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A short story by George V. Hobart

John Henry On Street Car Etiquette

Title:     John Henry On Street Car Etiquette
Author: George V. Hobart [More Titles by Hobart]


"Naw, we don't take no transfers, needer! Aw, chase yerself!"

"Ding, ding!"

For my part I haven't been able to figure it out, but Uncle Peter is the lad who has made a profound study of that street car proposition known as the End-Seat Hog.

* * * * * *

I'm going to pass you out a talk he handed me a few evenings ago on that subject.


Suffering crumpets, John! I don't know anything about this end seat business, and the more I try to find out the more complex becomes the problem.

I've been up and down and over and across in the surface cars, John, and my experience is ornamented by ripped trousers and discolored shins, but my intellect blows out a fuse every time I try to dope out the real way not to be an End-Seat Hog.

Last Monday I jumped on an open-face car and it seemed that all the world was filled with joy and good wishes.

I was smoking one of those Bad Boy cigars. I call it a Bad Boy cigar because as soon as it goes out it gets awful noisy.

It was away uptown and the car was empty with the exception of a couple of benches.

Two blocks further on the car stopped and a stout lady looked over the situation.

I think she must have been color blind, because she didn't see the empty seats ahead and decided to cast her lot with me.

It was a terrific moment.

"Peter," I said to myself, "don't be a Hog--move over!"

And virtue was triumphant.

I moved over, and the stout lady settled squashfully into the end seat.

Her displacement was about fifteen cents' worth of bench.

After we had gone about ten blocks more every seat in the car in front and behind us was crowded, but nobody could get in our section because the fat lady held them at bay like Horatius held the bridge in the brave days of old.

People would rush up to the car when it stopped, glance carelessly fore and aft until their eyes rested on the vacant seats in our direction, and then they would see the stout lady sitting there, as graceful as the sunken ships which used to block the harbor at Port Arthur.

The people would look at the stout lady with no hope in their eyes, and then, with a sigh, they would retire and wait for the next car.

No one was brave enough to climb the mountain which grew up between them and the promised land.

After a while I began to get a toothache in my conscience.

"Peter," I said to myself in a hoarse whisper, "perhaps after all you were the Hog because you moved over! After the lady had climbed over you she would have kept on to the other end of the bench where now there is nothing but a sullen space."

I began to insult myself.

"Peter," I exclaimed inwardly, "what do you know about the etiquette of the street car? According to the newspapers it is only a Man who can be a Hog on the street cars, and since you are the original cause of blockading the port when you moved over, you must be the Hog!"

Then I got so mad at myself that I refused to talk to myself any further.

The next day I was riding downtown on the end seat with my mind made up to stay there and keep the harbor open for commerce.

"Never," I said to myself, "never will anyone become a human Merrimac to bottle up the seating capacity of this particular bench while the blood flows through these veins and the flag of freedom waves above me."

At the next corner a very thin little gentleman squeezed by me with a look of reproach on his face the like of which I hope never to see again, but I was Charles J. Glue and firm in the end seat.

Then a couple of Italy's sunny sons by the names of Microbeini and Germicide crawled over me and kicked their initials on my knee-cap and then sat down to enjoy a smoke of domestic rope which fell across my nostrils and remained there in bitterness.

After I had been stepped on, sat on, clawed at and scowled at for twenty minutes, I began to discuss myself to myself.

"Peter," I whispered, "do you really think that the general public appreciates your efforts to keep the Harbor open?"

And then myself replied to myself with a sigh of exhaustion, "I don't think!"

"Peter," I said to myself, "no matter what your motives may be the other fellow will always believe you are trying to get the best of it. If you move over and give the end seat to another gentleman he will consider it only what is his right. If you don't move over he will think you are a Hog for keeping that which is as much yours as his."

I began to grow confidential with myself.

"Civilization is a fine idea, but Human Nature can give it cards and spades and then beat it out!" I told myself. "The Human Hog was invented long before the open-face street car began to stop for him, and there isn't anybody living who should stop to throw stones at him, because selfishness is like the measles, it breaks out in unexpected places. All of us may not be Hogs, but there is a moment in the life of every man when he gets near enough to it to be called a Ham Sandwich."

Just then the Disinfecti Brothers, Microbeini and Germicide, walked over me backward and I had a short but exciting visit to the slums.

Since that eventful day I have moved over 36 times, and out of the 36 people I gave the end seat to all but three of them belonged to the Mucilage Family, and stayed there.

Thereafter I made myself a severe promise not to worry any more about my Hog qualifications when movable or immovable on an open-face car.

I will do as my conscience dictates and walk downtown as much as possible.

And speaking of street cars, John, Uncle Peter resumed after a long pause, I was in one of those cities recently where some of the cars stop on the near side of some of the streets and some stop on the far side of some of the streets.

Honestly, John, they had me up in the air.

I left the hotel to attend to some business downtown and went over on the near side of the street to wait for a car.

When the car came along I held my thumb out in the atmosphere warningly, but the motorman kept on to the far side and stopped.

By the time I ran over to the far side he was gone again and another car had stopped at the near side.

When I rushed back to the near side the car passed me going to the far side, and now the near side looked so much like the far side that I went back to the other side, which should have been the near side, but how could it be the near side when the car was on the far side and I could not get near the near side in time to catch the car before it was far away on the far side?

Just as I rushed back again to the far side the near side became the nearer side to catch the car, and when I rushed over again from the far side to the near side the nearer I got to the near side the clearer I could see that while the far side was far away it was nearer than the near side, which was always on the far side when I hoped to take a car on the near side.

Then I began to grit my teeth and made up my mind to anticipate the action of the next car by standing half way between the near side and the far side, so that I could run to either side the emergency called for.

I was standing there about a minute much pleased with the idea, because the near side was now about as far away as the far side, when just then an automobile sneaked up behind me and one of the forward turrets struck me on my own personal far side and hoisted me over to the near side just as a car left for the far side.

I reached out my hand to grasp the far side of the step, but I missed it and caught the near side, and by this time the car was on the far side and the motorman grabbed the near side of the electric controller and pushed it over to the far side, whereupon the car started for El Paso, Texas, at a speed of about 3,000 miles a minute, and there I was with the near side of four fingers holding on to the far side of the step and the rest of my body sticking straight out in space like a pair of trousers on a clothes-line in a gale of wind.

Then suddenly the near side of my fingers refused to hold on to the far side of the step, and with the near side of my face I struck the far side of the tracks, and the near side of my brain saw every individual star on the far side of the universe.

Then I went back to the hotel and crawled into the far side of the bed while my wife sent for a near side doctor who lived on the far side of the block.

* * * * * *

That will be about all for Uncle Peter.

[The end]
George V. Hobart's short story: John Henry On Street Car Etiquette