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A Race Of Slaves
by [?]

Labiche begins one of his plays with two servants at work in a salon. “Dusting,” says one of them, “is the art of sending the dirt from the chair on the right over to the sofa on the left.” I always think of that remark when I see the process performed in a parlor car, for when it is over we are all exactly where we began. If a man should shampoo his hair, or have his boots cleaned in a salon, he would be ejected as a boor; yet the idea apparently never enters the heads of those who soil and choke their fellow-passengers that the brushing might be done in the vestibule.

On the subject of fresh air and heat we are also in the hands of officials, dozens of passengers being made to suffer for the caprices of one of their number, or the taste of some captious invalid. In other lands the rights of minorities are often ignored. With us it is the contrary. One sniffling school-girl who prefers a temperature of 80 degrees can force a car full of people to swelter in an atmosphere that is death to them, because she refuses either to put on her wraps or to have a window opened.

Street railways are torture-chambers where we slaves are made to suffer in another way. You must begin to reel and plunge towards the door at least two blocks before your destination, so as to leap to the ground when the car slows up; otherwise the conductor will be offended with you, and carry you several squares too far, or with a jocose “Step lively,” will grasp your elbow and shoot you out. Any one who should sit quietly in his place until the vehicle had come to a full stop, would be regarded by the slave-driver and his cargo as a poseur who was assuming airs.

The idea that cars and boats exist for the convenience of the public was exploded long ago. We are made, dozens of times a day, to feel that this is no longer the case. It is, on the contrary, brought vividly home to us that such conveyances are money making machines in the possession of powerful corporations (to whom we, in our debasement, have handed over the freedom of our streets and rivers), and are run in the interest and at the discretion of their owners.

It is not only before the great and the powerful that we bow in submission. The shop-girl is another tyrant who has planted her foot firmly on the neck of the nation. She respects neither sex nor age. Ensconced behind the bulwark of her counter, she scorns to notice humble aspirants until they have performed a preliminary penance; a time she fills up in cheerful conversation addressed to other young tyrants, only deciding to notice customers when she sees their last grain of patience is exhausted. She is often of a merry mood, and if anything about your appearance or manner strikes her critical sense as amusing, will laugh gayly with her companions at your expense.

A French gentleman who speaks our language correctly but with some accent, told me that he found it impossible to get served in our stores, the shop-girls bursting with laughter before he could make his wants known.

Not long ago I was at the Compagnie Lyonnaise in Paris with a stout American lady, who insisted on tipping her chair forward on its front legs as she selected some laces. Suddenly the chair flew from under her, and she sat violently on the polished floor in an attitude so supremely comic that the rest of her party were inwardly convulsed. Not a muscle moved in the faces of the well-trained clerks. The proprietor assisted her to rise as gravely as if he were bowing us to our carriage.