Tales of Open Road

Retrospective Thoughts on Hoboing

... An Objective Review

Tales of the Open Road #15 by Bill Jodrey

When hitchhiking for days and weeks, the hiking between the hitching can become a real and trying source of concern.

Aching muscles, sudden showers, the lack of sanitary facilities, and perhaps hunger are the foremost problems one has to confront. Sleeping is not a really big deal because if you are in a city there are all sorts of places to nap, and also it is in the towns and cities where an itinerant can look a fellow being in the eye and say, "My friend, I am hungry. Can you help me?"

Of course, not every one is able to look at a "BUM" and say "THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD, GO I OR ONE OF MY OWN".

By and large, people who live in towns and country villages are not apt to turn a deaf ear to a vagrant and will often offer a stranger an opportunity to help with the chores, thereby taking the stigma of the "beg" and transforming it into fellowship.

Another difference of smaller towns is the attitude of police and firemen toward itinerants. Perhaps it is that the constant pressure of possible disaster is more present there.

In Retrospect

Hindsight is a wonderful experience because one is able to soften some of the worst of the embarrassing and demeaning events that a hobo encounters and at the same time perhaps add a little color and fun when relating the tale.

Hitchhiking, for a beginner, very quickly lets one realize that he is only fractionally in charge of his life, because there are ever present and changing circumstances which call for decisions and answers that are totally new and untried.

On the other side of the coin, so to speak, I found it to be astonishing that so many situations which could have been disastrous, suddenly smoothed out and disappeared. I often thought that an angel was sitting on my shoulder.

Hopping freight trains is another side of an adventure which stretches one's adaptability to great new and trying limits.

Some of the problems are:

Lack of food - Very few hobos have money with which to buy and carry food and, consequently, there are often two or three days at a time without anything to eat. Over a period of several months on the road, one establishes a lifelong habit of eating small meals or snacks.

Sanitary conditions in freight cars are carefully observed. After all, this is one's home away from home. With men, the problems are easily solved, though sometimes it is necessary to enlist the aid of two strong fellow travelers. One each is needed to hold an arm and, as one's nether parts are exposed to the world, Nature's demands are answered. For women, who usually travel in pairs or fours, the problem requires some forethought. A curtain and receptacle is needed as part of their traveling equipment. Nature is nature.

An especially interesting facet of mixed sexes and freight car travel was the collective protective attitude of the men toward the women which was a brotherly one. I never heard of a girl being mistreated by a hobo.

I recall seeing one lady, about twenty-five years old, sitting on top of a freight car at a siding and just before the train started I climbed up and sat near her. We talked of many things. First and foremost, she had the promise of a job quite some miles away and, having no money, she opted to ride the freight.

There were stories everywhere, any way one turned.

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