By Greg Clark, July 22, 1933
“What irritates me,” I said to Jim Frise, as we bowled along the Lake Shore boulevard, “are these birds that drive in the middle of the road when they want to go at half speed.”
“Yeah,” said Jim, swerving around one of them. And the guys that want to make a right-hand turn and swing away out to the left, the way you used to turn a buggy around a corner.”
“Or worse,” said I, “the guy that wants to make left hand turn and comes up on your right.”
We overtook another of those centre-of-the-road drivers, and as we swerved away to pass him, I leaned out the window and snarled:
“Get over to the side if you don’t want to travel!”
“Aw, hire a hall!” yelled the offender.
“There’s no use trying to correct them,” said Jim.
“It’s a pity the police don’t devote some of their time to correcting the manners of drivers,” I said, instead of always testing brakes and watching speeders.”
“You mean police school of deportment?” asked Jim. “If you are caught committing any of these small breaches of driving etiquette, you get an invitation, on blue paper, to attend a course of lectures on manners at the police station.”
“That would be swell,” I said. “It would be more sensible than a fine. It seems to me the worst manners belong to those who can best afford to pay a fine. But you threaten people with a series of ten lectures by a policeman on hour a night, and by golly, they would watch their step.”
We overtook another driver who was so busy staring sideways at the bathing beauties along Sunnyside, that he was driving all over the road.
“Hey,” I shouted, as we passed him, “watch what you’re doing!”
“Thoop!” he retorted, which is one way of spelling a raspberry.
“You see?” commented Jim. “It’s no use trying to talk to them. You’ve got to have a uniform on. A police helmet, and you would be a great teacher.
“That gives me an idea,” I said, “Let’s get a couple of bank messenger caps, or chauffeur’s caps, and put them on and see what difference it makes when we check up some of these birds.”
“No chance,” said Jimmie. “That is what they call impersonating a police officer.”
“We won’t impersonate police,” I said. “We’ll organize a new association. We’ll call it the Society for the Improvement of Motoring Manners. Then we’ll appoint you and me as field workers. We will wear blue caps.”
“I don’t like those caps,” said Jim.
“Aw, why not? Bank messengers, Salvation Army, chauffeurs, anybody can wear a blue cap with a patent leather peak on it. We won’t wear uniforms. We’ll just wear the caps with these clothes we have on now. And let’s see what difference it makes when we check people up while wearing an official-looking cap.”
“I don’t mind other people’s manners nearly as much as you do,” said Jim, slamming on his brakes, swerving to the right to miss a lady who had suddenly decided to go back downtown. Jim turned and smiled sweet forgiveness to her, as she sat in her car flustered and red in the face. “We all make mistakes some time.”
They All Fall For a Cap
However, when I called around after supper at Jim’s with two handsome blue caps which I borrowed from a friend who is in the St. John Ambulance Corps, Jimmie weakened. They did not quite fit, but they certainly gave us a very official look from the neck up.
We went into Jim’s garden and sat down and held a meeting. We organized the Society for the Improvement of Motoring Manners. We elected Mayor Stewart as president, Charlie Conacher as vice-president, and then we, too, in full assembly met, appointed each other as field workers of the association, without pay.
And then we put on our caps and went out for the first demonstration.
Along Bloor St., we found several cars double parked. If you don’t know what double-parked means, it simply means that instead of going and finding a parking place and walking back to the store you wish to visit, you just stop in front of the store you want to visit, even when there is a complete line of cars parked there already. It is a swell idea. It just jams everything. It simply restores the old dirt road to Toronto.
We adjusted our caps to a severe angle and pulled alongside the offender. That is, we triple parked.
“Do you park like this often?” I asked with a cold glitter in my eye.
The handy little house husband at the wheel of the double parked car turned a sickly color.
“Sorry,” he said, grabbing for the starter with his foot.
“Make it snappy and don’t do it again,” I said quietly and coldly.
“Yes, sir,” said the obedient man.
We hope his wife was in a temper when they found each other.
As we coasted along Bloor, in the evening, a car suddenly leaped out from the kerb, and we had to take a wild swerve on to the car track to avoid colliding.
We backed up to it. A sulky looking youth was at the wheel.
“Do you do that often?” I asked, leaning out of the car window.
“Sorry,” he said. “I forgot to look.”
“Drive ahead of us,” I commanded. “Let’s see how you drive a car.”
The sulky youth, flushed and angry, having met, apparently for the first time, somebody he could not snarl at like his parents, pulled ahead of us and we followed him two blocks, while he drove at about fifteen miles an hour and with the utmost care. The back of his head fairly glowed with bad temper as he publicly shamed himself. Probably he never had driven so slow in all his life.
“Jim,” I said, “isn’t this great!”
“They sure fall for cap,” he said. “Now I know why bank messengers wear these caps. No wonder we pay the draft when they call with it.”
“Let’s get down to Sunnyside or out on a highway somewhere,” I said. “Let’s get some action.”
We went down for half an hour along the board walk. We checked up people for going slow, for cutting in, for trying to park in too small an opening
“Get along there,” I commanded to the pokey drivers. “If you want to see the sights, park and get out of the traffic. This is a highway.”
“Yes, sir,” the flustered drivers would exclaim. And their wives would all sit up and glare indignantly.
“Do You Do That Often?”
Over the Humber and out the highway we drove. Fat men seem to be the worst offenders. It appears that being fat, they enjoy the sense of speed and easy movement that can be obtained out of a car. Deprived by nature of enjoying easy and graceful movement, they take a great kick out of floating gracefully about in a car. With a line of cars coming toward us, and barely three car lengths to spare, a fast car shot in around us, and we could see a fat neck surmounted by head the size of a three for a quarter grapefruit.
“After him!” I hissed.
We overtook him, ran alongside and I motioned him to the side of the road.
Do you do that often?” I asked, sweetly and coldly.
“Sorry,” said the fat man breathlessly. “I have a very important engagement. My old mother … in fact, my wife, she’s you know… very urgent, officer, and I never did it before …”
“Don’t let that happen again,” I said levelly.
We drove on. And the fat man in the graceful ear followed us at respectful distance. We turned up a side road, and as far as we could see him, he held to twenty miles an hour.
“I wish some of these young sizzle sisters would come by in a sport roadster, with about nine in it. We’d make them empty half of them out, go home and call back for them.”
“Don’t let’s get into trouble,” said Jim. “This is my car.”
It was growing dusk. Ahead of us up the side road a car was parked. As we approached, we slowed down. The parked car suddenly leaped to life and ran ahead of us, with two young heads showing through the rear window, sitting very far apart and very prim.
All the way up that side road we approached cars, and every car started to move the minute our caps were visible in the dusk.
We swung home via the Dundas highway, correcting a few cutters-in, admonishing a few fast boys, and all you need to do to slow them down, when you are wearing a bank messenger’s cap, is to stare blankly at them.
Just near the cemetery at the Humber, a large car cut in past us, had to slow down suddenly, and there was a great squealing of brakes.
“Run alongside,” I ordered.
Jim ran us alongside, and as we drew level, with my eyes more on our running board than on the occupants of the car, I shouted, “Pull over to the side, there!”
The car pulled over to the side.
“What the devil do you mean,” I shouted, getting out of the car and walking back toward the other car, “by cutting in like that?
The mistake I made was getting out of the car. Sitting down with just my head showing, with that cap on, I may have looked official. But I lack an official body.
“Tell the Sergeant About It”
“Who are you?” asked the driver of the car. I looked sharply at him. And I beheld the tanned face, the cold blue eyes and the heavy shoulders of a gentleman of undoubted Irish extraction who was undoubtedly, by the cold look in his eye, a policeman in plain clothes.
“I,” I said, removing my cap to wipe my perspiring brow, and not putting it on again, “am the field officer of the Society for the Improvement of Motoring Manners.”
“The what?” said the large man.
“The S.I.M.M.,” I said. “Er- a new society. Maybe you haven’t heard of it?”
“I never have,” said the big fellow. His companion was also a six-footer, and also very cold about the eye.
Jim honked his horn for me to come on.
“Well,” I said, “it was just that cutting in.”
“Just minute,” said the big fellow “What are you supposed to be doing? Going around checking people up?”
“The purpose of our society is to correct certain bad manners in driving,” I said. “Of course cutting in is not one of the worst ones.”
“I tell you what you do,” said the big fellow. “You drive right down now to Number Nine police station. Know where it is? Well, you drive down there. We’ll follow in a few minutes. You tell the sergeant there about your new society, will you?”
I saw him look at Jim’s license number, making a mental note.
“Yes, sir,” said I, returning to Jim’s car and throwing my cap in on the back seat.
We drove to Number Nine station.
We sat there on a bench for about twenty minutes.
“What is it you want?” the desk man asked us, after ignoring us for all that time.
“Two detectives told us to report here,” I explained.
“I don’t know. He just said to report here.”
“What were you doing?”
“Just driving along,” I said. “Just driving. Out on the highway.”
“Who were the detectives?” they asked.
“Two detectives,” I said. “In a large brown car.”
“Yes, sir. Large brown car.”
“We have no detectives in brown car,” said the sergeant. “I guess somebody was pulling your leg.”
“Can we go?” I asked.
“There is nothing to stop you,” said the sergeant.
We went around by my friend, the St John Ambulance Corps man, and restored him his caps.
“After all,” said Jimmie, swinging wide around a corner and nearly colliding with car coming toward us on its own side of the pavement, “I’d rather belong to a Society for the Prevention of Societies.”
“Apparently,” said I, “those two big birds do. The dirty, impersonators!”
Editor’s Notes: Driver’s licences were only required in Ontario in 1927, six years before this story was written. Though there are always people who drive poorly, it must have been worse at a time when there was little instruction or requirements, and cars were only widespread for about 20 years. Even Jim comments on how some people turn corners like they were driving a horse and buggy.