Mr. Montgomery’s birthday was January 26, 1922. Occasionally, I publish some of Mr. Montgomery’s musings edited only for grammatical errors. I really appreciate all that he had done in his life, so this article is for Mr. Montgomery.
PARIS TRANSPORTATION – during the war
When the Germans abandoned Paris, they had apparently stripped the city of virtually any vehicle that could operate. According to best estimates, they took everything on wheels that wasn’t too old and decrepit, so that there was almost no public transportation left, except the Paris Metro cars would not fit the regular railway system so they at least had this very large underground subway system. There were still Busses and Taxis, but mostly antiques. I think a lot of the taxis were the same ones that hauled the French army out to meet the Germans in 1914.
Some of the transportation vehicles were truly unique. I remember seeing a tiny car, with a small child sitting in it, that had a big cast iron radiator fastened across the front of the vehicle. Also visible was a tall smoke stack and various plumbing pipes coming from the engine compartment. It appears that all over France enterprising mechanics had fashioned autos, trucks, & busses with gas generators that would fuel these cars. There was virtually no gasoline available at any price. I was told that the system would work using any fuel; coal, wood, paper, even an old pair of shoes as long as the burning material would generate a gas that could fire up the engine. There was something ridiculous about these home made vehicles, but apparently they got things moved around.
The BICYCLE was major transportation. I remember standing across the street from Galeries Lafayette, the grandfather of the large, fancy, upscale department store. They even had a doorman dressed like an Admiral out front assisting customers racking up their bicycles. While I was watching, a nicely dressed lady rode up with her bike and the attendant racked her bicycle and gave her a claim check. Also along the street came a well dressed gentleman with briefcase and wearing a homburg hat as he pedaled his bicycle along the Boulevard Haussmann.
There were still cars on the streets, and sometimes they had accidents. I was standing on the corner of the Champs Elyse and one of the side streets, when a fellow made a sudden right turn and banged into a car that had stopped just across the pedestrian walkway. I doubt that there was any damage, just mostly noise. The drivers got out, looked it over and stood there arguing their case. Meantime, they had drawn a small crowd, who eagerly joined the discussion. By the time the local policeman had arrived, we had what looked like a political convention starting with 10 or 12 people loudly voicing their opinion of whatever had happened. The gendarme apparently got the drivers to move off, and finally the crowd broke up and wandered off to new adventures. It appeared that the local people were interested in joining any controversy, and ready to act as witnesses for even the most mundane of auto accidents.
One evening I attended a performance of something at the Paris Opera, and was running to get the last train from Gare Saint-Lazare railway station to go back to our army barracks at Versailles (it was about 10 blocks from the Opera house). As I was coming around a corner with the station visible ahead, I became aware of a woman running rapidly after me yelling: “Monsieur! Monsieur! Babble babble”. . . It seems she was offering me the last opportunity of checking her charms, something about the price was right too. Fortunately I was on a full run at the time, and the train would be leaving in about one minute. It was desperation late at night, and I guess business was pretty bad that night.