Hobo Matters
November 6, 2008 3:32 PM   Subscribe

There had been hobos in the United States since there had been trains and liquor. Which is to say, always. [Semi-SLYT]

John Hodgman [previously] channels Ken Burns [previously] [/kottke]
posted by jckll (25 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Be sure not to forget the Hobo Code of Ethics!
posted by dhammond at 3:34 PM on November 6, 2008


This is very funny stuff. "...hidden lakes of moonshine..." Big thanks for posting.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:59 PM on November 6, 2008


Read John Hodgman's book The Area On My Expertise for more info on the Hobo Wars in America.
posted by Balisong at 4:01 PM on November 6, 2008


Hmm, according to this the first steam locomotives didn't even get going until the 1800s.
posted by delmoi at 4:09 PM on November 6, 2008


Just don't let Ann Althouse get near them.
posted by Zonker at 4:12 PM on November 6, 2008


Not according to John Hodgman! Ask him and he'll tell you that you now have a restraning order against you ever going within 250ft. of anyone who has ever ridden on a train.
posted by Balisong at 4:12 PM on November 6, 2008


This is so funny. During the first minute I thought it was a real documentary.
posted by nedkingsley at 4:13 PM on November 6, 2008


Hilarious. Gotta love the way the camera pans slowly around on one old sepia photo for seven and a half minutes, like polio--starting at their feet, and ending at their waists. Then the credits: Director of Photography, Costume Designer...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:19 PM on November 6, 2008


I just finished Wiliam Volmann's Riding Toward Everywhere. Recommended if you like your transients with more whisky, and less nerd.
posted by plexi at 4:20 PM on November 6, 2008


cklennon: I think you need to add the thisfooleddelmoi tag.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:28 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Be sure not to forget the Hobo Code of Ethics!

Great link, but the "fictional hobos" section is about 700 names too short.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:34 PM on November 6, 2008


By the way, the experience of listening to Hodgman recite the 700 hobo names on the audio book (accompanied without editing by troubadour Jonathan Coulton) is one of the great experiences of life. It's hard to describe, but it gets funnier as it progresses, and some random name will instill a case of the giggles. It's nearly an hour long (!) so queue it up on your next road trip.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:41 PM on November 6, 2008


Everything good in this world ends in "...and lava." Don't you forget it.
posted by katillathehun at 4:46 PM on November 6, 2008


One thing missing from the linked lore is the history of how an anti-hobo coalition tied to the temperance movement got together with early automotive boosters to suppress rail development in the U.S. around end of the 19th century.

The auto boosters were pretty much in it for the money (though a few were simply fascinated with the invention), but the temperance folks had noticed the alchohol-hobo-train link and figured if they could take out the trains, a reduction in hobos and therefore alcohol would follow.

Of course, as it's easy to see from our perspective, the relationship is far from that simple. Still, there's no denying as the 20th century marched on, the social role that hobos used to occupy has diminished. Although some worried that hobos just got demoted to urban homeless panhandlers from their previous position as itinerant workers, which was at least romanticizable if not always actually romantic, some of the remaining temperance progressives claimed this hobo reduction as a limited victory -- prohibition may have been a failure, but they took some solace in thinking they might have reduced the transient lifestyle.

Which is probably why there was some limited debate in what remains of these circles on whether Prop 1a in California could have resulted in a modern hobo explosion. Didn't get covered much by the mainstream media, but the concern was there, probably didn't get a lot of tractions because it seems obvious to most people that hobos having more time than money, they'll prefer hopping trains on slower-moving rail for free over the more expensive high speed fares. On the other hand, if they are somehow able to either stowaway or make fare, nobody knows exactly what impacts a highly mobile hobo population across most of the length of California might have -- certainly hasn't been adequately explored. It'll be something interesting to watch for as we hit 2030 or so.
posted by weston at 5:38 PM on November 6, 2008


No hobo thread is complete without dreams of the Big Rock Candy Mountains

...a happy place, where little streams of alcohol come trickling down the rocks.
posted by clearly at 5:50 PM on November 6, 2008


The cinematography was brilliant. Reminded me of long hours spent watching low-budget documentaries
posted by The White Hat at 6:06 PM on November 6, 2008


Yay John Hodgman! About to go see him in an hour at Town Hall Seattle. (He's on a book tour so check his schedule!)
posted by amuseDetachment at 6:23 PM on November 6, 2008


Everyone interested in hobos should watch 'The Emperor of the North Pole.'
It made me want to ride the rails until i re-read 'The Grapes of Wrath.'
Bummer.
posted by Capt Jingo at 9:12 PM on November 6, 2008


The odd quirks of the library's reserve system (you can reserve a book, but you never really know when you're going to get it) have consecutively given me The Areas of My Expertise, which I've just finished, and Riding Toward Everywhere, which I've just started. I've somewhat unintentionally entered some kind of hobo phase that can only end with me riding the rails myself.
posted by heffalump at 7:36 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


This Vollman character. Is he perhaps a Mole Man?
posted by BaxterG4 at 9:56 AM on November 7, 2008


What a terrible video! Especially visually, but factually as well. Polio?

Vollman was mentioned above: here's a link to a shorter article of his ('m not sure this will work if you are not a Harper's subscriber...)

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2007/01/0081347

Also: how can an article on hoboes in the 21st century not mention crustpunks?
posted by kozad at 9:06 PM on November 7, 2008


What a terrible video! Especially visually, but factually as well. Polio?

Did you miss the joke, or did I?
posted by dirigibleman at 9:28 PM on November 7, 2008


Did you miss the joke, or did I?

dirigibleman, there would appear to be two people (so far) in this thread who missed the joke, and you ain't one of 'em.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:51 PM on November 7, 2008


Hodgman fans who actually read might enjoy these answers to an author interview I just found at the library — online here.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:21 AM on November 8, 2008


John Hodgman appeared on the new You Look Nice Today, by the way. If they're just yanking my chain about this only being part 1, well, that's incredibly cruel.
posted by Pronoiac at 10:49 AM on November 13, 2008


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