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Modern Day Hobos

by Deborah Thomas (Age: 58)
copyright 11-14-2005

Age Rating: 10 +

A red handkerchief tied to a stick
bobs through the eerie dense fog.
He walks the track with a sack on his back, followed by a scruffy little dog.
He has little money and his face is all muddy, clothes torn and tattered old rags.
Later that night, by campfire light, he tells his old stories and brags.
Of his fortunate day as he made his way collecting donations and dregs.
With a smile on his face he has no disgrace as he holds out his hand and begs.

Railroad Hobo, by Debbie Thomas

This is the image we all get when we think of Railroad Hobos, walking the tracks, hiding in the bushes till all is clear. Then when getting to their destinations, hovering around shanty towns, telling the stories of hard life and hunger.
But in fact, some Hobos today have their own websites. They have a different way of communicating the stories of their adventures; the places they have been, the people they have met. It is practically a sport to some. A religion to most.
In my research, I saw countless pictures of these excursions, documented for displaying on web pages.
Some of the views are breathtaking from an 'outlaw' advantage in an empty gravel car. I can see the adventure of it all so clearly.
I also learned that Hobos have their own 'sign' language. Symbols that tell a story about a particular house or town... if the police are mean to 'travelers', or if a handout is available at a cafe. For instance, a cat symbol means that a kind lady lives here; a top hat symbolizes a kind gentleman. You have symbols pointing left or right, telling all who know the code which way to go to keep from being caught, or to direct you to the next easy meal.
It looks like sport on the internet, but I'm sure there are probably still some who have no other means to get by. An outlaw train ride to get home for Thanksgiving, or even to get to a town hosting a free meal for the holidays. Maybe their job is seasonal, and they have to keep moving to work, not enough money to pay for the ride, they jump a train to the next destination.
And then there are those that I have met on the streets that choose to live this way.. carefree, answer to no one.. even if it means having no home to call your own. The life of the Hobo is what they choose.
Where else but these United States can you post a sign that says "Why lie! I need a beer" and get a donation? By the way, these people are not hobos, but they are bums.. just ask any hobo the difference. Real hobos work to pay their own way, whether doing a chore, or working the jobs that come their way. They just prefer the road to the confines of society.
I have always been a fan of Railroad Hobos, you can thank 'Freddie Freeloader' for that. Red Skelton was always my favorite.
Thanks, Freddie, for making my life a little more colorful!

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        05-12-2006     BJ Niktabe        

I agree with David and Anthony. I really enjoyed reading this. I had never thought about hobos, but I think it's great how you point out the difference between a hobo and a bum, similar to the difference between a homeless person and a bum/freeloader. And I, too, found the rhyming and rhythm in your poem very smooth. I'm going to go look for more of your work to read! Thank you!

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