There were double-decker buses on Sacramento Boulevard in 1924, when I was ten. The big sport on Sunday afternoon was to ride up to the statue at Logan Square, which was the end of the line, and sit around until the bus decided to go back. Ten cents. And then you had to pay another ten cents to get back.
That was a big deal. And you wore your dress-up clothes, because on Sunday you stayed dressed up all day. You didn’t take your fancy clothes off when you came home from church. It was still Sunday.
We’d ride on the top down Sacramento Boulevard, the open top. We loved it when the driver called, “Duck your head. Low bridge ahead.” If anybody was standing they better get down.
The way you told a boulevard from a regular street was a boulevard would have buses and a regular street would have streetcars.
Everybody rode streetcars. There weren’t all these cars back then. We rode by ourselves from the time we were eight, my sister Marge and me.
The streetcars ran every bit as fast as the buses do today. I can’t see why they dug up all the streets and all the bricks and took out all the rails. They said the streetcars couldn’t turn around. Well, they used to turn around. The Harrison streetcar went downtown and turned around on Adams and Dearborn, right behind the Fair Store.
Sometimes the streetcars would hardly stop. If only one or two guys were getting on the conductor would ring the bell, and the car would slow down, and the guys would “flip” the streetcar, jump up the back steps. It was three steps up to the platform. You’d pull the door to go into the car.
The conductor rode on the open platform in back. If there were no seats inside, you’d ride back there. Or if a man wanted a smoke.
If there was a woman waiting to get on, the car would always come to a complete stop. A woman wouldn’t flip the streetcar.
In rush hour the men would let the women get up the stairs, then they’d take the last step and they’d hold us all on. Everybody’d be jammed into the platform, and the men would hang on the outside and hold everybody up. If one of them let go we’d all be out on the street.
When my grandfather came to visit he’d always take the Harrison streetcar. When he was going home, Pa, me, and a couple of kids would walk over to Harrison Street with him. And he’d flip the bottom of the streetcar. He wouldn’t move into the car, although there were seats. He’d stand on the bottom step and wave to us as he went. And my father’d say, “That damn fool.”
But it was my father who fell off a streetcar.
He used to go to union meetings, and when he came home he’d be pretty well plastered. One night he was coming home from a meeting and he got on the Harrison streetcar.
The car used to make a jog at Halsted Street. He got on the bottom step and was holding on to the railing. The conductor pulled his chain, and the car started to go.
Anyway, this one night he fell off the car. He went to the hospital, and they examined him and said he was all right and sent him home. But he had every ambulance chaser in town after him.
One guy persuaded him to sue the Chicago Surface Lines. Well, of course he lost his case. And when he came home he said he never felt so filthy in his life as he did up there on the witness stand trying to convince them that he’d been totally sober and that the reason he fell was that the car jogged.