EVERY Christmas is a little different from every other, but the holiday in 1963 was much different. For one thing, it was really white, as in "I'm dreaming of . . .." Four to 6 inches fell in the metropolitan area, so the treetops glistened and children listened and all that stuff.
But there was something else: For the first time in memory, shoppers couldn't take the streetcar downtown. The old No. 8, the last of the cars in use, had its last run on the morning of Nov. 3, 1963. As had all of the streetcars in a gradual phaseout, it was replaced by a bus.
But the No. 8 was special (as was the No. 15, on roughly the same route). It ran from Towson through the center of town to Catonsville. "Through . . . town" meant east and west on Fayette Street by Eutaw and Paca streets, dropping off and picking up the shoppers at Hecht's, Hochschild's, Stewart's and the Lexington Market (all but the market now gone). Many shoppers, accustomed to the No. 8 for Christmas shopping, tried the bus replacement and found it wanting, particularly in the snow.
This was in the days before fleets of salt trucks hit the streets at the first sign of white precipitation. Many of the buses didn't get through. The streetcars, of course, did. They didn't go slip-sliding away, and they didn't have to be rerouted because of ice or snow.
Also, riders were in the habit of boarding the streetcars in the middle of the streets, where the tracks ran, taking refuge from traffic in so-called "safety zones" protected by 7-foot-high concrete pylons (into which cars regularly crashed). The buses, of course, used the curb lane. It should have been more convenient, but streetcar riders had trouble adjusting. A news story described the confusion:
"Yesterday, buses were in use on the two lines [Nos. 8 and 15]. Several persons stepped off the curbs into the roadway to meet the bus and found themselves in the path of a bus swerving to meet them."
It took some getting used to, a feat that would not be accomplished by Christmas that year.
Newsboys had still another problem. On the streetcars, wide aisles permitted them to wander up and down the cars selling their papers. But the aisles were too narrow on the buses, the rides too rough.
Forty years ago, the Baltimore Christmas scene was of Charles Street leading to the Washington Monument and mufflered pedestrians, their breaths frosty, making their way along the streets. And always a streetcar. You could hear the Clang! Clang! Today, a Christmas scene might show the Inner Harbor, the Constellation snug in its berth, small boats at anchor and the downtown towers reflected in the water.
No streetcars. And the shoppers? Mostly gone to the malls. It's enough to make you long for the old No. 8.
Merry Christmas from . . .