I went, with a dismal crunch, into the solid bumper of a car in the next rank.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 6, 1946.

“You look irked,” remarked Jimmie Frise.

“I am irked,” I admitted. “I’ve been irked all day.”

“The heat getting you?” suggested Jim.

“No, the traffic,” I stated. “Honestly, Jim, I don’t know what we’re coming to. Here we are, with hardly any new cars on the market yet. And the traffic is so bad it is hardly worth the nerve-strain to try and drive a car downtown.”

“I wonder where all the cars are coming from?” mused Jim. “Since there haven’t been any new cars manufactured for the past several years, there can’t actually be so many more cars on the streets than there were in 1944, for example.”

“It seems to me.” I submitted, “that there are TWICE as many cars on the streets as there were a year ago. What’s happened?”

“Maybe it’s just notion we’ve got,” supposed Jim.

“Notion nothing!” I protested. “I tell you, the downtown streets are well nigh impassable these days. Use your eyes, Jim! Not only are the cars jamming the streets in traffic, but you can’t find a place to park for a distance of a mile from the centre of the city.”

“All the parking lots are full,” admitted Jim.

“What is causing this increase in cars?” I insisted. “No new cars have been made for three years, of any account. Yet Toronto is jammed with more cars than there were in the heyday of car manufacturing, back in 1938 or 1939.”

“It’s very mysterious,” agreed Jim.

“It may be.” I presented, “that all those tens of thousands of war workers who came to the big city from towns and villages all over the province to work in war factories may still be lingering in the city. And they made enough money to buy cars – second-hand cars.”

“That might be it,” said Jim.

“Yet I don’t think,” I continued, “that the small towns are any less furnished with cars than they ever were.”

“Well, the cars have come from somewhere,” declared Jimmie, “and they aren’t new cars.”

“Not only are the cars more numerous,” I asserted, “but the driving is worse than I have ever known it to be.”

“I don’t think it’s the driving, Greg,” said Jim seriously. “It isn’t bad driving. It’s bad manners.”

“How do you mean?” I demanded.

“Driving isn’t bad,” explained Jim: “Driving is childishly simple. It’s the manners of people driving that is the trouble these days. Everybody trying to beat the other guy. Everybody trying to edge ahead of the other guy.

“And everybody,” I cried, “being impatient with the other guy! Drive down Yonge St. in the middle of the day and you can collect more dirty looks, more nasty cracks hurled at you out of the windows of other cars….”

“Don’t you hurl a few yourself?” asked Jim sweetly.

“Well, what can you do,” I retorted, “when some guy goes yappity, yappity out the car window at you!”

What It’s Coming To

“It isn’t bad driving,” summed up Jim, “it’s bad manners that’s the trouble these days. Driving in traffic has become a tough game, like hockey. You try to skate the other guy off. You try to give him the butt end. You try to take the puck off him by stealing the lead in traffic.”

“Nobody cares a hoot for anybody else,” I agreed. “If you want to park, you don’t stop to think that somebody may be behind you. You just jam on the brakes, whenever you see a parking space, and let the car behind look out for itself.”

“If you can gyp a guy out of a place to park,” added Jim, “why, that’s an extra feather in your cap.”

“Bad temper,” I put in, “irritation, grouchiness and eternal vigilance to cut the other man off if possible, seems to be the proper spirit in which to enter downtown traffic today.”

Jim reflected.

“Well, you see,” he mused, “a big city nowadays is no longer a manufacturing city. It is a trading city. In a manufacturing city, or a city in which the dominant business is manufacturing, you get people of a different character entirely from the people of a trading city. You get people accustomed to decent and orderly procedure. They spend their daily lives making things, by step-to-step process. They are people with patient, orderly minds.”

“I can see that,” I agreed.

“But in a big city that has become a trading city,” went on Jim, “a city full of agents, brokers, dealers – you get a people sharply interested in making a nickel or a dime. And the way the nickels and dimes are made by traders is by being awful quick, awful nimble.”

“I see that too,” I admitted. “It’s like brokers making a fraction of one per cent on a deal. So they try to turn over as many deals as possible, to make the fractions of one per cent add up.”

“Nickels and dimes,” repeated Jim. “That’s what they are after in the big cities where trading is the dominant activity. And that is why, in a big city, the driving manners are bad. You accustom a man all day to being quick and nimble at making a big pile of nickels and dimes, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and the habit grows on him and takes hold of him. So that when he is driving home, after work, he can’t help but try all the little quick slick tricks, turns, dodges and jumps that he has been practising all day. Result: Traffic full of guys all trying to gain a few nickels and dimes over each other.”

“I think you’ve got something there, Jim,” I confessed. “But how the sam hill are we going to improve the driving manners of nearly a million people?”

“I don’t think it is our worry,” said Jim. “Things like that cure themselves. Our traffic is going to get denser and denser. The new cars will soon be coming out in quantity, adding to the jam. And the thicker the jam, the worse the manners will grow. Finally, in about two years, the keyed-up tempers of the driving public will snap. There will be duels all over the streets. Duels between cars. When somebody’s bad manners reach the zenith, in the midst of the ever-jamming traffic, another driver will simply smack into him. The custom will rapidly spread. All over the city, cars will be slamming into one another. Sideswiping each other. Chasing each other and driving each other into lamp posts. That’s the logical end to the present trend.”

“That’ll be kind of exciting,” I exclaimed.

“There are certain fundamental principles to human nature,” explained Jimmie, “and the first of them is, if you can get away with murder, why, you get away with it. No improvement in human behavior or human conduct, was ever brought about except as the result of a universal smashup. It isn’t enough for a few nice people to try to set an example to the mob. It isn’t enough for a few nice people, with ideals, to work out a system of good manners and try to impose it on the mass. We quit murdering each other, back about the year one, when there were so few of us left that we got scared and passed a law.”

“Well, you take New York,” I interrupted. I’ve been in all the big cities of the world Paris, London, Chicago and I say, without fear or favor, that the best driving manners in the world are in New York city.”

”That ain’t the way I heered it,” “scoffed Jim.

“No, because,” I cried, “for years New York’s driving manners were the world’s worst. They just about annihilated one another. There were more traffic fatalities in New York than anywhere else on earth. It worked out just the way you described, with those duels between cars. They got so bad that they just HAD to get good, in order to survive.”

Stacked in Solid

“The New York cops,” ventured Jim, “are pretty tough.”

“They are tough,” I explained, because they are watching the manners – not the driving – of the drivers. Just try any of the tricks that are tried on every street of Toronto every hour of the day and see what would happen to you in New York.”

“You certainly are irked, smiled Jim consolingly. “What happened to you today?”

“It was parking,” I muttered.

“What happened?” persisted Jim.

“Well,” I sighed heavily, “I must have spent 30 minutes driving round and round downtown, looking for a place to park. I went to the parking lot where I usually park and the cranky old autocrat who is the chief attendant waved me angrily off. The lot was packed absolutely solid with cars. At only 10 o’clock.”

“So?” helped Jim.

“So I drove around to another parking lot,” I continued, “and it was jam full. How they are going to unscramble those cars, I don’t know. They didn’t leave any aisles or avenues among the cars. Cars just stacked in solid.”

“That’s what gets me,” exclaimed Jimmie. “There don’t seem to be any rules governing those parking lots. So desperate are we in this city for parking space downtown that nobody has the nerve to suggest any rules to control the parking lots.”

“I bet,” I declared, “there is more damage done to the fenders and bodies of cars in Toronto on the parking lots than from any other cause whatsoever.”

“I agree,” said Jim. “But what can you expect, with those parking lot moguls being allowed to get away with murder?”

“I had my front left fender,” I submitted, “bashed all to pieces only last week in one of those indoor parking places. I thought I would play safe and not leave my car in one of those open-air madhouses. So I took it into an indoor parking place where an attendant takes the car from you at the door. At 5 o’clock they brought her down, with the left front fender all folded up.”

“But they didn’t get away with it?” demanded Jim.

“Sure they got away with it,” I cried. “They said, how did I know I didn’t bring it in that way? How did I know one of my children didn’t have it out the night before and bashed it all up? Did I go around the front, they asked me, when I got into the car in my own garage in the morning? Did I walk around to the front and look at my fenders?”

“Of course, you didn’t,” sympathized Jim.

“Nobody ever looks at their front bumper when they go and get their car out of their own garage in the morning.” I stated. “So they had me there. They asked me could I PROVE the damage had been done in their place.”

“Of course you couldn’t,” consoled Jim.

“They get away with murder,” I asserted. “They’ve got us where they want us. So desperate are we for a place to park, they can put anything they like over on us. I suppose we should be happy merely to get our cars back from them.”

There are too many of us,” said Jim sadly. “Too many motorists for the size of the city. I can see nothing but gloom ahead, in the traffic problem.”

“We can never expand the size of our streets,” I agreed, “fast enough to keep up with the number of people who will be buying cars. Toronto doubles its population every 20 years. Can you picture Toronto in another 20 years? Twice the number of cars in it there are now – AT LEAST!”

“It’s a dark prospect,” said Jim gloomily.

“Evils cure themselves,” I pointed out, “by destroying themselves. Downtown Toronto simply cannot by any stretch of the imagination, contain twice the traffic it contains today. Yet we know that in 20 years it will be twice as great.”

“So what?” asked Jim aghast.

“So it destroys itself,” I said complacently.

“Which?” inquired Jim. “The traffic or the downtown?”

“The downtown,” I submitted.

“I’d say the traffic,” plumped Jim.

“Why? I demanded.

“Because the traffic,” explained Jim, “is so much more easily destroyed than those big, fat buildings.”

“Well, something has to give,” I sighed.

“Can I drive home with you?” asked Jim. “I left my car at home this morning. Too much trouble to bring it downtown.”

“Ah, there’s the solution,” I cried. “It will become such a nuisance driving in downtown traffic that nobody will bring their cars.”

“What time are you leaving?” Jim asked.

“Fivish,” I replied.

And we returned to our chores.

Where’s My Car?

At 5, Jim and I sallied forth into the flood of home-goers and I guided him to the parking lot where I had left my car in the morning. It was a panjandrum. It had been packed so full, at 10 a.m., that I did not see how they were going to get my little open job in anywhere. But I was so glad they offered to try and I left it with them.

Now, at 10 past 5, the parking lot had the appearance of a solid sea of cars.

I paid my quarter to the chief attendant in the little shanty.

“Where do I find it?” I asked.

“How should I know?” replied the head man. “Go and look for it.”

Jim and I started along the aisles. I met another attendant, a red-haired, foolish-faced guy who seemed to be floating in a cloud.

“Where’s a little fawn-colored open job, with top down?” I asked him.

“Ha,” he cried, wheeling with alacrity. “I’ll get it. Been wanting to twirl that little baby all day!”

“No you don’t,” I cried, sprinting after him. “Not with these measly little aisles you’ve left in here!”

But he beat me to the open job and vaulted in behind the wheel.

“Wait a minute,” I warned. “Let me take her out…”

“We don’t allow the customers to move the cars,” he said, stepping on my starter and plunging the choke furiously.

“Come on, son, get out of there,” I commanded. “Don’t you move that car in here! Why, you haven’t left enough room for a wheelbarrow to turn.”

He ignored me and started to back, turning in the seat to watch behind with a gleeful, idiotic expression.

I reached in and turned off the ignition.

“Here!” I said, menacing. “Get out!”

And I opened the door. At which moment, another, older attendant, a loud-voiced, excited man, arrived and yelled:

“What’s the hold-up here?”

He explained, at the top of his lungs, that getting cars out of the ranks was a specialist’s job.

I was firm. I was adamant.

“Cars and contents,” I read to him from the wall of the little shanty, “left here at the owner’s risks. Okay I’m the owner. I’ll take the risk. Thank you.”

I backed. I was a little flushed. I was a little hot. And before I had so much as touched the accelerator, I went, with a dismal crunch, wham, bang into the solid bumper of a car in the next rank. I could feel my fender squishing.

There were shouts, there were imprecations, there were nit-wit chuckles from the red-headed kid.

“The motorists in this town,” bellowed the attendant in the red shirt, “are the worst lot of dopes anywhere in the world…”

He waved me out of my car. He took the wheel. He twisted, squirmed, inched, coiled and squeezed. He got my car out. He had made his 25 cents.

And I limped home with both front and back fenders squashed.

Editor’s Note: The word “panjandrum” does not make sense in this context, as it can refer to a self important person, but also had other meanings as a nonsense word. I see it used to describe a jumbled mess.