Saturday, November 6, 2010

Watching the Streetcars Go By, By Yolanda Adele

When I think of streetcars I think of the past, before plastic seats marked with graffiti, aluminum rails; and a time where air conditioning came by opening the windows. Imagine that.
In the summer when my parents and I visited my maternal grandparents in El Paso, Texas, my cousins and I slept out on the little terrace facing Main Street. From our perch we’d see the Red Streetcars pass. Each streetcar had a sign over the door that read: Ride a Mile and Smile the While-Only 5 cents.
The streetcars were noisy on the rails and had a high pitched horn that made it difficult to sleep. My cousins and I amused ourselves by making up stories or making fun of passengers scurrying to get on the streetcar. Sometimes people lost their footing as they disembarked, but there always seemed to be someone there to give them a hand.
On Halloween transportation inspectors watched for pranksters who may try to water down the rails with soap to cause the streetcar to lose traction. Twice we saw automobiles cross the tracks and collide with a streetcar. There never was a shortage of surprises to be witnessed on Main Street.
We saw a drunk, coming from the cantina near by, fall on the tracks while the approaching streetcar sounded its horn. We yelled, screamed and hollered until some good Samaritans pulled him to safety.
Watching the streetcars on Main Street provided “reality” entertainment for us kids, in lieu of television, which my grandparents didn’t have.  Sometimes in the afternoon our adult relatives sat out on the terrace to visit with each other, greet friends they saw on the street, as well as watch the streetcars go by.
A horrible experience relating the streetcar and my family came in the 1950’s, when my grandfather, Jesus, was working as a maintenance mechanic for the Red Streetcar Company. 
Streetcars are propelled by on board electric motors and require a trolley pole to draw power from an overhead wire. While at the junction just a few blocks from our ‘perch’ on our grandparents terrace, Jesus had turned off the electricity in order to work on the overhead wire of one of the two streetcars that were not in service. 
A new and inexperienced employee saw that the electricity switch was not turned on. Instead of investigating the reason it was shut off, he simply pulled the switch on. Consequently, my grandfather was electrocuted. Miraculously he survived, though he was so severely burnt that he had to have his right arm amputated up to his elbow.  He remained in the hospital for nearly a year.
The streetcar accident changed his life forever. He never returned to work again, he never complained… and he never sat out in the terrace to watch the streetcars go by.


  1. I enjoyed this, thanks for sharing.

  2. An era gone by! I can picture a time when the street cars ran in the streets, in fact I once rode on the red cars from Bellflower into Los Angeles. You are right there was no graffiti in those days and the seats were upholstered in the red cars I rode. We rode with windows open listening to the clicking on the rails. How sad this memory has the attachment of your grandfather's tradgic accident. Without a doubt he lost more than his arm and his job. And we can only wonder what may he have gained though this experience.

  3. What a sad story not just because he lost an arm but because he didn't go back to work. It's good he lived though. I loved the nostalgic look at the way things were in the streetcar days. Well told as always.

  4. Yolanda, such a nice nostalgic look at a very efficient system gone by. How sad that your grandfather had such a tragic experience doing his good job responsibly while his a co-worker did not. I especially remember the red cars in L.A., along with the beautifully-decorated store windows at Christmas. My parents would tell me about Dad taking the last evening red car home daily from L.A. to Long Beach after visiting his sweetheart, my Mom. I so enjoy your stories and you.

  5. I think my favorite part of this story is just the fact that you sat up on your little perch and watched all of this happen on the streets below. There is a sense of adventure about that.

  6. Dear Yolanda,
    While the street cars are no longer with us, only in memory, your childhood "take it as it comes" calm attitude of enjoyment is still living in your poignant stories.
    The "perch," a little observation place from which you watched and learned about life as it went by in all it's joy and dramatic sadness, now has evolved into the writer's stance from where you thoughtfully re-live your memories. They emerge from this hallowed place beautifully, with lucidity and the utmost of charm and delightfulness.
    Thank you, Yolanda for stirring my childhood feelings of wonder and innocence.

  7. From Kacie:

    Wow! What a story you've written in such a few words. Words that brought back memories of riding the "Huntington Park" streetcar with my Grandma Grace; sweet memories. Yet your story was so profound that I sit here and think about the sadness in it. It's so sad. But it reminds me of how life really is: the good with the bad, bitter with the sweet.
    What a very strong man your Grandfather was! It was then passed on to you...I want to hear more about your Grandfather.
    God bless,

  8. Loved your story Yolanda. It brought back many happy memories of life without television -it was just made up of friends and the happenings going on around us. People watching was great fun. Like you, we amused ourselves making up stories about them.

    So sorry to hear of your grandfather's accident, a needless tragedy caused by carelessness. It's a miracle he survived.

    Great writing Yolanda. Thanks for sharing.

  9. From Charlotte:

    Very interesting, I can imagine what it was like with your cousins.