(By Silver Pen)
It becomes necessary to give the pedestrians of San Francisco a few points as to what they should and what they should not do on the streets; and I may add that I am led into the writing of this article by an incident which almost resulted in the putting out of my dexter eye.
Last evening, as I was hurriedly walking along Dupont street, near Post, in the gloaming, I saw before me a young dude, who, instead of minding his business of walking decently, was projecting his face and hat into the visage of his girl companion to the left, while with his dexter paw he twirled a light cane, which extended half way across the curbstone, and which I tried to escape, but which, notwithstanding, hit me square upon my nose, which is a long one. True, I was in a hurry; in fact I was rushing down to the Western Union Telegraph office for a dispatch which was advertised as lying uncalled for in that office by an evening contemporary, and which was non est when I arrived there. Indeed, all I got for my trouble was to be laughed at by the attendants of the telegraph office. Why those people advertised an “unknown telegram” in my name, I should like to know? However, it was during my hurried trip for this mythical telegram that the dude’s cane flipped me on the nose. I turned upon him, and he took off his hat and begged pardon, but I curtly told him that his mode of carrying his stick was dangerous to the traveling public, who had as much right as he to the use of the sidewalk, and that if he had injured my optic he would have had to pay substantial damages for his gross and impertinent carelessness.
It is not very long ago since another idiot had his cane sticking horizontally out from under his arm, which I (being pushed on by a crowd) very nearly received in my eye. I struck the cane to the ground, and the carrier thereof looked very small. Now, I am not the least inclined to be funny over this recital, for I think it is a crying shame that men and even women should be permitted to put canes and umbrellas under their arms, allowing the longest portion to stick out behind, and thus constantly menace the faces of those who are walking behind. There is a method in Europe that men have of carrying their umbrellas somewhat in this fashion, but instead of permitting the end to stick out as if on purpose to hurt some one behind them, they manage to place that end high in the air and protruding but little behind. I assert that the danger of this San Francisco method is a matter for the police to look after, and every man or woman who finds himself or herself behind an idiot who practices this dangerous habit, would soon become obsolete, and pedestrians along our sidewalks would be enabled to travel in a safety which is not attainable when canes and parasols are arranged like reversed bayonets.
Another habit is found in the fact that people do not observe the rule of the road and keep on their own side, consequently they go bump, bump against each other in the wildest way. Never, in any of the multitude of cities I have visited, have I seen anything at all approaching the gaucherie of citizens of San Francisco. They have not the faintest idea of street etiquette. On the crossings on a muddy day, just watch two women meeting in the middle. Will one give way to the other? Never! They will come to as dead a halt as roosters in a cock-pit, eye each other with furious looks, and so stand. The woman who knows she is on her own side won’t budge, and she is right. The other don’t know the difference, and she sticks to her position. Watch closely and you’ll see them, after a little, both edge just the slightest bit in the world, which puts them clearly into the mud, but this they prefer to taking the proper side. At the crossings there are generally five or six wide crossing-stones for pedestrians, and by each person keeping to the right every one can pass over in comfort. But even the men will stop still and confront one. Is it because every man nowadays looks upon every woman as a “woman’s rights,” strong-minded female, who no longer deserves recognition at their hands? Possibly! But still a man lowers himself frightfully when he forgets that the hat on a woman’s head, even though taller than his own, should be bowed to with outward show of respect at least, even if he is not overpowered by the hight and beauty of feathers and birds. I have often come to such a standstill over a crossing with a vulgar apology for a man. I always say: “Do you want me to walk in the mud? Or do you wish to knock me down, sir?” You should see the effect. It is really magical. It is the same thing on the sidewalks. For a little distance you may get along in a kind of peaceable stream, but bye and bye this stream becomes broken, and men, women and children are jostled together in the most frightful confusion. Women walk three and four abreast, and because of that idiotic superstition that is unlucky to let any one pass between you, they will positively almost fight you there and then. Persons who walk about the streets should be as courteous there as in a drawing room if they wish to be understood that they have any kind of breeding.
You often see a man, but more especially a woman, turning to gape after some one. You also often receive a severe bump from this ignoramus as she swings back to her right bearing. I always put out my hand very stiff, so that when they slew round they are almost knocked down by the shock; still, one must protect oneself from such. There is nothing so intensely vulgar as that habit of looking back to see how the drapery of Mrs. Black’s dress is “fixed behind,” or view Mrs. Green’s new cloak, and wonder “where she got it.” It’s nothing to you where she got it, and you who turn round to pass remarks are too underbred to care about, even if your remarks were heard. No, ladies, if you wish to pass muster as well-bred people, I would, in all kindness, advise you never to look back. Remember the fate of Lot’s wife and tremble. I, often, indeed, see two women come to a dead stand at a corner, and wait to see some gage in conversation about her dress, which glides into a cross-questioning between them as to where she got it, and who her “fellow is now,” etc., never dreaming that all surrounding spectators are taking it all in. While standing on the White House corner, waiting for my car, I have heard as much scandal as would cause a divorce suit or two. Were I, like “Mag,” given to blurting out names, think where you would be.
Now about the men who congregate at the corners of Montgomery, Pine and California streets, I must say, I never in any country met such a set of perfectly mannerless boors. One could easily fancy that they were dug out of a coal quarry rather than raised as Christians. They block the way in a manner that, were they other than what they are, would certainly cause the police to rise their prerogative and make them “move on” or come to prison, yet these gentle stock gamblers hold the curb, and no woman can pass without the utmost danger to her bustle, wire hips, and even complexion. At such moments I rise above fear—since bustles and paint are not in my line—but I feel a chronic pity for those who suffer. Altogether your behavior on the streets, ladies and gentlemen, is abominable, and after this keen appeal, I trust you will try and do better. At the theaters, musicales, soirees, etc., you would scorn to do anything compromising to your manners, and why not carry your politeness out of doors?
San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser
January 9, 1886