Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Street Car Named Desire

Mass Transit

I haven't been writing a lot recently, for good reason. My mother has been in and out of the hospital experiencing the wonders of modern medicine. Basically, they are experimenting on her to try and figure out what is wrong with her. Most frustrating. On top of that, my mother-in-law moved in with my wife and I at the beginning of the month. That has been.......challenging, to say the least. I have a blog in the works about the revelations of that move.

However, I came across something today that I wanted to share. A blogger that I read recently made the comment that she took so many pictures because if she didn't document the past, she was afraid that she might forget it. I know exactly how she feels. While looking through pictures I took back in the 1980 (blown up on a good monitor), I often realize that I have forgotten all the little details in the background. The binder I used to keep my school work in, my old journal, my favorite pair of jeans. Lost in my memory, but still preserved on celluloid.

If we dig back deep enough and make an effort to find it, there are images of our past, before we were born, that says a lot about the way we used to be. As a society we used to be a lot different. We weren't so rushed, we were more of a community, we interacted more.

The above picture is from one of my favorite websites called It features high resolution, large format photography from decades gone by. This particular scene is New Orleans near the turn of the century. What struck me most about it is that in a time before everyone owned three cars and a motorcycle, everyone walked, had a horse or took the trolley.

There was a time in this country when mass transit was for 'everyone', not just the poor. It was an expectation and a right. Then we all climbed inside little metal and glass air conditioned boxes made by GM and Ford and stopped talking to one another.

Take a trip down Canal Street in New Orleans circa 1901 and count the number of street cars they had on just one street. Clicking on the image will take you to the huge full resolution image of the picture. We have come a long ways, but we have also lost quite a bit along the way.

(for bonus points, see if you can count the correct number of street cars in the picture...(it is more than you think)....and post it in the comments.)


  1. I counted 19 street cars.

    What's great about that picture is that it is easily recognizable as Canal Street. It doesn't look that different today, except for the corporate sponsorship and cars.

    There's a great picture of Canal Street in a steakhouse I go to sometimes. It was after a rare snowstorm in the early part of the last century. About a foot of snow on top of all those trolley cars. And still recognizable as Canal Street.

  2. My mom tells me stories from her childhood about walking with her grandmother to their customers' houses to deliver eggs, butter, strawberries and other products from their garden. They carried everything in baskets. As a special treat, sometimes her grandmother would buy tokens for them to ride the street car home again. Uptown, baby!

    I love that old photograph of New Orleans!

  3. Sorry about your MIL. warm wishes to you and your family.

    And, for the record, I would like to say that I am against organized transportation. :P

  4. I really get amazed to read all the story. Mass transportation is still helpfull in big cities.

  5. Sorry about your mama, hope she gets better soon.

    I love looking through my family album. It's so cool how looking at a picture can take you back to the point where can you feel and taste the moment.