LETTER FROM SACRAMENTO [dated February 25, 1866]
I arrived in the City of Saloons this morning at 3 o'clock, in company with several other disreputable characters, on board the good steamer Antelope, Captain Poole, commander. I know I am departing from usage in calling Sacramento the City of Saloons instead of the City of the Plains, but I have my justification -- I have not found any plains, here, yet, but I have been in most of the saloons, and there are a good many of them. You can shut your eyes and march into the first door you come to and call for a drink, and the chances are that you will get it. And in a good many instances, after you have assuaged your thirst, you can lay down a twenty and remark that you "copper the ace," and you will find that facilities for coppering the ace are right there in the back room. In addition to the saloons, there are quite a number of mercantile houses and private dwellings. They have already got one capitol here, and will have another when they get it done. They will have fine dedicatory ceremonies when they get it done, but you will have time to prepare for that -- you needn't rush down here right away by express. You can come as slow freight and arrive in time to get a good seat.
The "High Grade" Improvement
The houses in the principal thoroughfares here are set down about eight feet below the street level. This system has its advantages. First -- It is unique. Secondly -- It secures to the citizen a firm, dry street in high water, whereon to run his errands and do her shopping, and thus does away with the expensive and perilous canoe. Thirdly -- It makes the first floors shady, very shady, and this is a great thing in a warm climate. Fourthly -- It enables the inquiring stranger to rest his elbows on the second story window sill and look in and criticize the bedroom arrangements of the citizens. Fifthly -- It benefits the plebeian second floor boarders-at the expense of the bloated aristocracy of the first -- that is to say, it brings the plebeians down to the first floor and degrades the aristocrats to the cellar. Lastly -- Some persons call it a priceless blessing because children who fall out of second story windows now, cannot break their necks as they formerly did -- but that this can strictly be regarded in the light of a blessing, is, of course, open to grave argument.
But joking aside, the energy and the enterprise the Sacramentans have shown in making this expensive grade improvement and raising their houses up to its level is in every way creditable to them, and is a sufficient refutation of the slander so often leveled at them that they are discouraged by the floods, lack confidence in their ability to make their town a success, and are without energy. A lazy and hopeless population would hardly enter upon such costly experiments as these when there is so much high ground in the State which they could fly to if they chose.
The boot blacking facilities of Sacramento are unsurpassed by those of any city in the world I should judge. There is a boot-blacking stand in front of every saloon-which is to say, there are boot-blacking stands all along. All these prominent localities which, in other cities, are usually sacred to the peanut interest, are here seized upon and held by the bootblack. These mute facts tell the stranger that Sacramento, which is now so irreproachably cleanly, has long and fearful attacks of alternate mud and dust. In further evidence of this, I remarked that out of the one hundred and eighty-four gentlemen who lounged about the front of the Orleans Hotel when I came down and asked for breakfast at ten minutes past 12 o'clock to-day and didn't get any, a hundred and seventy had their boots blacked. The other fourteen were undergoing the boot-blacking operation in chairs backed up against the neighboring walls. Now there was not a particle of dust in the air, and no mud under foot; and nothing but inveterate habit could have made these people all go and get their boots blacked with such singular unanimity when there was no real necessity for it. I never saw a place before where every- body, without exception, had their boot blacked. Every time I noticed, to-day, that my boots were attracting attention, I went and got them blacked. And I learned something. I learned that a Chinaman has no talent for blacking boots, and makes a miserable job of it. When you desire the services of a real artist, always choose one of the three natur- ally gifted species of boot-blacks--a freedman, or a colored citizen, or a nigger. They understand the business.
Brief Climate Paragraph
This is the mildest, balmiest, pleasantest climate one can imagine. The evenings are especially delightful -- neither too warm nor too cold. I wonder if it is always so?
The Lullaby of the Rain
I got more sleep this morning than I needed. When I got tired, very tired, walking around, and went to bed in room No. 121, Orleans Hotel, about sunrise, I asked the clerk to have me called at a quarter past 9 o'clock. The request was complied with, punctually. As I was about to roll out of bed I heard it raining. I said to myself, I cannot knock around town in this kind of weather, and so I may as well lie here and enjoy the rain. I am like everybody else in that I love to lie abed and listen to the soothing sound of pattering rain-drops, and muse upon old times and old scenes of by-gone days. While I was a happy, careless schoolboy again, (in imagination,) I dropped off to sleep. After a while I woke up. Still raining. I said to myself, it will stop directly -- I will dream again -- there is time enough. Just as (in memory) I was caught by my mother clandestinely putting up some quince preserves in a rag to take to my little sweetheart at school, I dropped off to sleep again, to the soft music of the pattering rain. I woke up again, after a while. Still raining! I said. This will never do. I shall be so late that I shall get nothing done. I could dream no more; I was getting too impatient for that. I lay there and fidgeted for an hour and a half, listening with nervous anxiety to detect the least evidence of a disposition to "let up" on the part of the rain. But it was of no use. It rained on steadily, just the same. So, finally, I said: I can 't stand this; I will go to the window and see if the clouds are breaking, at any rate. I looked up, and the sun was blazing overhead. I looked down -- and then I "gritted my teeth" and said: "Oh, d__n a d __d landlord that would keep a d__d fountain in his back yard! "
After mature and unimpassioned deliberation, I am still of the opinion that that profanity was justifiable under the circumstances.
I Try to Out "Sass" the Landlord -- and Fail
I got down stairs at ten minutes past 12, and went up to the land lord, who is a large, fine-looking man, with a chest on him which must have made him a most powerful man before it slid down, and said, "Is breakfast ready?"
"Is breakfast ready?" said he.
"Yes -- is breakfast READY?"
"Not quite," he says, with the utmost urbanity, "not quite; you have arisen too early, my son, by a matter of eighteen hours as near as I can come at it."
Humph! I said to myself, these people go slow up here; it is a wonder to me that they ever get up at all.
"Ah, well," said I, "it don't matter -- it don't matter. But, ah -- perhaps you design to have lunch this week, some time?"
"Yes," he says, "I have designed all along to have lunch this week, and by a most happy coincidence you have arrived on the very day. Walk into the dining room."
As I walked forward I cast a glance of chagrin over my shoulder and observed, "Old Smarty from Mud Springs, I apprehend."
And he murmured, "Young Lunar Caustic from San Francisco, no doubt. "
Well, let it pass. If I didn't make anything off that old man in the way of "sass," I cleaned out his lunch table, anyhow. I calculated to get ahead of him some way. And yet I don't know but the old scallawag came out pretty fair, after all. Because I only staid in his hotel twenty-four hours and ate one meal, and he charged me five dollars for it. If I were not just ready to start back to the bay, now, I believe I would go and tackle him once more. If I only had a fair chance, that old man is not any smarter than I am. (I will risk something that it makes him squirm every time I call him "that old man," in this letter. People who voted for General Washington don't like to be reminded that they are old.) But I like the old man, and I like his hotel too, barring the d__ barring the fountain I should say.
Mr. John Paul 's Baggage
As I was saying, I took lunch, and then hurried out to attend to business -- that is to say, I hurried out to look after Mr. John Paul's baggage. Mr. John Paul is the San Francisco correspondent of the Sacramento Union, and "goes fixed." I was down at the wharf when the Antelope was about to leave San Francisco, and Captain Poole came to me and said Mr. Paul was going up with him, and he knew by the way he talked that he was going to travel with a good deal of baggage, and it would be quite a favor if I would go along and help look after a portion of it. The Captain then requested Mr. Asa Nudd, and Lieutenant Elhs, and Mr. Bill Stephenson, treasurer of Maguire's Opera House, to keep an eye on portions of Mr. Paul's baggage, also. They cheerfully assented. And by and by Mr. Paul made his appearance, and brought his baggage with him, on a couple of drays. And it consisted of nothing in the world but a toy carpet-sack like a woman's reticule, and had a pair of socks and a tooth-brush in it. We saw in a moment that all that talk of Mr. Paul 's had been merely for effect, and that there was really no use in all of us going to Sacramento to look after his baggage; but inasmuch as we had already shipped for the voyage, we concluded to go on. We liked Mr. Paul, and it was a pleasure to us to humor his harmless vanity about his little baggage. Therefore when he said to the chief mate, "Will you please to send some men to get that baggage aboard?" we proceeded to superintend the transportation with becoming ceremony. It was as gratifying to us as it was to Mr. Paul himself, when the second mate afterward reported that the boat was "down by the head" so that she wouldn't steer, and the Captain said, "It's that baggage, I suppose -- move it aft." We had a very pleasant trip of it to Sacramento, and said nothing to disabuse the passengers ' minds when we found that Paul had disseminated the impression that he had three or four tons of baggage aboard. After we landed at Sacramento there was the infernalest rumbling and thundering of trunks on the main deck for two hours that can be imagined. Finally a passenger who could not sleep for the jarring and the noise, hailed Mr. Bill Stephenson and said he wondered what all the racket was about. Mr. Stephenson said, "It'll be over pretty soon, now -- they've been getting that there John Paul 's baggage ashore. "
I have made this letter so long that I shall have to chop it in two at this point, and send you the remainder of it to-morrow.
[reprinted in Mark Twain's San Francisco, edited by Bernard Taper, (McGraw Hill, 1963), pp. 221-23; "Boot-Blacking" reprinted in The Washoe Giant in San Francisco, edited by Franklin Walker; (George Fields, 1938), p. 114.]
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