Of All Things - Cover

Of All Things

Public Domain

Chapter 14: A Little Debit in Your Tonneau

Motorists, as a class, are not averse to public discussion of their troubles. In fact, one often wonders how some of them ever get time to operate their cars, so tied up do they seem to be with these little experience-meetings, at which one man tells, with appropriate gestures, how he ran out of gas between Springfield and Worcester, while another gives a perfect bit of character acting to show just how the policeman on the outskirts of Trenton behaved.

But there seems to be one phase of the motorist’s trials which he never bares to the public. He will confide to you just how bad the gasoline was that he bought at the country garage; he will make it an open secret that he had four blow-outs on the way home from the country-club; but of one of his most poignant sorrows he never speaks. I refer to the guests who snuggle in his tonneau.

Probably more irritations have arisen from the tonneau than from the tires, day in and day out, and yet you never hear a man say, “Well, I certainly had an unholy crew of camp-followers out with me to-day--friends of my wife.” Say what you will, there is an innate delicacy in the average motorist, or such repression could not be.

Consider the types of tonneau guests. They are as generic and fundamental as the spectrum and you will find them in Maine and New Mexico at the same time.

There is the first, or major, classification, which may be designated as the Financially Paralyzed. Persons in this class, on stepping into your machine, automatically transfer all their money troubles to you. You become, for the duration of the ride, whether it be to the next corner or to Palm Beach, their financial guardian, and any little purchases which are incidental to the trip (such as three meals a day) belong to your list of running expenses. There seems to be something about the motion of the automobile that inhibits their ability to reach for their purses, and they become, if you want to be poetical about it, like clay in the hands of the potter. Whither thou goest they will go; thy check-book is their check-book. It is just like the one great, big, jolly family--of which you are the father and backer.

Such people always make a great to-do about starting off on a trip. You call for them and they appear at the window and wave, to signify that they see you, and go through motions to show that just as soon as Clara has put on her leggings they will be down. Soon they appear, swathed in a tremendous quantity of motor wraps and veils (you can usually tell the guests in a car by the number of head-veils they wear) and get halfway down the walk, when Clara remembers her rain-coat and has to swish back upstairs, veils and all. Out again, and just as they get wedged into the tonneau, the elderly guest wonders if there is time for some one to run in again and tell Helma that if the Salvation Army man comes for the old magazines she is to tell him to come again to-morrow. By the time this message is relayed to Helma Garcia one solid half-hour has been dissipated from the cream of the morning. This does not prevent the guests from remarking, as the motor starts, that it certainly is a heavenly day and that it couldn’t have been better if it had been ordered. Knowing the type, you can say to yourself that if the day had been ordered you know who would have had to give the order and pay the check.

From that time on, you are the moneyed interest behind the venture. Meals at road-houses, toll charges, evening papers, hot chocolates at the country drug store, hair net for Clara, and, of course, a liberal injection of gasoline on the way home, all of these items and about fourteen others come in your bailiwick. The guests have been asked out for a ride, and “findings is keepings.” If you have money enough to run a car, you probably have money enough to support them for a day or so. That’s only fair, isn’t it?

Under a sub-head (a), in this same category, come the guests who are stricken with rigor mortis when there are any repairs to be made about the machine. Male offenders in this line are, of course, the only ones that can be dealt with here; putting on a tire is no job for women and children. But the man who is the life of the party in the tonneau throughout the trip, who thinks nothing of climbing all over the back of the car in imitation of a Roman charioteer, will suddenly become an advocate of the basic eight-hour working day which began just eight hours before, whenever there is a man’s work to be done on one of the tires. He will watch you while you work, and always has a good word to say or a quip to snap at you to keep you cheered up, but when it comes to taking off his coat and lending a hand at the jack he is an Oriental incense-holder on the guest-room mantel. He admits in no uncertain tones, that he is a perfect dub when it comes to handling machinery and that he is more apt to be in the way at a time like this than not. And maybe he is right, after all.

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