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
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.