Picture this: The United States is in the midst of an economic depression. The stock market has crumbled. Banks have failed. Thousands of Americans are out of work. Some of the more adventurous unemployed hop freight trains and set out across the country, willing to work in exchange for food and shelter.
The year isn't 1931. It's 2009, and hobos are alive and well. This WEek's WEbooker, Shoestring, calls himself a "professional hobo." He's also a thoroughly modern hobo -- in between stints of riding the rails, he fires up his wi-fi and logs onto WEbook to share his story in Life and Times of a Professional Hobo.
To learn everything there is to know about being a 21st Century hobo, check out Shoestring's project. To get answers to your random, burning questions, read on.
Q: In your WEbook profile and projects, you talk in some detail about your
life as a hobo. For those who haven't stumbled across your WEbook work
yet, can you tell us what a hobo is, and how you came to be one? In
particular, what does it mean to be a "professional" hobo? (As opposed,
I suppose, to an amateur hobo?)
A: For me, it took a lot of mistakes, like getting
on the wrong trains that would take me to the wrong towns! I had to
have this happen to me hundreds of times before I finally got
all the railroads in North America by heart! I'm now a
"professional hobo" because I very seldom hop a train that takes
me somewhere I don't want to go! (If I do, it's because I slept through
where I was supposed to get off and not because I got on the wrong
train.) I became a professional hobo around 1998. It
took me roughly ten years of hopping freight trains to learn all the
routes. Now I am a walking railroad map!
hop a freight train. You are not a true hobo until you manage to
make your way all across the country without a map or without getting
caught by the bull (railroad police). I have not been caught by the
bull in so many years now. I truly am a professional hobo now,
having ridden well over 325,000 miles of steel since 1989.
Q: I looked up "hobo" on
Wikipedia and found a bunch of interesting theories about the origin of
the word. (My favorite is that it's a greeting -- "Ho, beau!") Do you
have your own idea about where the word may have come from?
A: Long ago, train travelers carried a hoe with them on their quest
for farming work. They placed a rag over the metal part of the hoe to
keep it dry and from rusting is why you see photos of hoboes with a
stick and a baglike thing tied to the end! (This is my favorite and
this seems to me to be the most logical explaination for the word
Q: When did you first start writing? What are your personal goals for your writing?
first started writing I believe in September of 2008. I have a
personal goal to make my writings as clear as can be for all to read
and be able to understand! Although I just started writing, I have
been told countless times that I needed to write a book about my hobo
experiences. Everyone from the police of the railroads to my family to people
who work on the railroad has told me to get to work on a hobo
Q: How does a professional hobo get access to the internet?
A: I get internet
access at libraries and also in the more expensive motels -- they
usually have a computer in the lobby for guest use, so I can hide my
backpack and just walk into the lobby and do a quick check of my email or
the weather or CNN.
A lot of people probably think of rail-riding hobos as a relic of the
Great Depression. Now that we're in another serious economic downturn,
do you think you'll have more company on the freight trains? If so, how
do you feel about that?
A: Now that times are getting harder
for most people, I have seen a slight increase in the volume of
rail riders. Most are younger -- ones who dropped out of school
mostly! Most are between the ages of 18 and 22. I would rather not
see these type kids out on the rails because they have no standards of
value! They will steal from you, rob you blind, and they have no
loyalty as well! The older generation of 'bo's are very loyal! We all
set strict standards, like being honest with each other, being able to
leave your belongings with another hobo while you go into town for
supplies so you don't have to carry your things with you, never lying
to one another about anything, and trusting and loving one another.
Q: What is your least favorite emotion? What makes you feel it, and how do you deal with it?
A: My least favorite emotion is sorrow. I feel it all the time. I am
always alone, and have nobody to talk to. So finally when I do run
across a person that shows me any interest, I try my hardest to please
them so they will accept me.
Q: What is your favorite word?
A: My favorite word is "drizzle." It just sounds neat and has to do with meteorology, too!
Q: What is your favorite WEbook project not authored by you?
have a line on the wonderfullest writer on WEbook?
The fantastickest feedbacker? Or anyone else who goes above and beyond to make WEbook the best writing, reading, and
publishing community on the internet? Drop me an email, or visit my profile and send me a
message with the title "WEbooker
of the WEek" to nominate your favorite WEbooker and he or she will
have a shot at joining the ranks of the immortals -- and getting a free WEbook T-shirt to boot.