the din of my noise isolated ear buds I could hear the beast of a woman this man had awakened. I’m didn’t know two hundred pounds could get out of a driver’s seat that quickly.

18 January 2008 – 8:30am PST, Inbound on 14th between Taraval and Ulloa

Pluto is a planet. This controversial statement was being piped into my head in the early morn on Friday courtesy of my Shure 110s and 2 Skinnee J’s. Oblivious to any sound other than Eddie Eyeball’s tasty groove underneath this declaration, when the guy in front of me wrinkled his nose, I thought for sure someone had unleashed a gnarly fart on an unsuspecting bus. I covered my nose defensively and watching him wrestle with what I was sure was pure nasty ass gas.

However, as he put away his paper and started puffing up his chest, it was clear he was entering some sort of aggressive posture. Excited for some morning entertainment, I clicked off the iPod and pulled my plugs, to find that a crackhead was harassing a lady down the car from me. The guy in front of me was dressed like an architect or something; a skinny little nerd without an intimidating bone in his body. This was not a job for a guy with a briefcase and a cardigan. This was a job for half foot hair and a penchant for pissing people off.

Damned that I was going to let anyone beat me to an opportunity for physical confrontation, particularly this early in the morning, I handed my bag to the woman next to me and carved in front of the doeish woman being badgered by the crackhead. The crackhead was wearing Salvation army glasses given out to LASIK patients, the rose covered kind that look ridiculous and wrap all around one’s head.

Inserting myself forcibly between him and the woman, he took them off in an attempt to be intimidating. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“This is your stop,” I replied simply.

“No, no, no it’s not,” as he began making a scene.

The door opened as I grabbed his elderly frame by the shoulders, “Yup it is.”

After the guy who was fixing to go Galahad first started to assist, his resistance faded.

In usual California fashion, the woman we assisted offered no gratitude. I guess the princess was in another castle.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 06
  • May
  • 08
This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Tales from the L Line

5 May 2008 -- 9:47pm PDT, Outbound on Taraval between 22nd Ave and 46th Ave

Women as a rule tend to not talk to me on public transportation systems. So when she leaned down and mouthed some words that I couldn’t make out over the blast of Propagandhi’s “I Was A Pre-Teen McCarthyist,” I’m sure my face had curled into some sort of repulsive sneer. As I popped the earbuds out, she repeated patiently. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” she half-whispered with an almost conspiring hunch.

My hair was down as the left side was fairly french fried from over zealous application of the hair dryer, so I knew this wasn’t going to be another line about my hair. But, even without six inches of poorly wrought terror jutting out of my skull, we were rolling towards the end of the line and the end of the evening. Coming up at 10pm, a hushed respect for the criminal and insane falls on the Muni in San Francisco, making her interrogation suspect. I said, “Sure,” checking again to see if someone had put my hair up while I was zoned out.

“Who are you voting for?”

“I’m sorry?” I asked as my eyes shot to her hands, waiting for the book or DVD or pamphlet or whatever-the-fuck she was certain to produce and tell me about.

She insisted, her eyes locking on mine with an honesty I haven’t seen in anyone in ages. “Who are *you* voting for?”

“Well, I don’t rightly know, I don’t even know who the Democratic nominee is.”

“Well, if you could choose,” she pressed, as if choice was a thing we had any more.

I fuck around for another twenty minutes with this completely unsolicited political discussion, saying the kinds of things that bought cheap laughs from those around us with a casual relationship with seriousness and mild anger from the pathologically uptight. In this town, no one does anything without an agenda; I was sure all this was a lead-in to some sort of political or religious charade. But, with it was late in the evening and I was feeling playful and with only a train full of people whose opinions carry the weight of monopoly money to offend, I kept going along, expecting the Candid Camera moment at any time. But, even as I pursued the most ridiculous tangents I could find in her questioning, it never came. As we rolled up to Sunset I finally realized what was going on.

She wasn’t from here.

It was all wrong from the beginning. The way she started the conversation, the way she looked into my eyes when I spoke, the way she didn’t look away when she spoke, the way she didn’t check for text messages every few minutes, the masculine coat, the feminine sunglasses -- all things that just aren’t done here. The fat leather callous this berg has built on my interpersonal communication left me completely blind to all the signs. In the conversation that continued it nagged me that I wasn’t able to catch it from the beginning. It nagged that San Francisco has me so well trained.

When she said she was from Alaska it all made sense. The discussion of politics notwithstanding, the lack of pretext in a canvass of local knowledge was thoroughly sensible to a small town woman. She didn’t know what was going on, so this chick was genuinely running around San Francisco asking people what they thought. As we chatted, her husband watched ever so often, then zoned out, much the way husbands tend to do in the small town in which I was raised. She said she and her husband were headed to New Zealand. They were staying where the cheapest motels were, out by the beach, waiting for their flight for their final emigration. They’d never been to San Francisco before and had spent the day downtown seeing the sights.

Her questioning, it seemed, was some way for her to say goodbye. Whether or not her decision to leave the United States was politically motivated or not I failed to ask, it looked as though she was trying one last time to figure it out, to divine where the country she was leaving was headed.

Lord knows what answers she found in her San Francisco political survey. I don’t know if she and her silent husband were really headed to New Zealand. Like the ringing after a life lived listening at punk shows, with these ears everything sounds like lies.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 10
  • Aug
  • 08
This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Tales from the L Line

She must be suicidal, I thought. That was the only conclusion I could draw from a woman, alone and tiny, approaching me at 2:30am. The bus stop at Market and Sanchez was not quite the worst place in town to be at that hour, but the Cafe du Nord been let out for two full hours and even the through traffic had dwindled to a trickle. The stop was poorly lit and vacant, with the small smattering of people within earshot of a damsel in distress either too drunk or detached to offer any assistance. Last month a man was shot dead on that very spot. Not the worst time and place for a woman to approach a male stranger twice her size, but sketchy enough that prudence demanded caution.

Further, I looked a damn fright. Having freshly emerged from the punk rock show, my hair was a greasy nest, giving the appearance of a homeless person who got a his head dumped in a shitter and let it air dry. My pants were drenched with the sweat of myself and every other dude in the tiny dive, hems ripped and dangling. Two spilled PBRs were congealing on my shirt, the product of the party foul of bringing one’s beer into the pit. I looked and smelled like the fifth circle of Hell.

She must have had a deathwish, talking to a guy like me at a place like that.

“Does the Owl come here?” she asked, without a hint of worry in her eyes.

“Yeah,” I hiccuped, a dead giveaway of the depth of my drunk.

“Thank you,” she dripped with a vocal curtsy.

Long minutes passed as she stood beside me. We were waiting for the late run of the L line. Called the “Owl,” after the subway shuts down buses roll every half hour to whisk revelers back to their homes in the Avenues. The timetable was fluid. Sometimes one waited fifteen minutes. Other times, one waited an hour. For the frugal drunk, the value outweighed the inconvenience. For $1.50 you could get home in more or less the same drive time as a $40 cab ride. The exercise of calculating the amount of whiskey one could purchase with the savings was usually enough to tough out the wait.

Occasionally our eyes would meet. Her look was disarmingly expectant. Unalarmed and matriarchal, her gaze would always be fixed on me before I her. It was a jarring anticipation that never failed; she was always a step ahead in the silent game of exchanged glances played out at every public transit station in the universe. Finally, after twenty minutes or so, I cracked the quiet.

“I think it’s half past forever when this damn bus is going to arrive.”

Her expression was bemused, as though she were laughing internally that I had finally gotten the nerve to speak. “Do you want to walk?”

My nose wrinkled a bit at the suggestion. “From here?”

“Yeah, we can walk and the bus will catch up,” she declared intrepidly.

Before I could compose a response, our bus crested the hill. We boarded and chatted about the usual bullshit people chat about when they first meet. As we spoke, I got the disconcerting sense that it was just a charade that this woman was entertaining for my benefit. That this exchange – chaste, non-romantic and intensely personal – was one where I wussed out; where I took the road of the Californian and held a compassionate stranger at an emotional arm’s length.

The metagame surrounding the conversation was intense and difficult to stand. It was invasively intimate without a sense of infatuation, like she knew me before she even met me.

“This is my stop.”

She waved simply, and got off at the corner of Someplace and Nowhere.

When I woke the next morning with a freight train hangover, I wondered if she was real. Did the booze exaggerate the exchange? Did the combination of buckets of free flowing beer and punk pit exertion cause a post show hallucination? I could barely remember her face and I’m sure I never got her name.

“It’s clear you hate this place. What are you doin’ here, man?” she asked, maybe a heartbeat before we boarded the bus.

The corners of her lips tugged only slightly into a smile, as though she knew the answer was bullshit before I finished saying it.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 25
  • Aug
  • 08
This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Tales from the L Line

When I heard the yelling over my Shure turbonitrothunderfuck ear buds, I knew for sure something was going down on the L Line. At late in the afternoon on a sunny Friday, the expectation for the San Francisco Metro was peace and tranquility. An easy, uncrowded ride with hopeful weekenders silently praising the passing of another forty hour sacrifice of their lives.

It was not to be as I caught peripherally a woman by the door I had just entered landing unceremoniously onto the floor of the car. The lady shouted “Goddammit” like she meant it. Alarmed, I popped the Bad Religion out of my ears.

Unfolding in the seat next to the third entrance of the car was a dispute between an older, enraged woman on the floor and some guy with a clipboard claiming to be with the fire department in the window seat. Evidently inconvenienced by the woman’s build, a man wearing a SFFD cap and sweater shoved a woman off her seat on the Muni. If that weren’t enough, what followed was douchebaggery of the first order.

After she picked herself up, he continued to show her and everyone on the train his character. From Montgomery to Castro, this capital jackhole spent the ride repeatedly insulting her weight and nudging her from her seat. From cursing in her ear to implicitly suggesting she would be abandoned in the event of a fire, he heaped insult plenty on injury for the next 10 minutes. He may have thought he was pretty hot stuff for pushing a woman onto the floor, but little did he know it was his lucky day.

It wasn’t until after he had provided plenty of quality footage did he realize I had my camera on him the entire time.

So, after careful review of the audio and meticulous subtitling, I’m pleased to announce his performance services as the first in a new (d)N0t series. Ladies and gentlemen, many thanks to this San Francisco Fire Department employee for our newly christened series feature: Muni Douchebags.

  • Rob Spectre
  • 13
  • Sep
  • 08
This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Tales from the L Line

12 September – 6:45pm PDT, Outbound between Montgomery and Castro

Everybody in the second half of the car was trying not to look at her face.  Her face – hideous and deformed – hung heavy in the anonymous atmosphere of the L Line metro.  On that Friday afternoon in the cheap aluminum hull of that train, the 9-to-5 herd’s plans to start the weekend didn’t include staring into the face of a woman who has had such a rough go of it.  Their plans didn’t include looking into the ashes of that kind of naked pain.

So severe were her burns, it was hard even to look in her direction.  Given the box office take, it was a fair bet many in that car had seen the grisly facial burn of the character of Two-Face in The Dark Knight.  But this didn’t look anything like Hollywood.  This didn’t even look human.  The normal defining features of the face of a woman were completely gone.  The feminine rise of her cheekbones, the gentle slope of her nose, the matte frame of her hair putting her beauty on a stage were rubbed out, like a disgusting eraser had muddled everything that made a face a woman’s.

Huge, wine red blisters replaced her lips, curled up and down and exposing her missing incisors.  Her tongue stuck out of the gap slightly, like flesh colored ice cream that had melted and been frozen again. Her ears were barely distinguishable masses of molten flesh seemingly hanging by a bare thread on the sides of her head.  The skin of her cheeks had huge blotches where you could tell they tried to stitch the grafts, itself some nightmare patchwork undoubtedly relenting aesthetics in lieu of survival.  By some miracle her vision seemed to be intact.  The left had been lost in the accident and was now a motionless, artificial stand-in. The other seemed like one huge pupil, but seemed to flick to and fro with a hint of mischief and amusement.

Most of her nose was gone, but in the piglike salvage that remained she kept a little surprise.  In the aftermath of all that madness through her reconstructed septum hung a dainty, chrome barbell.  A little nose jewelry treat for any who were brave enough to look her in the face.

For the women in that car at that hour even a cursory tally suggested half to three quarters of a million dollars worth of cosmetic surgery.  How that compared to the bills this woman had to face, few would have the qualifications to estimate.  But all I know are the economics.  There were a couple dozen women in that place who traded plastic on their credit cards for some on their faces, asses and chests to feel pretty.  This woman without a face only had to spend $15 at the mall.

When we approached the Castro Station, she gathered her things to get up and leave.  On her way out, I touched her shoulder softly as she passed and said, “That’s a very cute nose ring.”

Her artificial eyelid barely blinked and the bottom blister lip quivered just a bit.  She thanked me quietly and headed off the train, joining the unmemorable sea of San Franciscans.  Though her face was scarred beyond the ability for me to tell, I like to think she was smiling.