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Oh, to Live the Life of a Hobo
A 'bo is
a shorter name for a hobo who could be a migratory worker or homeless vagabond, especially one who is impoverished. The term originated in the Western—probably Northwestern—United States around 1890. Unlike a "tramp", who works only when forced to, and a "bum", who does not work at all, a "hobo" is a traveling worker.
The True Story
Of Mice and Men is a novella written by author John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in California in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression in the United States.
Based on Steinbeck's own experiences as a bindlestiff in the 1920s (before the arrival of the Okies he would vividly describe in The Grapes of Wrath), the title is taken from Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse", which read: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley". (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)
Required reading in many schools. Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of censors for vulgarity and what some consider offensive and racist language; consequently, it appears on the American Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century.
Now if I Were
to tell you that living as a hobo in the 1920's was glamorous, clean-shaven, nicely-dressed, I would telling you and out and out lie. Not a gentile fib, but a cold hearted lie. The hobo was more than a survivor than he was an adventurist.
When The Great Depression of 1929, the rich lost fortunes and the average almost starved to death if it weren't for the good hearted people in some cities who survived by a cup of soup and a crust of bread. There was no such a thing as people being elite, middle or poor classed people--all stood in the same cold, windy line waiting for a steaming cup of nourishment and even that had to go for an entire family who did not even have a Welfare System in order to live.
But cold, depressing, and rough as it was, I have to believe (in my heart) that I would have loved to been able to "ride the rails" and visit from town-to-town while doing odd jobs to get a meager wage in order to hitch another train to get to "greener pastures."
Truthfully, many 'bo's died. Many fared decently as they struggled tooth and nail to keep a roof over their head and a few groceries to eat.
Now let's talk about the 10 reasons why I would have loved to lived as a hobo.
10.) Sleeping and naps: were an easy task if I had lived as a hobo. If I were sharp enough to have finely-honed hobo skills, I could have taken my pick of any hobo jungle or maybe in a cottonfield to catch a few zzzzz's without worry of being arrested or harasssed by the authorities.
9.) Social skills: were not as easy and many thought. Some hobos got into scuffles and jailhouse sentences for fighting or public drunkness. But not me. I would have been humble-hearted and soft spoken as to not be thought to be a troublemaker. If I did that, I could have made a lot of friends in the various towns where hobos congregated.
8.) Taking one's: pride would have went a long way if I were padding the sidewalks looking for a job or maybe a quick hand-out from a generous back door restaurant. It's all in how I conducted myself. If I had kept my head bowed down--looking forlorn, people would not respect me, the hobo. But if I had taken some pride in myself and smiled although I wasn't employed or broke, my looking positive would have given me a job of washing dishes or sweeping a cafe and always saying thank you to the restaurant owner.
7.) Tourism: had its pluses in the Great Depression. A lot of hobos went to finding work when they got it even if it meant taking up roots from their families and making a fresh start although it meant making new friends and doing what they could to make a living and besides, "riding the rails" (hitching a freight train) is a great way to take a restful nap.
6.) Romance: was evident, although a minute amount, in the 1940's. There were many women who were hobos not because they loved to roam around, but most women had disabled husbands and kids with mouths to feed, so these enterprising women took to traveling out of town in order to get jobs. Believe it or not, poverty knows no race or respect. In all reality, a lot of married ladies fell in love with another male hobo and made a life for herself. Question: is it proper to call a female hobo a "hoboette?"
5.) I would have: loved to be a hobo for there were no bills to speak of that were due every first of the month--rent, grocries and utilities. All I would have been able to do is catch a chicken or two, or maybe catch myself a fish out of some creek and that way I could eat free and not pay a power bill. But in that timeframe, I would be void of a color television, internet, cellphone and other luxuries.
4.) Making good friends: would not have been a burden. I would simply get myself a nice dog or cat and there you have it, a pet named "Rory" or maybe "Tom." Just as long as I shared the food and fare with my dog or cat and talk about beating loneliness, a dog or cat would be perfect for life on the road.
3.) Housing: for me, the hobo, would be some doing. I would have slept underneath a bridge as long as the cold wind wasn't whipping around. Or I could have negotiated for myself to sweep a few floors just to sleep in someone's basment. Times were tough, I am telling you, but if you were willing to be industrious, you could survive.
2.) Networking: for hobos were not as tough as you thought. You make one or two genuine friends in a hobo jungle or two and before you know it, you have four or five good hobos and in a few years, you can get a meal, a decent wardrobe and shoes just for the asking. But you have to be able to be able to barter some goods or services just to help the person giving you a suit of clothes to go out on Saturday night.
1.) Writing: would be a natural job for any hobo. If I were that hobo, I would be able to barter a notebook and a few pencils, and maybe I could be another "John Boy Walton," (Richard Thomas) on CBS Television's "The Waltons," as told by writer, Earl Hamner.
Happy traveling, friends.
And good night, Reno, Nevada.
A few of the slang used in the 1940s, hobo lifestyle
Young inexperienced child
Small portable frying pan
Person stayin on a job longer than a year
Clothing wrapped; tied to a stick
Genuine, trustworthy individual
Mean dog held in junkyard
Newspapers used for blankets
Using another's campfire
Catch the West Bound
Cover the moon
Sleep in the open
Go by train or bus
Board moving trains
Cheap motel room
A 'bo's best clothing
One who preys on a 'bo in a hobo jungle
Although the middle section of this piece is somewhat humorous and for good reason. But the lingo and terms in the section at the bottom along with the top of this piece are all true. I sincerely hope that you have all enjoyed this hub. Thanks, Kenneth
© 2017 Kenneth Avery