Barbarians Running Late
After being cut off by another driver in traffic and slamming on your brakes, you stop at the next service station for gas, your adrenaline still pumping, only to be made to wait by a clerk who is busy flirting with a girlfriend but who finally after finishing a cigarette, emerges from his grimy booth and saunters sullenly to your car and stands outside the window, not speaking, barely glancing your way, waiting for you to state your needs, which he fulfills silently, neither cleaning your windshield nor checking your oil, and when he is done, he speaks his first words, "Sixteen-fifty," and glowers at you when you lack exact change, but at last, after a period of further flirtation, drops a few greasy, torn dollars and some dirty coins into your palm, and now your blood is boiling, so you pull out of the station a little too fast, narrowly missing another motorist, who raises his middle finger and mouths an obscenity at you . . .
IN THE middle of the unruly nineteenth century, there were no automobiles, but America was agog over railroads. For the first time in human history, horseback was not the fastest way to travel. An entrepreneur named Leland Stanford hammered a golden spike into a rocky Utah plateau, and the coasts were connected by three thousand miles of track. Everybody wanted to ride. Everybody suddenly had someplace to go. The owners of the railroads grew wealthy. Naturally, the passengers were divided into classes; that was the American way. The first-class coaches often had gold