Ollie lived in San Francisco, California. He knew the city like the back of his paw. It was because of his friend Fred that Ollie had begun riding the cable cars - or trolleys - when he was barely more than a kitten. At first he had been frightened of the sudden starts and stops, the screech of the brakes, and the busy feet of passengers milling around him. But Fred had made a little nest for him in the controls area, where Ollie wouldn't get stepped on. At slower times of day, Ollie sat proud on the nearest passenger bench, where he had a clear view of the road ahead.
Fred was a trolley gripman. That meant he was in charge of operating the brakes. He was very strong, and in his prime had even won the annual cable car Bell Ringing Contest a couple of times. For many years, he had worked on trolley #24 on the Powell & Mason line, built in 1887 by the Mohoney Brothers. The trolley had seen its share of the city's history, including the catastrophic earthquake and fire of 1906, which had leveled the San Francisco.
Several years back, as the trolley had pulled into its terminus on Bay Street near Fisherman's Wharf, Fred had spotted a bedraggled bit of orange fur hunched against a lamppost. While the technicians set to work turning the trolley about on the turntable, Fred went to investigate. Indeed, the bit of fur was a young cat, skinny and damp from the thick evening fog rolling in from the Bay. Sensing approaching footsteps, the cat curled itself into an even tighter ball. Fred bent over and murmured, “Well, look at you, what a sorry little sight.”
He gently scooped up the orange cat in his big calloused hands. Still, the cat kept his nose tucked tight against his side and his tail wrapped stiff about him.
From over by the trolley, his colleagues hollered, “Hey Fred, all ready here!”
Fred paused for a moment, considering. Then, feeling decidedly soft-hearted, he swiftly slid the skinny little cat into the roomy inside breast pocket of his heavy coat. He walked back to #24 and got into position.
“What were you up to over there?” asked the trolley conductor Leonard.
“Oh, nothing much,” Fred responded, “just getting a bit of fresh air.”
Leonard raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
Once the trolley got moving, Fred put all his attention to the job at hand. He had to operate the brake grips smoothly, releasing the cable when needed and keeping an eye out for possible traffic problems. After the turn onto Columbus, he sneaked a quick peek into his pocket. The small cat was sleeping! Fred could see its little ribs rising and falling with each breath.