Jan

3

 An interesting point of hoboing is the ratio of hobos and their use of mobile devices such as Smartphones. When I rode quarterly from 1985-95 the mobile devices weren't around. However, many of the executives I took to the rails became hobo tech heads, bringing cell phones, GPS, scanners with preprogrammed RR yard frequencies, and night vision goggles. I was content with my working knowledge and the Rand McNally Handy RR Atlas, although at times the high tech proved valuable.

There were reportedly 4 million hobos during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and supposedly after that the hobo subculture became an intellectual property. It was revived in the Great Recession of 2008 that threw hundreds of thousands into homelessness. The worst of them became stew bums occupying your park benches, the more capable boxcar tourists and rubber tramps (in autos), and the most able became hobos riding the rails. I estimate these days that in good weather about one in every five trains you see west of the Mississippi River is carrying a hobo, and far fewer to the east.

Yesterday while hiking in the desert along a Union Pacific track between LA and Tucson, I watched one freight whiz past every 30 minutes for six hours, usually double stack container trains. I was too far from them to see hobos waving, but on returning to Slab city I noted about 200 new young arrivals with backpacks in the past month who will winter here, before moving on. Many talk of riding the rails. They are in their twenties, in dreadlocks, like drugs and the breeze in their hair, and often have female hoboettes in tow who are pretty as well as hard-bitten. They spend their free hours reading, playing guitars, and keying mobile devices.

One of them is named Hopper. He lost his right leg last year trying to catch a moving freight ladder outside of New Orleans. He is traveling with a parson who claims he has 'healed this cripple' by enabling his good leg to regenerate. They travel the nation three-legged, working the crowds, collecting food stamps, and panhandling in Walmart parking lots.

Of course, they have the latest Smartphones in this new hobo addition to the hobo subculture.


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