Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Tranquility of Days Gone By

Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of the twenty-first century, it’s easy to pine away, wishing for the easier, more peaceful days of old.  There’s just one problem with that image...  nothing is that simple.  From the dawn of time, every generation has had its own producers of stress, anxiety, and reasons to look for an escape.  Wheeled traffic, it seems, has been a source of irritation for ages.  For instance, anyone living near or driving in a congested area knows the challenges and annoyances of road racket.  It’s so troubling in some towns that ordinances have been put in place against excessive vehicle noise.  At a minimum, it’s an experience that takes some getting used to and not everyone is comfortable with the learning curve. 

With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to show how some things have remained fairly similar between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.  The following article was taken from the June 1880 issue of “The Hub,” an early trade publication for those involved in the carriage and wagon industry.  After reading this 137-year-old account, it’s clear that traffic-related nuisances are far from being a new problem...

“An English gentleman, who recently visited this city for the first time, gives the following entertaining description of the vehicles and noise of the New-York streets:

There is one thing in New-York that I confess I do not enjoy, and that is the noise.  It is the noisiest place I was ever in.  I don’t believe there is a quiet street in it and, as the heat during the summer necessitates keeping all the windows open, the houses and even the churches are nearly as noisy as the streets.  Our New-York friends had laid down spent tan in front of their church, which greatly mitigated the nuisance.  It softened the horrible noise made by unceasing carts rushing at full speed over the great, coarse, uneven paving stones, but not the voices of the costermongers who pervade the city with incessant yells, or the clanging bells, screaming of engines, and clashing of pieces of old iron used by the ragmen to advertise their precious presence in your neighborhood.

At 4 o’clock in the morning it begins; the milk-carts drive with horrid roar right past your open bedroom window; away they go, full gallop, one making as much noise as several of our carts would.  The first night I spent in New-York I was awakened by this diabolical performance, and bouncing out of bed, ran to the window in full expectation of seeing a half dozen fire engines galloping to the scene of their labors, but lo! and behold it was nothing but peaceful milk!

Then come the ice-wagons, – great, white, four-wheeled, clumsy vehicles with round tops covering their crystal but ponderous loads, and they must needs gallop too.  So must everything else.  If you are not run over six times a day in New-York, thank your stars and not the drivers.  But, you are run over, if not by carts and carriages, by railway trains; for there are elevated railroads over your head, and these, to my thinking, are the greatest wonder I have yet seen in America.

I have noticed also that the noises in America are worse to bear than in our sedate old country.  The atmosphere is so clear and the nerves are so highly strung, that every sound penetrates very deeply into the inside of the head, and after a little while a continuous succession of noises sets up a disturbance there that half stuns and half maddens you.  I have been most devoutly thankful to get out of the great transatlantic Babel."

When I first came across this short article, I laughed to myself.  It seems that people are still people, no matter what century they’re born in.  In spite of the technologies and conveniences (or lack thereof) we all have the same basic desires for harmony.  We yearn for the leisure of a weekend or days off so we can focus on things that rejuvenate our souls.  Oftentimes, the things that revive our spirit can be something as basic as a quiet day at home, mornings sitting in a front porch rocker with coffee in hand, or even the opportunity to catch up on a personally fulfilling project.   

Over and again, we’re reminded that the rush and flurry to push forward has always been there.  I’m fortunate to live in a part of our state that benefits from vacation-seekers looking for an escape to the serenity of the outdoors; folks looking for opportunities to create special memories and put aside the tensions of traffic, jobs, deadlines, or other pressures.  Anyone accustomed to the tranquility found in quiet, picturesque settings can fully appreciate the basic human need for serenity.  Shot nerves, quick tempers, shouts from vehicles, and inconsiderate drivers can make all of us look for greener pastures.  Clearly, noise pollution and courtesy failures are far from being an exclusively modern problem.  Like others reading this blog, I’ve read similar firsthand accounts from witnesses to the great western land rushes.  Yelling, bumping, wheel-grinding races to the best real estate sites were not uncommon.  It seems that no matter how much time passes, the strains of life are always there, ready and waiting to wreak their own havoc. 

So, this week, if you happen to find yourself sitting in bumper-to-bumper, honk-happy traffic or maybe you’ve been the recipient of a less-than-friendly wave from another vehicle, it’s probably good to remember that this too will pass.  You may not be able to completely escape but, then again, unlike the writer in the 1880 story above, you probably won’t have to hop on a steamship and re-cross the Atlantic to regain your sanity.

Have a great week!  

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC