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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Simeon Ford (1855–1933)

The Discomforts of Travel

From “A Few Remarks”

IT is conceded that there is nothing more educating and refining than travel. It is also conceded that nothing is more conducive to travel than free passes. You can now understand why I am so highly educated and so refined.

I know of nothing which so enhances the pleasure of a railroad trip as a pass. It smooths out all the asperities and fatigues of the journey. “It maketh glad the wilderness and the solitary places, and maketh the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose.” I have often risen up and left a comfortable fireside, kind friends, and solicitous creditors, and journeyed to remote and cheerless localities in which I was quite uninterested, lured thereto by the magic influence of a pass. You all know how Svengali hypnotized poor Trilby, simply by a few passes.

The immortal poet Longfellow was ’way off when he wrote:

  • “Try not the pass,” the old man said;
  • “Dark lowers the tempest overhead;
  • The roaring torrent is deep and wide.”
  • And loud that clarion voice replied,
  • “Excelsior.”
  • Now, the old man probably advised the youth not to try the pass, because he knew, if he did, and got one, he would never be asked to pay fare again without feeling that an outrage was being perpetrated on him. The opium habit is a positive virtue compared with the pass habit. The fact that one is in no way entitled to free transportation only stimulates one in the desire to ride at some other fellow’s expense.

    One of the most dangerous laws we have is the one forbidding office-holders to accept passes. It keeps our leading citizens out of politics. Some one said (in a moment of temporary aberration of mind) that he’d “rather be right than President”; but I’d rather have an annual on the New York Central than be an Assemblyman in the tents of wickedness. (That’s another biblical quotation.)

    The only drawback about using a pass (in addition to the loss of your self-respect) is the harrowing thought, which constantly hovers over you, that in case of accident your mangled remains will be of no cash value to your afflicted family. It is a safe plan, when traveling on a pass, to spend a portion of your ill-gotten gains on an insurance policy. Then, in case of accident, your last moments will be soothed by the thought that you have beaten the game both ways.

    But inasmuch as I have never succeeded in worming a pass out of the sleeping-car people, I feel at liberty to make a few remarks on that branch of the railroad service, not in a carping spirit, but more in sorrow than in anger.

    It is frequently remarked (especially in advertisements) that travel in our palace cars is the acme of comfort and luxury; and I guess they are about as perfect as they can be made and still pay dividends on diluted stock; and yet, after a night in one, I always feel as if I had been through a severe attack of cholera infantum.

    In winter, especially, the question of temperature is trying. The mercury, soon after you start, bounds up to one hundred and ten degrees in the shade. You endure this until you melt off several pounds of hard-earned flesh, and then you muster up courage to press the button. You “keep a-pushin’ and a-shovin’” until you lay the foundation of a felon on the end of your finger, and finally the dusky Ethiopian reluctantly emerges from his place of concealment and gazes at you scornfully. You suggest that the temperature is all right for “India’s coral strand,” but is too ardent to be compatible with Jaeger hygienic underwear. Whereupon he removes the roof, sides, and bottom of the car, and the mercury falls to three below zero, while you sit there and freeze to death, not daring to again disturb him lest you sink still further in his estimation.

    That night he gets square with you for your temerity by making up your berth last; and when, at 3 A.M., you finally retire, you wonder why you didn’t sit up and doze, instead of going to bed to lie wide awake.

    Some folks sleep in sleeping-cars—any one who has ears can swear to that—but I am not so gifted. I attribute this mainly to the blankets (so called). Bret Harte says a sleeping-car blanket is of the size and consistency of a cold buckwheat cake, and sets equally as well upon you. Certainly they are composed of some weird, uncanny substance, hot in summer, cold in winter, and maddening in spring and fall. For a man of three foot six they are of ample proportions; for a man six foot three they leave much to be desired; and the tall man is kept all night in suspense as to whether he had best pull up the blanket and freeze his feet, or pull it down and die of pneumonia.

    And then the joy of getting your clothes on in the morning, especially in an upper berth! To balance yourself on the back of your neck, and while in this constrained attitude to adjust one’s pants, without spilling out one’s change or offending the lady in the adjoining section, requires gymnastic ability of no mean order. You are at liberty to vary this exercise, however, by lying on your stomach on the bottom of the car, and groping under the berth for your shoes, which the African potentate has, in the still watches of the night, smeared with blacking and artfully concealed.

    But what a change comes o’er the dusky despot as you approach your destination! That frown, before which you have learned to tremble, is replaced by a smile of childlike blandness. His solicitation regarding your comfort during the last ten minutes of the journey is really touching. And when, at last, he draws his deadly whisk-broom upon you, all your resentment disappears, and you freely bestow upon him the money which you have been saving up to give your oldest daughter music-lessons.