A Trip to Carville

Excerpted from “Long Journey to Now”

Anna took herself into the fog of memory, into San Francisco’s Outer Sunset, circa 1915.  There were several streetcar lines heading out to the beach back when she and Ed were courting.  Mr. Adolph Sutro and Mr. Sol Getz saw to that.  They were building a city where the rest of us saw sand.  Tunnels constructed from downtown to dirt.  They are the ones that made this city happen.

Ed, he didn’t ever own a car, unless you count his home in Carville by the Sea.  It was a retired Cable Car, There had been quite a surplus of cable cars after the quake. Many lines were damaged and never rebuilt.  Abandoned after years of service, they had at one point been loved, trusted, and relied upon. Ed looked at his home as a rescue, an adoption of an almost sentient being, and slowly fixed it up.  He took out one row of benches and put in a mattress. Turned the front conductor pod into a little kitchen/hotplate with a breakfast nook that almost resembled a porch.  He had screened it in, but the winds and sand had torn it in so many places over the years that the patchwork repair had become a kind of signature to his place.  A welcoming flag of many nations.

Hundreds of people took to the task of turning assorted outdated Cable Cars and carriages into habitable spaces, clubhouses and cafes.  Ed was one of the small percentages of folks at Carville who used his car as his only residence, not just a beach cabin or place for a secret rendezvous.  Ed’s job demanded seriousness, but when he wasn’t a gripman on the Powell and Mason line, he lived like a Bohemian, with the ocean and the air.

Carville gave Ed the chance to relax and admire the world and even himself, in uninterrupted surroundings of the polished wood and brass of a public car.  It made the hours he worked grabbing cable a fine counterpoint to contemplation at the beach.  It was easy rejuvenation, and he didn’t question it.  He liked making his living in something physically hard, and of course he liked the control and power of the machine. It took mental focus, too.  He couldn’t allow himself idle banter with the passengers.  He knew when to shut up and do his job.

Ed wasn’t easy to get to know in those days.  Anna was just a girl, after all.  A girl riding to the Fair.  The cars were always crowded and noisy, and Ed would have to admonish the patrons, ‘Step back!’  He would lurch with his entire body to fix the handle in the right position.  After cresting a hill he’d bring the stick back, and be like a goose with his neck craning around the tops of people’s heads, watching for the cross traffic and ringing his bells, slowly creeping forward to a stop.  The view was spectacular, and when they got a glimpse of the Fair, the assembled would gasp in excitement.  That’s when Ed would pause a little longer and let it sink in.  We are grand again, San Francisco!