Beautiful city, how art thou misjudged!

By Gregory Clark, July 3, 1920

Designed to Make City Dwellers So Fond of the City They Will Be Contented to Stay There and Slave – The Wail of an Urbomaniac Who is Now Fed Up With Summer Resorting

This is the holiday season.

Now for the annual going away in order more gladly to return.

Now for the fevered escape from the city into the beautiful sun-soaked, clean winded land of the mosquito, ant, sunburned nose and summer hotel food. Out of the frying pan, say I, into the fire. Aye, as in the old fable, it is a goodly thing to pop out of the frying city into the fiery country in order, more thankfully, to return in a couple of weeks to the city.

This sounds pessimistic, so early in the season. But it is not meant as a criticism of the holiday habit. It is

rather, an investigation into the psychology of summer resorting.

A radical gentleman of my acquaintance, familiarly known as “the Red” states as his earnest opinion that the summer holiday is one of the most devilish devices of the capitalists.

It is eminently to the wicked capitalists’ interests to make the common herd love the city, he says. The capitalist has many means. He encourages movies, parks, ice cream parlors. But, greatest of all, is known as the summer holiday. He gives, free, to all his salaried employees, that powerful but unsuspicious middle class, two weeks at full pay, which to go to some remote original spot in the wilderness. To the propaganda in the press, these are made out to be the places for holidays. At any rate, a deep and malignant power is at work. For, in two weeks the poor man of the brick and asphalt who fled so willingly and into the picturesque wilds, returns to his desk and his high stool like a shipwrecked mariner comes home.

That, my friend “the Red’s” view does not matter. My own experience to some respects, bear him out.

The street car strike added to the expense and gayety of our departure. After setting our trunks safely away three hours before train time, we did not remember, in our excitement, that the street cars were on strike until one hour before train time. Hastily, we seized the telephone and called up a garage. Too late! No cars available for two hours. One after another, for fifteen increasingly desperate moments, we called all the garages in the directory. None could send a car in ten minutes or in half an hour.

Taking the dilemma by its horns, we seized our suitcases, paper bundles, coats, umbrellas, fishing rods and golf sticks and raced madly for the street.

Jitneys, indeed, were plentiful. But it was the hour of even, when young ladies and gents go for cheap tours in jitneys at five cents the mile. The jitneys were full.

We raced to main corner, five blocks distant, in hope of getting an empty jitney there. But no; a crowd of one hundred leisurely evening revellers were there in the same hope.

Standing at the kerb, however, was a motor delivery truck fitted up with benches. Aboard it were eight others. We scrambled atop bag and baggage. And then we whispered to the driver:

“We have to be at the Union Station in thirty minutes. Make it, and we give you a dollar each!”

“Right-ho!” replied the driver, and leaped to the throttle.

I have many times jumped for my life to escape being hit by motor trucks. But not till that night did I realize how unnecessary such leaps were. Motor trucks make a great sound of speed. But they go about four miles an hour. This one of ours roared and hummed. But it crawled. And it stopped for several passengers en route. The minutes fled by.

As we neared Simcoe street, the driver said:

“I can’t go around by the station. You’ll have to run for it.”

So from King and Simcoe we ran, bag, baggage, golf sticks and all. When we reached the cobbled subway leading to the Union Station, it was six minutes to train time.

Baggage men, undoubtedly, are in league with the capitalists. We had three trunks to check. There were fifteen flurried people ahead of us at the check room desk. Five minutes! Four!

The baggage men, as cool and unhurried as though our train were not leaving for an hour, moved quietly at their task. Our agonized expression finally caught the eye of one checker Three minutes! He accepted our tickets, helped us we find our trunks; calmly he affixed checks and returned our tickets. One minute! Out to the platform we galloped. Just as a far baritone voice wailed:

“‘Board! ‘Board!”

We got on the train with the preliminary jolt of the engine.

Inside, the car was filled. That is to say, every two persons had their seat turned in so as to form a cosy rest for their feet. They occupied four seats per pair. As we paused beside each set, they would look suggestively backwards, as much as to say that there was lots of room further on. We struggled and bumped our way down the aisle, from car to car. The train was now moving.

But the conductor and brakesmen gave us no help. Why could not they go through and turn back those double seats?

Finally, we picked out couple of helpless and harmless looking people and turned the extra seat over on them.

Ha! Whew! We were on our way!

Of the heat and the smell of that car, of the intoxicated gentleman from the far north who made frequent and unsteady pilgrimages through the cars; of the stale sandwiches and tan-bark tea obtained at “ten minutes for refreshment” station; our arrival at a Muskoka station and our journey by boat to our hotel, little need or can be said.

After a week, we can look back through sun-seared and mosquito-bitten eyes, at a memory, fragrant with pine and balsam; of spacious bright days and still moonlit nights. We have eaten many curious things. Our noses have peeled twice. Our lips are sunburned, but look as if consumed by cold sores. We fished and caught nothing but sunstroke. We golfed and lost seven balls and busted four clubs. We tramped in the fragrant forest and got bitten from every angle and grew creepy with unseen spider webs striking our faces, as we walked. We have listened, in the moonlit evening to the life story of a dozen middle-aged ladies We’ve heard all about the boot business, the wholesale grocery business, and several other vocations represented on the hotel register. Our ears still ring with all the song hits of 1919, played on piano, mandolin, and gramophone, and sung in all the voices from old maid treble to baldhead basso profundo. And there is no health in us!

Ah, the music of the birds! Especially at five o’clock in the morning, when a cheery little warbler sticks his beak trough the mosquito screen of our bedroom and says:

“Tweetle, tweetle, tweet!”

And the lowing of the kine! Here the poets are wrong. The kine do not low at eventide. They come along to the hotel just after daybreak. And they are not kine. They are cows They do not low. They bawl and moo.

But, on second thought, now that I have this all off my chest, I must admit that the brittle feeling has gone out of my spine I feel a whole lot bouncier and brisker than I did ten days ago. And what’s more, the city looks good to me. What lovely trees, with no spider webs strung between them. What well-trained robins and sparrows, who do not screech at the dawn. How good the grub at the cafeteria tastes! How dry and fresh the sheets of my bed! And the movies! And the Ice cream parlors! And the neat, orderly streets, with no winged monsters to leap out and sting you unawares!

Beautiful city, how art thou misjudged!

Editor’s Notes: Kine is a collective term for cows.

Last week’s story told of a street car strike in 1919. There must have been one in 1920 as well.