Babbitt sniffed the earth, chuckled at the hysteric robins as he would have chuckled at kittens or at a comic movie. He was, to the eye, the perfect office-going executive—a well-fed man in a correct brown soft hat and frameless spectacles, smoking a large cigar, driving a good motor along a semi-suburban parkway. But in him was some genius of authentic love for his neighborhood, his city, his clan. The winter was over; the time was come for the building, the visible growth, which to him was glory. He lost his dawn depression; he was ruddily cheerful when he stopped on Smith Street to leave the brown trousers, and to have the gasoline-tank filled.
The familiarity of the rite fortified him: the sight of the tall red iron gasoline-pump, the hollow-tile and terra-cotta garage, the window full of the most agreeable accessories—shiny casings, spark-plugs with immaculate porcelain jackets tire-chains of gold and silver. He was flattered by the friendliness with which Sylvester Moon, dirtiest and most skilled of motor mechanics, came out to serve him. “Mornin’, Mr. Babbitt!” said Moon, and Babbitt felt himself a person of importance, one whose name even busy garagemen remembered—not one of these cheap-sports flying around in flivvers. He admired the ingenuity of the automatic dial, clicking off gallon by gallon; admired the smartness of the sign: “A fill in time saves getting stuck—gas to-day 31 cents”; admired the rhythmic gurgle of the gasoline as it flowed into the tank, and the mechanical regularity with which Moon turned the handle.
“How much we takin’ to-day?” asked Moon, in a manner which combined the independence of the great specialist, the friendliness of a familiar gossip, and respect for a man of weight in the community, like George F. Babbitt.
“Fill ’er up.”
“Who you rootin’ for for Republican candidate, Mr. Babbitt?”
“It’s too early to make any predictions yet. After all, there’s still a good month and two weeks—no, three weeks—must be almost three weeks—well, there’s more than six weeks in all before the Republican convention, and I feel a fellow ought to keep an open mind and give all the candidates a show—look ’em all over and size ’em up, and then decide carefully.”
“That’s a fact, Mr. Babbitt.”
“But I’ll tell you—and my stand on this is just the same as it was four years ago, and eight years ago, and it’ll be my stand four years from now—yes, and eight years from now! What I tell everybody, and it can’t be too generally understood, is that what we need first, last, and all the time is a good, sound business administration!”
“By golly, that’s right!”
“How do those front tires look to you?”
“Fine! Fine! Wouldn’t be much work for garages if everybody looked after their car the way you do.”
“Well, I do try and have some sense about it.” Babbitt paid his bill, said adequately, “Oh, keep the change,” and drove off in an ecstasy of honest self-appreciation. It was with the manner of a Good Samaritan that he shouted at a respectable-looking man who was waiting for a trolley car, “Have a lift?” As the man climbed in Babbitt condescended, “Going clear down-town? Whenever I see a fellow waiting for a trolley, I always make it a practice to give him a lift—unless, of course, he looks like a bum.”