Scrapbook On America chapter 7

Eastern America and the Lincoln Country

Chapter 7

Getting Attention on Wall Street

OUR FRIENDS, Art and Edna Fournier, had never been to New York City. Their first visit there came not only by aroundabout route but under most unusual conditions. As an executive of the Howell Electric Motors plant in our home town of Howell, Michigan, he had received an urgent call from one of the most exclusive hotels in Philadelphia. The electric motor that pumped water to the great storage tank, to supply all the rooms, was broken; a spare part and someone to install it was needed on the double-quick. Every room in the great hotel would soon be without water.

No one else was available; Art knew what was wanted and knew how to install it. We happened to be visiting them when the emergency call came. This was before the time of regular airplane flights. He would get the part down at the plant; Edna would accompany him on the drive to Philadelphia, and they wanted us to go too. In one hour and twenty minutes we were on our way.

Those were not only the days before regular air flights, but they were also the days before paved roads. Even before good roads. In addition, those were the days before good tires. On that all-night and all-day drive, we had five punctures. We managed to repair them all but, when we arrived at that hotel—one of the most exclusive in all Philadelphia—our clothes were not only covered with dirt and mud, but our faces and hands were black with grime. Art went to work instantly to repair the water pump. The hotel desk clerk who assigned Edna and Helen and me to our rooms—courtesy of the house, of course—and the porter who took us to them, looked at us and almost gasped.

“There’s no water for taking a bath,” the porter explained apologetically.

“Oh, but there will be soon,” Edna answered. She was right; within one hour Art had that motor working and water flowing to every room. Never was it more urgently needed.

Since Art and Edna had never been to New York, it was decided that we would go back home that way, even if there would be time to spend only a few hours in the city.

Helen and I knew New York like an old book. Limited to just a few hours, there were only two practical choices of what to do. The first was the tower of the Empire State Building, at that time the city’s tallest structure. If there was not time to visit all the sights, at least we could see a lot of them from that bird’s eye view.

The second was a streetcar ride down Broadway, from the center of the city to the Battery. It was night now and much of lower Manhattan seemed deserted.

“Will we be going near Wall Street?” Art asked.

“Yes, I’ll point it out to you as we pass. But Wall Street at this hour will be completely deserted.”

Art was more interested in Wall Street than the Battery.

The streetcar conductor let us off and we walked down the length of the financial artery of the nation. It did not have even one sign of life. It must have been close to midnight when we got back to Broadway. At that instant a streetcar came along—and stopped before we had a chance to signal.

“I was wondering if I might find you here,” the conductor greeted us—the same man who had let us off on his trip down. To my knowledge, no streetcar conductor in America’s largest city on what is rated one of its busiest streets, ever gave individual service like that.

As we rode back to where our car was parked, then headed on home through the night, I said to Art and Edna: “This was your first visit to New York, but it was also a first of another kind. I doubt if any streetcar riders, ever, have had such individual service on what is considered to be one of New York’s busiest streets.”