Street Cars And Curiosities by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Essay

There is an institution in Boston which the Pilgrim Fathers did not originate. That is the street car. There is a street car parade all day on Washington street, and a red-light procession most of the night.

People told me that I could get into a car and go anywhere I wanted to. I tried it. There was a point in Boston, I learned, where there were some more relics that I hadn’t seen. Parties told me where I could find some more fragments of the Mayflower, and an old chair in which Josiah Quincy had sat down to think. There were also a few more low price flint-lock guns and tomahawks that no man who visited Boston could afford to miss. Besides, there was said to be the lock that used to be on the door of a room in which General Washington had a good notion to write his farewell address. All these things were in the collection which I started out to find, and there were others, also.

For instance, there was a specimen of the lightning that Franklin caught in his demijohn out of the sky, and still in a good state of preservation; also some more clothes in which he was baptized, more swords of Bunker Hill, and a little shirt which John Hancock put on as soon as he was born. Hancock was a perfect gentleman from his birth, and it is said that the first thing he did was to excuse himself for a moment and then put on this shirt. His manners were certainly very agreeable, and he was very much polished.

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I heard, too, that there was an acorn from the tree in which Benedict Arnold had his nest while he was hatching treason. I did not believe it, but I had an idea I could readily discover the fraud if I could only see the acorn, for I am a great historian and researcher from away back. I was told that in this collection there was a suspender button shed by Patrick Henry during his memorable speech in which he raised up to his full height on his hind feet and permitted the war to come in italics, also in SMALL CAPS and in LARGE CAPS!!! with three astonishers on the end.

So I wanted to find this place, and as I had plenty of means I decided to ride in a street car. Therefore, I aimed my panic price cane at the driver of a cream-colored car with a blue stomach, and remarked, “Hi, there!” Before I go any further, and in order to avoid ambiguity, let me say that it was the car that had the blue stomach. He (the driver) twisted the brake and I went inside, clear to the further end, and sat down by the side of a young woman who filled the whole car with sunshine. I was so happy that I gave the conductor half a dollar and told him to keep the change. If by chance she sees this, I hope she still remembers me. Pretty soon a very fat woman came into the car and aimed for our quarter. She evidently intended to squat between this fair girl and myself. But ah, thought I to myself in a low tone of voice, I will fool thee. So I shoved my person along in the seat toward the sweet girl of the Bay State. The corpulent party, whose name I did not learn, had in the meantime backed up to where she had detected a slight vacancy, and where I had seen fit to place myself. At that moment she heaved a sigh of relief, and, assisted by the motion of the car, which just then turned a corner, she sat down in my lap and nestled in my bosom like a tired baby elephant.

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Dear reader, if I were to tell you that the crystal of my watch was picked out from under my shoulder blades the next day, you would not believe it, would you? I will not strain your faith in me by making the statement, but that was the heaviest woman I ever held.

While all this was going on I lost track of my location. The car began to squirm around all over Boston, and finally the conductor came back and wanted more money. I said no, I would get off and try a dark red car with a green stomach for a while. So I did I rode on that till I had seen a great deal of new scenery, and then I asked the conductor if he passed Number Clankety Clank, Blank street. He said he did not, but if I would go down two blocks further and take a maroon car with a plaid stomach it would take me to the corner of “What-do-you-call-it and What’s-his-name streets,” where, if I took a seal brown car with squshed huckleberry trimmings it would take me to where I wanted to go. So I tried it. I do not know just where I missed my train, but when I found the seal brown car with scrunched huckleberry trimmings it was going the other way, and as it was late I went into a cafe and refreshed myself. When I came out I discovered that it was too late to see the collection, even if I could find it, for at 6 o’clock they take the relics in and put them into a refrigerator till morning.

I was now weary and somewhat disappointed, so I desired to get back to my headquarters, wherein I could rest and where I could lock myself up in my room, so no prize fat woman could enter. I hailed one of those sawed-off landaus, consisting of two wheels, one door behind, and a bill for two bits. I told the college graduate on the box where I wanted to go, gave him a quarter and got in. I sat down and heaved a chaste sigh. The sigh was only half hove when the herdic backed up to my destination, which was about 300 feet from where I got in, as the crow flies.

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When I go to Boston again, I am going in charge of the police.

The street railway system of Boston is remarkably perfect. Fifty cars pass a given point on Washington street in an hour, and yet there are no blockades. You can take one of those cars, if you are a stranger, and you can get so mixed up that you will never get back, and all for five cents. I felt a good deal like the man who was full and who stepped on a man who was not full. The sober man was mad, and yelled out: “See here; condemn it, can’t you look where you’re walking?” “Betcher life,” says the inebriate, “but trouble is to walk where I’m lookin’.”

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