I’ll Get It Changed, Lady
This expressman was a regular San Franciscan. And there is such a thing, you know, as a regular San Franciscan. He is a native son and more. His speech betrays him. He calls a “car” a “cahh,” and when he’s surprised he says: “Yeah”! He has a permanent laugh in his eyes, and the only thing he gets mad about is prohibition. But the particular thing that I started to say of him is that money is to him a thing to spend. Money is an incident to life, that’s all.
He said it would be a “dollar, six-bits,” and I was sorry, but I only had a ten-dollar bill. When I said that, he just reached out and took it from me, and said he’d get it changed, and disappeared. Now, the significant thing, and the one that made him a regular San Franciscan, was that he never dreamed that I would doubt his honesty in returning with the change. And I didn’t. It was this last that surprised me. If it had been in New York — I gasp — if it had been in New York, no expressman would have dared do such a thing because no one would have trusted him, and if they had been so hick as to trust him, the expressman would have had no respect for himself if he himself were so hick as to return with the change.
I never shall forget the shock of seeing a pile of newspapers in front of a drug store, the day I landed in San Francisco, where men took their morning paper and threw down a nickel, and even made change for a dime. Right out on the pavement — a lot of nickels lying loose and no one paying any attention. Why, in New York — well, it couldn’t be done in New York, that’s all.
It’s not because San Francisco is not metropolitan. For San Francisco is essentially a city just as Los Angeles will always be a terribly big country village. It’s not at all a matter of population. In Connecticut, we always said that Bridgeport was a city, and New Haven which was larger, was not. It’s a bing, and a zip, and a tra-la-la-lah, that makes one city a city and another not. I can explain it no other way.
But with all its cityfiedness, there is a strange lack of suspicion, a free and easy attitude toward mere physical money, that one finds in no other large city except San Francisco. In the stores the clerks will say: “Shall I put it in a sack?” and you answer just as they hoped you would: “Oh, no, I’ll slip it right in my bag.” In New York as soon as one did that she’d be nabbed on the way out for a shoplifter.
Perhaps the constant use of silver money has had something to do with the matter. Paper money can be tucked away. Silver is more spendable, everyone knows that. Break a five-dollar bill into “iron men,” and it’s gone, gone. And yet it can’t be the use of silver money alone that accounts for it. Reno has silver money, and yet there is little of the old, free Western spirit left in Reno.
No, it’s something to do with San Francisco where suspicion doesn’t yet grip the hearts of men and where money is made to spend.