Hints to the Traveler
by Edgar Wilson Nye
Every thinkful student has doubtless noticed that when he enters the
office, or autograph department, of an American inn, a lithe and alert
male person seizes his valise or traveling-bag with much earnestness. He
then conveys it to some sequestered spot and does not again return. He
is the porter of the hotel or inn. He may be a modest porter just
starting out, or he may be a swollen and purse-proud porter with silver
in his hair and also in his pocket.
I speak of the porter and his humble lot in order to show the average
American boy who may read these lines that humor is not the only thing
in America which yields large dividends on a very small capital. To be a
porter does not require great genius, or education, or intellectual
versatility; and yet, well attended to, the business is remunerative in
the extreme and often brings excellent returns. It shows that any
American boy who does faithfully and well the work assigned to him may
become well-to-do and prosperous.
Recently I shook hands with a conductor on the Milwaukee and St. Paul
Railroad, who is the president of a bank. There is a general impression
in the public mind that conductors all die poor, but here is "Jerry," as
everybody calls him, a man of forty-five years of age, perhaps, with a
long head of whiskers and the pleasant position of president of a bank.
As he thoughtfully slams the doors from car to car, collecting fares on
children who are no longer young and whose parents seek to conceal them
under the seats, or as he goes from passenger to passenger sticking
large blue checks in their new silk hats, and otherwise taking advantage
of people, he is sustained and soothed by the blessed thought that he
has done the best he could, and that some day when the summons comes to
lay aside his loud-smelling lantern and make his last run, he will leave
his dear ones provided for. Perhaps I ought to add that during all
these years of Jerry's prosperity the road has also managed to keep the
wolf from the door. I mention it because it is so rare for the conductor
and the road to make money at the same time.
I knew a conductor on the Union Pacific railroad, some years ago, who
used to make a great deal of money, but he did not invest wisely, and so
to-day is not the president of a bank. He made a great deal of money in
one way or another while on his run, but the man with whom he was wont
to play poker in the evening is now the president of the bank. The
conductor is in the purée.
It was in Minneapolis that Mr. Cleveland was once injudicious. He and
his wife were pained to read the following report of their conversation
in the paper on the day after their visit to the flour city:
"Yes, I like the town pretty well, but the people, some of 'em, are too
"Do you think so, Grover? I thought they were very nice, indeed, but
still I think I like St. Paul the best. It is so old and respectable."
"Oh, yes, respectability is good enough in its place, but it can be
overdone. I like Washington, where respectability is not made a hobby."
"But are you not enjoying yourself here, honey?"
"No, I am not. To tell you the truth, I am very unhappy. I'm so scared
for fear I'll say something about the place that will be used against me
by the St. Paul folks, that I most wish I was dead, and everybody wants
to show me the new bridge and the waterworks, and speak of 'our great
and phenomenal growth,' and show me the population statistics, and the
school-house, and the Washburn residence, and Doc Ames and Ole
Forgerson, and the saw-mill, and the boom, and then walk me up into the
thirteenth story of a flour mill and pour corn meal down my back, and
show me the wonderful increase of the city debt and the sewerage, and
the West Hotel, and the glorious ozone and things here, that it makes me
tired. And I have to look happy and shake hands and say it knocks St.
Paul silly, while I don't think so at all, and I wish I could do
something besides be president for a couple of weeks, and quit lying
almost entirely, except when I go a-fishing."
"But don't you think the people here are very cordial, dawling?"
"Yes, they're too cordial for me altogether. Instead of talking about
the wonderful hit I have made as a president and calling attention to my
remarkable administration, they talk about the flour output and the
electric plant and other crops here, and allude feelingly to 'number one
hard' and chintz bugs and other flora and fauna of this country, which,
to be honest with you, I do not and never did give a damn for."
"Well, I beg your pardon, dear, and I oughtn't to speak that way before
you, but if you knew how much better I feel now you would not speak so
harshly to me. It is indeed hard to be ever gay and joyous before the
great masses who as a general thing, do not know enough to pound sand,
but who are still vested with the divine right of suffrage, and so must
be treated gently, and loved and smiled at till it makes me ache."
Mr. Cleveland was greatly annoyed by the publication of this
conversation, and could not understand it until this fall, when a
Minneapolis man told him that the pale, haughty coachman who drove the
presidential carriage was a reporter. He could handle a team with one
hand and remember things with the other.
And so I say that as a president we can not be too careful what we say.
I hope that the little boys and girls who read this, and who may
hereafter become presidents or wives of presidents, will bear this in
mind, and always have a kind word for one and all, whether they feel
that way or not.
But I started out to speak of porters and not reporters. I carry with
me, this year, a small, sorrel bag, weighing a little over twenty
ounces. It contains a slight bottle of horse medicine and a powder rag.
Sometimes it also contains a costly robe de nuit, when I do not forget
and leave said robe in a sleeping car or hotel. I am not overdrawing
this matter, however, when I say honestly that the shrill cry of fire at
night in most any hotel in the United States would now bring to the
fire-escape from one to six employes of said hotel wearing these costly
vestments with my brief but imperishable name engraven on the bosom.
This little traveling bag, which is not larger than a man's hand, is
rudely pulled out of my grasp as I enter an inn, and it has cost me $29
to get it back again from the porter. Besides, I have paid $8.35 for new
handles to replace those that have been torn off in frantic scuffles
between the porter and myself to see which would get away with it.
Yesterday I was talking with a reformed lecturer about this peculiarity
of the porters. He said he used to lecture a great deal at moderate
prices throughout the country, and after ten years of earnest toil he
was enabled to retire with a rich experience and $9 in money. He
lectured on phrenology and took his meals with the chairman of the
lecture committee. In Ouray, Colorado, the baggageman allowed his trunk
to fall from a great height, and so the lid was knocked off and the bust
which the professor used in his lecture was busted. He therefore had to
borrow a bald-headed man to act as bust for him in the evening. After
the close of the lecture the professor found that the bust had stolen
the gross receipts from his coat tail pocket while he was lecturing. The
only improbable feature about this story is the implication that a
bald-headed man would commit a crime.
He therefore had to borrow a bald-headed man to act as
bust for him in the evening (Page 194)
But still he did not become soured. He pressed on and lectured to the
gentle janitors of the land in piercing tones. He was always kind to
every one, even when people criticised his lecture and went away before
he got through. He forgave them and paid his bills just the same as he
did when people liked him.
Once a newspaper man did him a great wrong by saying that "the lecture
was decayed, and that the professor would endear himself to every one
if some night at his hotel, instead of blowing out the gas and turning
off his brains as he usually did, he would just turn off the gas and
blow out his brains." But the professor did not go to the newspaper
man's office and shoot holes in his person. He spoke kindly to him
always, and once when the two met in a barber shop, and it was doubtful
which was "next," as they came in from opposite ends of the room, the
professor gently yielded the chair to the man who had done him the great
wrong, and while the barber was shaving him eleven tons of ceiling
peeled off and fell on the editor who had been so cruel and so rude, and
when they gathered up the debris, a day or two afterward, it was almost
impossible to tell which was ceiling and which was remains.
So it is always best to deal gently with the erring, especially if you
think it will be fatal to them.
The reformed lecturer also spoke of a discovery he made, which I had
never heard of before. He began, during the closing years of his tour,
to notice mysterious marks on his trunk, made with chalk generally, and
so, during his leisure hours, he investigated them and their cause and
effect. He found that they were the symbols of the Independent Order of
Porters and Baggage Bursters. He discovered that it was a species of
language by which one porter informed the next, without the expense of
telegraphing, what style of man owned the trunk and the prospects for
"touching" him, as one might say.
The professor gave me a few of these signs from an old note-book,
together with his own interpretation after years of close study. I
reproduce them here, because I know they will interest the reader as
they did me.
This trunk, if handled gently and then carefully unstrapped in the
owner's room, so as to open comfortably without bursting the wall or
giving the owner vertigo, is good for a quarter.
This man is a good, kind-hearted man generally, but will sometimes
escape. Better not let him have his hand baggage till he puts up.
This trunk belongs to a woman who may possibly thank you if you handle
the baggage gently and will weep if you knock the lid off. Kind words
can never die. (N. B. Nyether can they procure groceries.)
This trunk belongs to a traveling man who weighs 211 pounds. If you have
no respect for the blamed old fire-proof safe itself, please respect it
for its gentle owner's sake. He can not bear to have his trunk harshly
treated, and he might so far forget himself as to kill you. It is better
to be alive and poor than it is to be wealthy and dead. It is better to
do a kind act for a fellow-being than it is to leave a desirable widow
for some one else to marry.
If you will knock the top off this trunk you will discover the clothing
of a mean man. In case you can not knock the lid entirely off, burst it
open a little so that the great, restless, seething traveling public can
see how many hotel napkins and towels and cakes of soap he has stolen.
This is the trunk of a young girl, and contains the poor but honest garb
she wore when she ran away from home. Also the gay clothes she bought
after a wicked ambition had poisoned her simple heart. They are the
gaudy garments and flashy trappings for which she exchanged her honest
laugh and her bright and beautiful youth. Handle gently the poor little
trunk, as you would touch her sad little history, for her father is in
the second-class coach, weeping softly into his coarse red handkerchief,
and she, herself, is going home on the same train in her cheap little
coffin in the baggage car to meet her sorrowing mother, who will go up
into the garret many rainy afternoons in the days to come, to cry over
this poor little trunk and no one will know about it. It will be a
secret known only to her sorrowing heart and to God.