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True Stories by Steve Keeley
Hobo Memoirs

 

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Bo swims the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas, dream bag in hand. September 2005. (Photo by Tom 'Diesel' Dyson)

 

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Timeline: A Hobo's Life

Dubai: From "Yankee Hobo in the World's Emerging Markets"

Yankee Hobo in the World's Emerging Markets

The Fresh News: Return to Sand Valley

2/2/2005
In Honor of Bo, from Steve Wisdom

I couldn't help but think of our great friend and mentor Doc Bo when I heard
this wonderful hobo song on the radio this morning :

Big Rock Candy Mountains
Harry McClintock
(O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

One evening as the sun went down
And the jungle fires were burning,
Down the track came a hobo hiking,
And he said, "Boys, I'm not turning
I'm headed for a land that's far away
Besides the crystal fountains
So come with me, we'll go and see
The Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
There's a land that's fair and bright,
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night.
Where the boxcars all are empty
And the sun shines every day
And the birds and the bees
And the cigarette trees
The lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
All the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
The farmers' trees are full of fruit
And the barns are full of hay
Oh I'm bound to go
Where there ain't no snow
Where the rain don't fall
The winds don't blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol
Come trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railway bulls are blind
There's a lake of stew
And of whiskey too
You can paddle all around it
In a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
The jails are made of tin.
And you can walk right out again,
As soon as you are in.
There ain't no short-handled shovels,
No axes, saws nor picks,
I'm bound to stay
Where you sleep all day,
Where they hung the jerk
That invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

I'll see you all this coming fall
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

 

3/17/2005
Bo Keely Up Close, by Ken Smith

Bo Keely has walked across 95 countries. Has floated and paddled down the Amazon, struck blind in one eye by poisonous insect, plunged into a coma and was discovered by an Indian who saved him from death at the jaws of exhaustion.

Bo's many feats of physical endurance and stamina, going without food and water, pushing forward in extremes of heat and cold, managing relationships in lands where the language he used had to be body and sign, wink and nod, for these accomplishments Bo is recognized as a champion.

In sports also, Bo excelled, having mastered the game of hardball squash and played on championship teams. From childhood Bo was attracted to physical excellence; he boxed, wrestled, football, and so on. Yet his skill was precise enough to master table tennis too.

What is more Mr. Keely graduated from an accredited animal veterinary college, can tell you how to set your broken arm after a fall in the jungle, without assistance; can do this for himself, his own arm, however shattered.

Mr. Keely, Doctor Keely, in addition to the attributes already mentioned, is an inveterate reader, can recall important passages from important authors, especially authors who have both participated in adventure and written books on adventure. Bo has written his account of traveling in 250 railroad box car trips.

And that brings me to the Hobo Keely. All else about Bo is understandable, given the observer admires heroic stuff. But the Hobo personality which dominates this man is not easy to comprehend.

Part of being a hobo is being a loner. Bo is a loner. A loner and an individualist. Whether both appellations are necessary for an identity I cannot determine. We all know individualists who stand out in history and in current times. Not all are also loners. Bo is both, however.

Bo is comfortable to be in company with, as a paradox to my description. However, if you visit Bo in his desert habitat you must expect to be in a one-sided conversation. Bo asks questions. Like a reporter asks questions when interviewing for a segment of 20/20. He does not volunteer information about himself; is this his innate modesty showing its colors?

As a Hobo extraordinaire Bo wears hobo, self-styled, home-made, home-tailored, rag-type pants held to his large body frame with laundry cord suspenders cut precisely to length which accommodate roomy pockets to stuff his hands into when speaking to you.

For those not acquainted with the lifestyle of a professional hobo, I point out that a hobo is not a bum, and not a fool, and not an ignoramus. A hobo is a wandering man; we've heard in literature of the Wandering Jew. Bo is like that in a sense, except not Jew, not a tribal person.

As a wandering man his joy in life is to see what is on the other side of the mountain, the other side of the river, the other side of your character too.

To wander and to see what's there one requires certain means of sustenance. Meaning Bo must from time to time find work for himself. In the recent past Bo has worked in Blythe, California as a substitute teacher in the local high school. (Bo holds a Master of Science Degree)

In addition, on his own time he has been known to tutor struggling students in the local community college. Although an individualist Bo is also a compassionate humanitarian - when he sees a crippled animal or human he is drawn to assist if he can do so without intruding on the creature's freedom.

With all these admirable traits and characteristics one is taken by surprise to learn Bo is sleeping in his car for weeks at a time when he is teaching or tutoring and needing to live near the city. Bo's desert habitat is a 100 mile roundtrip from the city, so Bo drives a short distance out of town and parks his vehicle in the desert brush, often right up against the local mountain range, and sleeps on the right side of his Contour sedan which has had the passenger seat removed to enable a makeshift bed that lengthens out thru the trunk because the partition separating the trunk from the passenger space has been removed.

This is the Hobo in Bo. He does not need a comfortable motel, a daily shower, a change of clothes, white shirt with stiff collar or pressed pants and shoes shined with a glow.

And the Hobo in Bo prompts him to eat his main meal of each day in the free soup kitchen manned by volunteers in the city of Blythe. I accompanied Bo to this kitchen, formerly identified as a Senior Citizen Assistance Center I believe; but few seniors were in evidence. The humans showing up for a hot meal everyday remind one of a menagerie. Except everyone is free to come and go; and they do go, to the river bank where they create makeshift shelters and individualistic habitats. As I watched Bo in this environment I was reminded of scientists who observe animals for decades and then achieve inter- national recognition for the books they publish. Such as anthropologists, maybe like Jane Goodall, who studied chimpanzees.

Bo will someday be in the news, perhaps, for publishing his notes on indigents, hobos, bums, and neer-do-wells.

About the Hobo's desert 10-acre ranch I visited, I will say one could live there for a year without assistance from anyone or anything, completely isolated from most of the world. His various building structures are provisioned with water, civil defense foods, and survival tools.

To call this place a ranch is somewhat of a misnomer. Bo's place is a desert habitat with size, 10 acres. There is no toilet, no running water, no telephone line, no electricity line, no television cable. And the road to his place is a hazardous path of sand and gravel and hardpan; often washed out, and one can be trapped between washes or wrecked in floods.

I am not a critic of architecture, only an admirer of buildings and structures. Our Hobo has demonstrated ingenuity in his putting together various salvage parts of abandoned buildings gathered from ghost structures within a few miles of his place.

The wind blows at 35 miles per hour much of the time. The temperature in the summer is 120 degrees. Scorpions creep into your bed; other creatures of the desert come with their curiosity to nose into your affairs.

To visit Hobo Bo Keely go there in a four-wheel drive vehicle, take a cell phone with you, learn how to use a GPS and take it along - you need to know your latitude and longitude and how to get back out to civilization.

Bo the Hobo, the champion of adventure, can be reached at the Valley Community College computer lab: bokeely@hotmail.com

Ken Smith