San Franscisco To New York
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
ON my first night in San Francisco I sat up late, unpacking and distributing my things about my room ; it was early morning when I was ready to retire, and it occurred to me that I had better leave a call.
"Please call me at nine," I said to the telephone operator.
"Nine o'clock," she repeated, and in a voice like a caress, added: "Good-night."
It was very pleasant to be told good-night, like that, even though the sweet voice was strange, and came over a wire; for my companion and I had been traveling for a long, long time, and though the strangers we had met had been most hospitable, and though many of them had soon ceased to be strangers, and had become friends, and though we had often said—and not without sincerity—that we "felt very much at home," we had now reached a state of mind in which we realized that, to say one "feels at home" when one is not actually at home, is, after all, to stretch the truth a little.
I must have gone to sleep immediately and I knew nothing more until I was awakened in the morning by the tinkle of the telephone.
I jumped out of bed and answered.
"Good-morning, Mr. Street," came a voice even sweeter than that of the night before. "Nine o'clock."
As I may have mentioned previously, I do not, as a rule, feel cheerful on the moment of arising, especially in a strange room, a strange hotel, and a strange city. But the pleasant personal note contained in that morning greeting, the charming tone in which it was delivered, and perhaps, in addition, the great warm patch of melted California gold which lay upon the carpet near my window—these things combined to make me feel awake, alive and happy, at the beginning of the day.
Every night, after that, I left a call, whether I really wished to be called, or not, just for the sake of the "good-night," and the "good-morning" with my name appended. For it is very pleasant to be known, in a great hotel, as something more than a mere number.
I said to myself, "That morning operator has learned from the papers that I am here. She has probably read things I have written, and is interested in me. Doubt-less she boasts to her friends: `Julian Street, the author, is stopping down at the hotel. I call him every morning. He has a pleasant voice. I wish I could see him, once.' "
Because of modesty I did not mention this flattering attention to my companion until the day before we left San Francisco, and then I was only induced to speak of it by something which occurred when we were shopping.
It was at Gump's—that most fascinating Oriental store—and having made a purchase which I wished them to deliver, I mentioned my name and address to the clerk who, however, seemed to have some difficulty in getting it correctly, setting me down at first as "Mr. Julius Sweet."
When my companion chose to taunt me about that, dwelling with apparent delight upon the painfully evident fact that my name meant nothing to the clerk, I retorted :
"That makes no difference. The telephone operator at the St. Francis calls me by name every morning." "So she does me," he returned.
I did not believe him. I could not think that this beautiful young girl—I was sure that any girl with such a voice must be young and beautiful—would cheapen her vocal favors by dispensing them broadcast. For her to coo my name to me each morning was merely a delicate attention, but for her to do the same to him seemed, somehow, brazen.
I pondered the matter as I went to bed that night, and in the morning, when the bell rang, I thought of it immediately.
"Good-morning, Mr. Street. Eight o'clock," came the mellifluous cadences.
"Good-morning," I replied. "This is the last time you will call me, so I want to say good-by, and thank you. You and the other operator always say `good-night' and `good-morning' very pleasantly and I wish you to know I have appreciated it. And when you call me you always do so by name. That has pleased me too."
"Thank you," she said—and oh ! the dulcet tone in which she spoke the words.
"How did you happen to know my name?" I asked.
"Oh," she replied—and seemed to hesitate for just an instant—"Mr. Woods has given us instructions always to call by name."
"You mean in my case ?" I asked, somewhat nervously.
"In making all morning calls," she explained. "At night, when the night operator is n't busy, she takes the call list, gets the names of the people, and notes them down opposite the room numbers so that I can read them off, when I ring, in the morning. Mr. Woods says that it makes guests feel more at home."
"It does," I assured her sadly. Then, in justice, I added: "Nevertheless you have a most agreeable voice."
"It's very kind of you to speak of it," she returned.
"Not at all," said I. "I am writing something about San Francisco, and I want to know your name so that I can mention you as the owner of the voice."
"Oh," she said, "are you a writer?"
"I am," I declared firmly.
"And you're really going to mention me ?"
"I am if you will give me your name."
"It's Lulu Maguire," she said. "Will you let me know when it comes out?"
"I will," said I.
"Thank you very much," she answered. "I hope you'll come again."
"I hope so too."
Then we said good-by. And though I cannot say of the angel-voiced Miss Maguire that she taught me about women, she did teach me something about writers, and something else about hotels.
I had always fancied that an unbroken flight across the continent would prove fatiguing and seem very, very long, but however others may have found it, it seemed short to me.
Looking back over the run from the Pacific Coast to Chicago I feel as though it had consumed but a night and one long, interesting day—a day full of changing scenes and episodes. The three things I remember best about the journey are the beauty of the Bad Lands, the wonderful squab guinea chicken I had, one night, for dinner, in the dining car, and the pretty girl with the demure expression and the mischievous blue eyes, who, before coming aboard at a little western station, kissed a handsome young cattleman good-by, and who, having later made friends with a gay young blade upon the train, kissed him good-by, also, when they parted on the platform in Chicago.
Railroad travel in the West does not seem so machine-like as in the East. That is true in many ways. West of Chicago you do not feel that your train is sandwiched in between two other trains, one just ahead, the other just behind. You run for a long time without passing another train, and when you do pass one, it is something in the nature of an event, like passing another ship, at sea. So, also, on the train, the relations between passengers and crew are not merely mechanical. You feel that the conductor is a human being, and that the dining-car conductor is distinctly a nice fellow.
But once you pass Chicago, going east, the individuality of train officials ceases to be felt. They become automatons, very efficient, but cold as cogs in a machine. As for you, you are a unit, to be transported and fed, and they do transport and feed you, doing it all impartially and impersonally, performing their duties with the most rigid decorum, and the most cold-blooded correctness.
Even the food in the dining-car seems to be standardized. The dishes look differently, and vary mildly in flavor, but there is one taste running through every-thing, as though the whole meal were made from some basic substance, colored and flavored in different ways, to create a variety of courses. The great primary taste of eastern dining-car food is, as nearly as I can hit on it, that of wet paper. The oysters seem to be made of slippery wet paper with oyster-flavor added. The soup is a sort of creamy essence of manilla. The chicken is damp paper, ground up, soaked with chicken-extract, and pressed into the form of a deceased bird. And above all, the salad is green tissue-paper, soaked in vine-gar and water,
As with the officials, so with the passengers. They become frigid, too. If, forgetting momentarily that you are no longer in the West, you speak to the gentle-man who has the seat beside you in the buffet smoker, after dinner, he takes a long appraising look at you before replying. Then, after answering you briefly, and in such a way as to give you as little information as possible, and to impress upon you the idea that you have been guilty of gross familiarity in speaking to a social superior without having first been spoken to by him—then the gentleman will rise from his chair and move to another seat, feeling, the while, to make sure that you have not got his watch.
That, gentle reader, is the sweet spirit of the civilized East. Easterners regard men with whom they are not personally acquainted as potential pickpockets; and men with whom they are acquainted as established thieves.
On you rush towards the metropolis. The train is crowded. The farms, flying past, are small, and are divided into little fields which look cramped after the great open areas of the West. Towns and cities flash by, one after another, in quick succession, as the floors flash by an express elevator, shooting down its shaft in a skyscraper ; and where there are no towns there are barns painted with advertisements, and great advertising signboards disfiguring the landscape. There are four tracks now. A passenger train roars by, savagely, on one side, and is gone, while on the other, a half-mile freight train tugs and squeaks and clatters.
When the porter calls you in the morning, and you raise your window shade, you see no plains or mountains, but the backs of squalid suburban tenements, with vari-colored garments fluttering on their clothes lines, like the flags of some ship decked for a gala day.
Gathering yourself and your dusty habiliments together, you sneak shamefully to the washroom. Already it is full of men: men in trousers and undershirt, men with tousled hair and stubble chins, men with bags and dressing-cases spread out on the seats, splattering men, who immerse their faces in the swinging suds of the nickel-plated washbowl, and snort like seals in the aquarium.
Ah, the East ! The throbbing, thriving, thickly-populated East!
Presently you get your turn at a sloppy washbowl, after which you slip into the stale clothing of the day before, and return to the body of the car, feeling half washed, half dressed and half dead.
Outside are factories, and railroad yards, and everywhere tall black chimneys, vomiting their heavy, muddy smoke. But always the train glides on like some swift, smooth river. Now the track is elevated, now de-pressed. You run over bridges or under them, crossing streets and other railroads. At last you dive into a tunnel and presently emerging, coast slowly along beside an endless concrete platform raised to the level of the car floor.
Your bags have long since been carried away by the Pullman porter, and you have sat for many minutes in the hot car, wearing the overcoat and hat into which he insisted upon putting you when you were yet many miles outside New York.
Before the train stops you are in the narrow passage-way at the end of the car, lined-up with others eager to escape. The Redcaps run beside the vestibule. That is one good thing: there are always plenty of porters in New York. `
The Pullman porter hands your bags to a station porter, and you hand the Pullman porter something which elicits a swift: "Thank you, boss."
Then, through the crowd, you make your way, behind your Redcap, towards the taxi-stand. In the great con-course, people are rushing hither and thither. Every one is in a hurry. Every one is dodging every one else. Every one is trying to keep his knees from being knocked by swift-passing suitcases. You feel dazed, rushed, jostled.
It is always the same, the arrival in New York. The stranger setting foot there for the first time may, perhaps, sense more keenly than the returning resident, the magnificent fury of the city. But, upon reaching the metropolis after a period of exile, the most confirmed New Yorker must, unless his perceptions are quite ossified, feel his imagination quicken as he is again confronted by the whirling, grinding, smashing, shrieking, seething, writhing, glittering, hellish splendor of the City of New York.
Never before, it seemed to me, had I felt the impact of the city as when I moved through the crowded concourse of the Pennsylvania Terminal with my companion—the comrade of so many trains and tickets, so many miles and meals.
We were at our journey's end. We were in New York again at last and would be in our respective homes as soon as taxicabs could take us to them. But, eager as I was to reach my home, it was with a kind of pang that I realized that now, for the first time in months, we would not drive away together in the same taxicab, but would part here, at the taxi-stand, and go our separate ways ; that we would not dine together that night, nor sup together, nor visit in each other's rooms to talk over the day's doings, before turning in, nor breakfast together in the morning, nor match coins to determine who should pay for things.
When the first taxi came up there were politenesses between us as to which should take it—that in itself be-spoke the change already coming over us.
I persuaded him to get in. We shook hands hurriedly through the window. Then, with a jerk, the taxi started.
As I watched it drive away, I thought: "What a fine thing to know that man as I know him ! Have I always been as considerate of him, on this trip, as I should have been? Was it right for me to insist on his staying up that night, in San Francisco, when he wanted to go to bed? Was it right for me to insist on his going to bed that night, in Excelsior Springs, when he wanted to stay up? Should n't I have taken more interest in his packing? And if I had done so, would he have left his razor in one hotel, and his pumps in another, and his bathrobe in another, and his kodak in another, and his umbrella in another, and his silver shoehorn in another, and his trousers in another, and his pajamas in every hotel we stopped in ?"
Then my taxi drove up and I got in, and as we scurried out into the congested street, I kept on ruminating over my treatment of my traveling companion.
"I never treated him badly," I thought. "Still, if I had it all to do over again I should treat him better. I should tuck him in at night. I should send his shoes to be polished and his clothes to be pressed. I should perform all kinds of little services for him—not because he deserves such treatment, but because that would get him under obligations to me. And it is a most desirable thing to get a man under obligations to you when he knows as much about you as that man knows about me!"