Back in his bachelor days, probably around the 1930's, my father was a motorman on San Francisco streetcars. The cars were run by the long-since-defunct Market Street Railway Company. In later years, it was taken over by the City, and became, and still is the San Francisco Municipal Railway Company, or "MUNI."
However, I digress. Back in those days, streetcars had 2 employees aboard. The motorman operated the car, and the conductor collected fares and made change. All of this was long before my time, but my Dad was a great storyteller, and as a child, I loved hearing his stories over and over, so I still have them with me, even though Dear Ol' Dad is long gone.
The Playland at the Beach Route
On this day, Dad was driving an evening weekday run on the streetcar line that went out to Playland at the Beach. As I recall the tale, it was a typical foggy San Francisco day, and being a weekday, there were few riders that far out. Playland was the end of the line, and that day, Dad had a screaming headache and a bit of an upset stomach. He decided that when he got to the end of the line, he'd run into a drugstore that was near the area, and get himself some Alka-Seltzer.
As it happened, when he arrived, there was not as much spare time as he had bargained on, so he could not stop at the soda fountain in the drugstore to request a glass of water. He threw the tablets in his mouth dry, and hustled back aboard the streetcar. (In those days, they were much more strict about keeping to the schedules!)
They started out heading back toward downtown, and Dad was doing fine keeping up with swallowing the foam from the tablets with no problems. Then he began to think, and that's where the trouble began.
He thought, "Gee, if some drunk gets on board and starts giving me a hard time, all I'll have to do is open my mouth in a wide grin, and let all this foam show. The drunk will see me foaming at the mouth, think I've got rabies, and jump backwards over the gate to get away." That made him start to laugh, and the more he laughed, the harder it got to keep up with the foam, until he finally had to spit it out.
His finale to the story stated, "..and I never had another Alka-Seltzer from that day to this, that did me as much good!"
The Moth in the Scotsman's Purse
One of the conductors who worked with my Dad on the streetcar runs was an old Scotsman. Political correctness these days frowns upon stereotypical characterizations based upon nationality or anything else.
However, back in the day, more people realized that some traits had at least a grain of truth behind the stereotypes; and they still had a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at themselves and their human foibles.
So, here was this Scotsman, well aware that Scots were "known" for pinching pennies, being frugal, and (dare I say it?), outright cheap. At the end of the day's run, he thought he'd have some fun with the station manager, and deliberately turned in his receipts a penny short.
When the manager pointed this out, the fellow said, "Weeeeel, now, let's have a look-see, 'eeerrre," and opened his pouch right under the manager's nose, letting escape a moth he'd caught earlier inside the streetcar.
You see, the old legend was that Scotsmen were so cheap, and their purses opened so infrequently, that moths took up residence inside. They both had a good laugh, the "missing" penny was turned in, and the story made the rounds of the car barn.
A Coin Collector?
One morning at the start of the run, the first passenger aboard was a sweet Little Old Lady. (The original meaning of "LOL.") You know the type: dressed to the nines; well-groomed, gloves (ladies wore gloves when going out in those days), and well-spoken. The classic clichéd "butter-wouldn't- melt-in-her-mouth" type. She was evidently quite well-to-do, as she paid her fare with a rather large bill.
Being the first stop of the run, the conductor did not have any bills yet for change. Mind you, this was the era of nickel carfares, and most folks paid with some kind of coin, so there was no need to carry a wad of paper money to make change.
The conductor had no choice but to give her a lot of dimes in her change. She took the seat right behind my dad, the motorman, and sat there counting her change, one dime at a time. She then looked sweetly up at the conductor, and purred, "Pardon me, do you have any more dimes?"
Thinking that perhaps she was a coin collector, the conductor replied promptly, "Why yes, ma'am, I certainly do!"
He nearly fell over from shock at the reply, "Well, stick them up your ass!"
Stupid Questions Get Stupid Answers...
Another day, a elderly woman, apparently old enough to remember life before electricity, was about to board the streetcar. However, she was nervous about this new-fangled power, and made an inquiry of the conductor, "If I step on the tracks, will I get a shock?"
Perhaps the conductor was having a bad day, for he sarcastically retorted, "Only if you put your other foot up on the overhead wires at the same time."
This post dedicated to my father in loving memory.
© 2011 Liz Elias