Like most native San Franciscans born in the 1980s, graffiti artist Tim "The Optimist" Williams grew up relying heavily on Muni. But taking the bus meant much more to him than getting where he needed to go.
"Every time I rode the bus as a kid, I would collect a bus transfer and write a phrase of something that happened that day at the top," said Williams."It was kind of like a diary, and I kept them all in order and would look at them later in life."
Williams is bringing his passion for the humble strips of paper to the RVCA clothing store and gallery on Haight Street this Friday, where he’ll show 60 digitally painted and printed Muni transfers with dates recognizing the birthdays of the city's historical figures. Williams hopes the show can help reignite San Francisco's artistic flame.
"I feel like San Francisco’s unique culture is at a standstill,” said Williams. ”It's stagnant, based on the last hundred years of history and all the people that contributed to the cultural vibe which made everyone flock to the city. I think the tech industries have suffocated and destroyed the vibe that San Francisco is known for and turned it into something else, which is a place void of culture."
Williams is doing his part to change that. In 2017 when the Muni transfers were discontinued, he painted a giant mural in Psycho City, a collection of parking lots near Market Street and Van Ness Avenue where graffiti artists paint freely. The giant wall featured a collage of classic Muni transfers with historical figures' names and birth dates like Carlos Santana, Bruce Lee, OJ Simpson, Equipto, and former Mayor Willie Brown, Jr.
“I wanted to capture the good, bad and ugly. Not everyone featured on the wall is well-loved,” said Williams. “The transfers featured people who work in various fields and walks of life. They should be remembered because they were the ones who brought life to this city and made it what it was."
The building that featured the mural has since been sold, and the artwork buffed out, but that hasn’t stopped Williams. He’s since hosted a series of shows around the city and has created custom prints that he sells to fellow art lovers (and maybe Muni-lovers.)
“If you grew up in this city, I am certain you remember these transfers and at some point saved them. MUNI was the people's transport,” said Williams. “Whether you were heading to work in the financial district or a city kid out on the town. Everyone rubbed elbows on the bus, and we knew every bus line by heart. It is how we truly learned about the city.”
If you want to learn more about “Tim the Optimist Williams” visit his website or see the show for yourself this Friday at RVCA at 1485 Haight Street starting at 6 pm.
Meaghan Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org