By: James F. O’Neil
When my boys were in high school, deciding on college life and careers, both chose to apply to military service academies. The application process was rigorous and tiring. One item on the initial application had to do with hobbies. This small item on the long application fascinated me. What importance was a hobby to a service academy appointment?
Admission to West Point is very competitive; candidates need to do their best in everything they do, including items counted in the “subscores,” or part of the whole score.
How far back in time is a candidate to “do best”? Some hobbyists are “late collectors,” or come into a coin collection from a relative’s donation. Others are Scouts from the very first, working on merit badges long before any thoughts of West Point or the Naval Academy [in Annapolis, Maryland]. Or what about having American Girl or Barbie collections, or miniature china tea sets, or even Cabbage Patch dolls piled neatly around a bedroom?
And what about the young boy-child who collects paper bus and streetcar transfers? Would he later be entitled to a “whole-man score”?
Recently, watching a city bus, I found myself wondering for a moment about all the bus transfers I collected from my days of boy-child. I used to have piles of used transfers, punched and returned by a bus driver or motorman (on a trolley car or streetcar).
Transfers back then were pieces of paper, the size of a narrow dollar bill, white, printed with a type of clock face at one end, and the route on the rest of the transfer. It was to show with a few punches where a passenger got on and then how much time to get to another location.
I lived but a few city blocks from a large streetcar, later bus, “barn,” as we used to call it. This large interchange saw end-of-the-line tracks going in and coming out, streetcars lined up and put to sleep for the next day. As buses replaced the trolley system, the buses found their spots to rest, interchange, or be repaired in “the barn.”
1973 Chicago Bus Barn
In late afternoons, I used to make my way through the parked trolleys or buses, sneaking along, looking inside for books of transfers, or single transfers. Many an empty streetcar or silent open bus allowed me to rummage around, adding to my collections–and never being caught.
So this was a collection: paper transfers from all over the city, all organized into zones, dates, routes. For what end?, I ask. What I collected, how I collected, why I collected was for fun, and was enjoyable.
Perhaps I gained some organizational skills, or some sense of what is “worth” something. Perhaps this has all made me a “Whole Man.”
So, what’s my score?
–“If something exists, somebody somewhere collects them.”
© James F. O’Neil 2013