October 16, 1990|By Franklin Mason | Franklin Mason,Franklin Mason is a retired Evening Sun copy editor.

HE KNEW there was a streetcar named Desire, but not here in this city. There was one here, he thought, named Paradise. But mostly he knew one named Nineteen, No. 19, a time ago, on Harford Road.

He was up in years, and there was time to remember. He'd lived on Harford Road when he was so small as not to remember anything before it. Always the 19 screeched by at day, rumbling at night.

It was the streetcar that had taken him into the world. He'd seen it when he was small and knew it went worlds away. Then he was on it with his parents. Sitting almost too small to see out the window, he saw some of the city.

It was the day of little money. The streetcar cost little, still it took him lands away. Then came the time when he could be on it alone. He was grown now, or partly so. Now he was unaccompanied. Now the city was even larger, greater, seen through his eyes alone.

There is nothing like that streetcar now, he knew. The streets are clogged with cars. And buses. He knew that sometime ago buses replaced streetcars, but not really. Buses were autos blown bigger, but not distinctive, not like streetcars.

Time ago, when he rode the streetcar, he saw the great streetcar men, the motorman up front, the conductor in back. He saw them closely, the one up front guiding the car's destiny, the one in back watching the money, dispensing transfers, ringing the giant overhead clock that counted passengers.

Fully grown now, he saw that the street had grown too, even as he had. Now there was work for him downtown, a place he'd only seen previously from streetcar window.

Looking back, it seemed a near-miracle. How then the streetcars came so frequently, minutes apart. How they took him downtown to work promptly, safely, and brought him home. Autos were called ''machines'' then and were a rarity.

Nor was it only work to which the streetcar took him. By night, too, he caught it, transferred to another, with scarcely a hitch. Work over, he might go to the downtown theater, Ford's, the Maryland, the Auditorium. The streetcar took him there so well, so on-time and brought him home at a reasonable hour. He could not imagine such a thing now, by bus. It would be endless waiting. It would take forever and a day.

He could not imagine going on a date now by public transportation. Perhaps the auto had washed them all away. Still he remembered streetcar dates, and they were good.

He remembered when he was in knee pants and No. 19 ran along Clifton Park, not in the street but in a special place, space for the tracks alone. He remembered the park's hedges and the ball diamonds beyond them. He remembered the car running along the golf course -- the first tee then was right beside the tracks. Golfers were warned not to drive while a streetcar was passing.

There was much to remember.

Yes, he knew there was a streetcar museum now. Perhaps he should go there. Perhaps even a museum streetcar could take him back in time. Then he knew he didn't need that, the years alone were enough. Sometimes, he thought, as years came on, he seemed to travel more and more in the past.

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