The Pace That Kills

IN New York the thing that most impresses the newly arrived stranger — coming at any rate from London — is the pace set by foot-passengers in the streets. On the other side we are accustomed to hear and to believe that America is the land of hurry; here, if anywhere, we think, the adage that time is money will be appreciated. We expect to find streets filled with messenger boys rushing on errands; telegraph boys running; shops in which the serving is done at lightning speed, and trains that the eye can hardly follow. We expect to find, in short, a new secret of speed — which is equivalent to saying highly-organized service of all kinds. So that, riding in a trolley up Broadway for the first time (and you cannot imagine how romantic a thing it is to be on that Broadway of which one has heard so much!), I rubbed my eyes in astonishment.

Between, say, Union Square — or perhaps between Ninth Street — and Bowling Green, Broadway is the more or less exact counterpart of the London Strand. It is actually broader, but it appears more narrow because the houses are so much higher, and it is a little straighter because it is a made road, not a road evolved from what was once a path along river-mud. The general effect is identical: there are the same kinds of shops, and a crowd of the same type passing to or from the business quarter of the city. But, as I have said, one rubs one’s eyes, looking out at the crowd on the sidewalk. It is the Strand crowd — cosmopolitan, varied; people touching one another so closely that the tops of their heads appear to form another tier on the street: a tier paved with hats instead of wood blocks or granite sets. There it is, the crowd. But it appears to stop still!

In one’s first astonishment one thinks that all these people are waiting for a procession to pass; one cannot believe that they are the procession. Nevertheless, as the slow trolley passes onward one realizes that the crowd is actually in motion; that it is the thing itself, not the procession. It is an extraordinary shock—this first impression of the land of hurry.

For the dweller in great cities grows accustomed to the tempo of his streets, and for me, to whom the Strand sets the tone of life, this slow progress of the crowd on Broadway is a standing bewilderment. I have looked at it again and again, and although I have long since given up expecting to see it accelerate its pace, the words still rise to my lips, the question still remains unanswered in my subconsciousness: ‘When are they going to hurry up?’

For, in the Strand, all the heads bob up and down to the time of a quickstep waltz; on Broadway they go with the slow stride of a processional march. And the Londoner, jumping off the Broadway trolley at a block in the traffic, expecting that, as he would in the Strand, he will be able to get along faster on foot and will be able to jump on another trolley higher up and so gain a minute or two, this Londoner discovers, bewildered and irritated, that there is no getting through the crowd — and there’s no getting the crowd to hurry up. It is, for his quicker-tuned pulse, a solid, packed mass with which he must fall in step. And for him in New York it is always the same. There is no saving a minute or two, and no one appears to wish to do it. In London you may save a little by sending a district messenger to do an errand; in New York you will do it quicker yourself. In London the motor-bus dodges through a jam; the hansom cuts in between a great wagon and the curb, slips round a side street and into the main thoroughfare, and there is that glorious thing, your ‘minute saved.’ But here the trolley cannot dodge traffic; the driver of the hansom is an autocrat who says, ‘Wall!’ if you tell him to look sharp. And, personally, I am inclined to see the reason for all this in the fact that the New York crowd does not sympathize with hurry.

All Nature loves a lover — and all London loves a Londoner in a hurry. If in London you tell a cabman that you have only seven minutes in which to catch a train — two miles off, he will say, ‘Yes, sir,’ and whip up his horse, gallop through a square, taking his chance of a fine if a bobby sees him; he will put his hand to the trap-door and say, ‘I think we shall do it, sir,’ — and he does do it. He enters, in fact, into the spirit of the thing — it is a sporting matter for him. And it is the same with messenger-boys, railway-porters, or fellow passengers. I have even made a South Eastern train come in ‘on time,’ and catch an almost impossible connection, by telling the guard that I was in a hurry.

But I cannot imagine myself doing any of these things in New York. I received too many rebuffs in my first day or two. I should positively dread to tell a hotel clerk to hurry up with my bill because I wanted to catch a train. Instead, I must miss two engagements and reckon that I can do in the day in New York only two thirds of what I can do in London. The New Yorker, in fact, may be in a hurry at times — but he finds no one to help him. This is of course a free country, and there is no reason why a servant should put himself out to oblige his master; there is no reason why a servant should work at top speed. And, indeed, he is n’t, your New Yorker, even a servant. The railway officials, the ticket clerks, the baggage-men, the brakemen, are officials, and there it ends. In London every official is a servant of the Public. In London every railway official is there to help you; in New York he is there to give you your ticket, to see that you have a ticket, or to see that you do not travel without a ticket. And you cannot hurry.

At Charing Cross Station in London there are three hundred baggageporters whose duty it is to help passengers. I dash up in my cab, with my trunk, five minutes before the train starts; one porter takes my ticket, another takes my trunk; I am driven to the basement of the station, throw myself into the barber’s chair, say I have three minutes to be shaved in, am shaved, and catch my train. I could not do that in New York. And think what a difference that makes to the amount of work one can do in the year. At Charing Cross Station there are three hundred porters; in the Boston North Station there are seven baggagemen. To get your baggage checked yourself you must be in the depot twenty minutes before the train starts, you must bribe a baggage-man extravagantly, and even then your trunk will not come on the train by which you travel. As for a shave—!

I think that the New Yorker’s shave is symptomatic of the whole rate of life in New York. It is, if you will, luxurious, but you have to allow twenty minutes out of your day for it. In London I never allow more than five minutes. Here I lie down in a chair and say, ‘I’m in a hurry. Be as quick as you can, please.’ My barber surveys me with no look of interest and goes to talk for five minutes to the lady manicurist. When he returns I say from my recumbent position, ‘I’m in a great hurry.’ He says, ‘Yep?’ interrogatively, as if I had given him a piece of quite uninteresting information. He goes to a mirror and for some moments examines a wart on his cheek. Eventually he shaves me. It is the same in the banks. In Boston I had to wait exactly seventeen minutes to cash a letter of credit. The clerk was talking to a lady-typist about a clam-bake. — Well: he was a free man — so he told me when I remonstrated.

Fortunes are made with great rapidity in the United States. But think how fast they might be made. For time is money. I have made this little calculation: my time is worth say ten shillings — or two dollars and a half — an hour. I travel by rail with luggage one hundred and twenty times a year; in London I gain fifteen minutes per time, or in the year thirty hours, or seventy-five dollars. In London I am shaved three hundred times in the year and on each shave, in comparison with New York, I gain one quarter of an hour. In the year this saves me upwards of thirty pounds sterling. And, when I take into account the time lost over meals, over the purchase of things in stores, everything that depends upon quick and efficient service, I figure out that my working efficiency in London is at least one third greater than it is here. The baggage-check system alone in America is responsible for an incalculable loss of time; it is absolutely unnecessary — and anyhow I would a hundred times rather lose my baggage than be kept waiting for a check.

Let me, however, at once say that I do not wish to be taken as implying that the New Yorker is not in the right in thus sacrificing his time to the mental attitude of his servants. Each nation without a doubt has the type of service that it most desires — and I very well know that the New Yorker is proud of the independence of his — I was going to say dependants, but that is not the word; and I cannot quite think of any word that is le mot juste. It is, of course, part of the American’s fine idealism; of his reverence for humanity, and of his irresponsibility. London is a serious place: we are all so terribly in earnest. New York, and that is part of its fascination, is absolutely irresponsible. A thing may get done, or it may not. It is all part of the day’s journey. At any rate, no man’s personal dignity is lessened. If you have not, in the large, any very efficient public service in New York, you have not at all the menial spirit. And it is a good thing to have crushed that out of life. For there is, in the world, nothing more disagreeable than the thoroughly efficient English servant who sneers at his master behind his back. At the same time there is nothing more agreeable than the English spirit of efficient service when the servant is thoroughly interested in his work, likes his master, and is anxious, in the English phrase, to ‘make a good job of it.’ I don’t, but then I am an Englishman, know of any feeling more delightful than that of directing thoroughly efficient subordinates with a love of their and my particular organization, the feeling that I am getting the most out of myself, out of my helpers, and out of the whole machine. That of course happens only when things are at their best in London, but when it does happen there is no human feeling for me so nearly divine.

New York, of course, has another problem before it. It has to go the one step further; it has to show London and the Eastern world how something still more nearly divine can be extracted from human contacts. It has done a way with the menial spirit, which is the reverse of the European medal; it has done away, very largely, with the feeling of responsibility which over there furrows so many brows and renders so many lives so burdensome. That is why New York is gay, and London heavy and solemn. New York has another problem: it has evolved the proud, free, independent, and non-menial man. Before it will have definitely taken its poor humanity the one stage further forward on the long road toward the millennium, it must evolve a spirit — perhaps it is only a spirit — of coordinate effort, of noble discipline. It has produced a fine individualism; it has not yet, it seems to me, evolved a system of getting from each individual his very best in the interests of the whole machine of the state. For it must be remembered that the problem of humanity is really that; that what humanity really needs is the time to think. And while men lose time at their work they have no leisure, or less leisure to, in the American phrase, loaf and invite their souls.

And, if I have any criticism to make of a life that excites, interests, and fills me with wonder, it is simply this: in Europe we have evolved a leisure class, which is a good thing. America is in the way to evolve a much better thing: not a class, but a race with leisure; not a race that does no work, but one that gets rid of the necessary daily toil, with a minimum of wasted effort, in a minimum of time. For the man who does this is indeed the free man. And that America will evolve this type when it has had time to settle down, who shall doubt?