City Beat

Ambassador for downtown Sacramento prepares to retire

Mike Munson, center, describes the terra cotta exterior of the City Library to Savannah Yrurriago, her son Alex and Jon Strohl as he leads a tour of downtown Sacramento showing examples of terra cotta on June 23, 2009. Muson has been a community service guide for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership for a decade. After all these years, it’s time for Munson to move on. He’s 70 years old and needs a new knee, so he’s retiring next month.
Mike Munson, center, describes the terra cotta exterior of the City Library to Savannah Yrurriago, her son Alex and Jon Strohl as he leads a tour of downtown Sacramento showing examples of terra cotta on June 23, 2009. Muson has been a community service guide for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership for a decade. After all these years, it’s time for Munson to move on. He’s 70 years old and needs a new knee, so he’s retiring next month. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Mike Munson has mastered the art of human interaction. And for 25 years, downtown Sacramento has been his classroom.

Munson has been a community service guide for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership for a decade. Before that, he was a postal carrier downtown. He’s met governors and mayors, drunks and tourists. He seems to know them all by name and doesn’t have a mean thing to say about anyone.

After all these years, it’s time for Munson to move on. He’s 70 years old and needs a new knee, so he’s retiring next month.

As the days wind down, Munson said it’s the talking he’ll miss. He has the same greeting for everyone he meets – homeless men with pit bulls, shopkeepers and cops: “How ya doin’?”

Munson started this job at the ripe age of 60. It was a dream job, drawing him to the same blocks he visited as a young boy with his grandmother. His favorite building is still the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, where he and his grandmother would attend Mass. Across K Street is another favorite, the old Weinstock’s department store building that is nearly a century old.

Downtown guides aren’t cops, although Munson said he has helped the cops tackle delinquents on occasion. They’re more like walking kiosks. Munson leads history tours of the area and thinks of himself as a bit of a teacher. He hopes some of the people he’s met over the years remember the nuggets of Sacramento history he’s shared, like who John Sutter was and what year the D.O. Mills Bank building on J Street was built (1912).

To become an expert, Munson spent full days in the library, studying city history. He’s reading three books right now, one of them about the Delta King riverboat that’s now a hotel on the river. “The more I’ve learned,” he said, “the more I’ve realized I didn’t know.”

Munson was walking through Old Sac on Wednesday, dressed in his bright yellow parka and limping a bit. He stopped to chat with a homeless man sitting with an accordion and a pit bull named Girlie. The guy said he had a place to stay, so Munson moved on, but not until shaking the man’s hand.

A block away, Munson came across a couple of tourists from Hawaii who looked lost. He handed them a map of the area and asked if they needed directions. They all talked for a minute and walked away laughing. “There,” Munson said. “That’s what I’ll miss.”

Downtown is a part of Munson. His defense of our city’s often-gritty core predates the latest wave of flashy development. Munson takes it personally when people talk trash about his favorite part of the city.

“It has its sketchy areas, but I always had faith something would happen,” he said. “When everything plays out, it’s going to be a whole new downtown.”

New, but without one of its great ambassadors.

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat.

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