Thinly sliced potatoes with tarragon and leeks

Thinly sliced potatoes with tarragon and leeks

Thinly sliced potatoes with tarragon and leeks

This morning on the way to school, Isaac asked, “Mom, what’s a hobo?” I told him my understanding of the word. He thought about it a bit, and asked a few questions about riding the rails. And then he said that when he grows up, he’s going to have one train with boxcars, and his kids can ride around and make a fort in it, and anybody else that wants to ride it is welcome. It will go around his giant yard with the tall grass, and then on to points unknown. I love the generosity of this plan, and the fact that my Isaac, who is a man who would stay warm and cozy in his pajamas all day long if possible, has devised a way to combine the life of a hobo with safety and certainty. And of course I’ve been thinking about hobos the rest of the day. I’ve always been fascinated by hobos, probably because I would would make such a bad one. I don’t like being cold and dirty, I don’t like uncertainty, I’m easily overwhelmed by darkness and loneliness and vast unknown spaces. But I love songs about hobos and ramblers, and films about them. Like Preston Sturges’ beautiful Sullivan’s Travels, or John Davis moving documentary Hobo. I saw this one in a theater in Edinburgh, alone and far from home, and it made me weepy. Very honest, very powerful, with a wonderful soundtrack. I’ve been reading up on hobos, to be sure I gave Isaac the right information. Here are some things I’ve learned today. A hobo wanders and works, a tramp wanders and dreams, and a bum neither wanders or works (that’s me.) Hobos have a shared language, and it reminds me of Slim Gaillard’s Vout. I imagine that it changes constantly and varies from place to place. Hobos also have a shared sign language or code. They leave marks for each other in coal or charcoal, to share information about mean cops, barking dogs, kind ladies. I love language and I love drawings, so I think this is a beautiful idea. It’s a network of connection between people I think of as fundamentally lonely. It’s a way to look out for one another and to say “I was here,” to mark your route and write your history. It seems fitting that it lacks the permanence of most graffiti, just as the life of a hobo lacks constancy. The fact that the language is shared gives it a history and a future, but the mark itself is transient and vulnerable to all the shocks of time and weather.
180px-1_hobo-code
And “An ethical code was created by Tourist Union #63 during its 1889 National Hobo Convention in St. Louis Missouri. This code was voted upon as a concrete set of laws to govern the Nation-wide Hobo Body; it reads this way:

Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.
When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos.
When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose all molesters to authorities, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!”

Good advice for all of us! For any man or saint among us. Now if you need me, I’ll be on a freight train headed west. Until Isaac decides it’s time to turn the train around and come home, that is.

Here’s Hobo Blues by Peg Leg Howell.

And here’s a recipe for late summer or early autumn, or this cusp we’re currently riding, exactly between the two. Almost everything was from the farm…potatoes, tomatoes, leeks, and they’re all layered with olives and smoked gouda to make a rich, tart, smoky, comforting, bright dish.
Continue reading