On the Run from Everything but Each Other
May 13, 2009 1:58 PM   Subscribe

We've covered hobo culture before, both historic and modern, but as the story of Smashley and Stogie reveals, the lifestyle of the railway traveler still exists not only for weekend adventurers but as a means of escape for troubled souls. (via)
posted by infinitywaltz (23 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Man, Wednesday afternoon SadFilter....
posted by jeffkramer at 2:20 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sad, fantastic story.

And now, 700 hobo names.
posted by slogger at 2:56 PM on May 13, 2009

Gah. I wish these kids would go to a different part of the world where life is harder than collecting water from walmart and eating at missions before they reject adulthood or society or whatever.

I mean you don't want the "cage" of a regular 9-5? Join the peace corps or something.
posted by danny the boy at 4:00 PM on May 13, 2009

Join the peace corps or something

No, the Peace Corps won't take you if you've got major psych problems, which is what many homeless people have. Some of us appear to have empathy disorders.
posted by mdoar at 4:14 PM on May 13, 2009 [7 favorites]

Did we read the same article? Both of these kids came from normal middle class families; on top of that the boy's family seems really well adjusted. He stays with them several months of the year, where his dad is consistently tries to hook him up with employment. They are not "homeless"; they have homes to go back to whenever they want to shoulder the crushing burden of integration into adult society (maaan).

They sound like they have the same sets of "major psych problems" all teenagers tend to have, but that most work though without the need to become a burden to everyone else.

Save your empathy for actual homeless people, maybe?
posted by danny the boy at 4:28 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

On day, there will be working therapeutic communities online etc for these people. Until then, yeh, empathy, folks.
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:29 PM on May 13, 2009

To do or not to do. Well, I guess they made their choice.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:29 PM on May 13, 2009

Some of us appear to have empathy disorders.
Nah, that's just "Compassionate Conservatism" in action. That and siccing the dogs on 'em.
posted by happyroach at 4:30 PM on May 13, 2009

Whether or not people have a place to live, they may choose not to go there. That makes them homeless. Most teenagers don't live rough whatever their problems, so this is something different. I have had close family live like this, which changed my perspective.

I choose not to save my empathy; I'd rather use it, as I'm sure you do too.
posted by mdoar at 4:36 PM on May 13, 2009

My neighborhood is full of these kids. They may reject normal society and it's responsibilities, but they exact a cost nonetheless. They're not willing to pick it up, so the rest of us have to. I literally have to clean up their shit from the front of my apartment.

They choose to live this way when they have other options. They choose to use up the resources of the free clinic that would otherwise go to people who don't have the luxury of rebelling against [whatever]. They panhandle for the change that would otherwise go to the ACTUAL HOMELESS PEOPLE, you know, the ones with mental problems and shopping carts and who sleep in the park, and not inside a sleeping bag they brought from dad's house.

These kids are emailing each other about when the next meetup is, and updating their myspace pages. That's real countercultural, man.

I've got empathy for people who aren't privileged enough to be a "traveling kid".
posted by danny the boy at 4:45 PM on May 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oh, dear. I was wondering how long it would take for the "friendless dorks who hate anything vaguely countercultural" contingent to chime in. You admit yourself that you don't have anything to say, so why are you speaking?
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 5:11 PM on May 13, 2009

Maybe these kids are 'really' homeless and maybe they aren't. Maybe they've 'really' got psychiatric problems and maybe they don't. If they haven't, then hopefully, they'll be the one's who actually manage a decent recovery ten or twenty years down the line when that life has extracted its inevitable toll.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:12 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was wondering how long it would take for the "friendless dorks who hate anything vaguely countercultural" contingent to chime in.

Oh, for fuck's sake. These gutter kids aren't "countercultural". They're immature bozos from comparatively affluent backgrounds who adopt this play-pretend homelessness as a fashionable affectation. These kids could call for a Greyhound ticket back to their suburban family homes any time shit got too real for them. Many of the actual homeless people in the squatter camps mentioned in the article, people who didn't choose to be homeless but were forced into homelessness through unavoidable circumstance, would do absolutely anything to have that option.

At least the kids in the article don't seem to have the whole gutterpunk "philosophy" of "I'm doing this because I refuse to be part of the SYSTEM, man, and you're a piece of shit because you live in an apartment and drive a car and go to work and I'm not shy about telling you so", and are just doing it because they think it's fun.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:35 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I find the holer than thou attitude that SOME of these kids display insufferable as well, however...

I have a friend who came home one day and found his crappy one room apartment had been robbed, and everything he had fit into a backpack. Being somewhat of a miscreant with nothing else to do nor prospects to be had, he wound up riding the rails for about two years before settling down in a trailer in Albuquerque. Evidently the toilet fell through the foor in that place once...

Anyways, long story short, he's getting his PhD in microbiology now. So not all of those kids are total losers. Every day I have to remind myself not to judge, because, well... I'm pretty judgmental.
posted by keep_evolving at 5:52 PM on May 13, 2009

Why judge? It is an interesting story. Felt sorry for Smashley who died seeking whatever it was she sought. We all take from society in some way. Some give back too doing charity, paying taxes or doing social work. Some don't pay back. I choose to think Karma will even things out in the end.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:17 PM on May 13, 2009

Evasion is a first-person account by a traveler kid.

He comes off as just the exact same kind of asshole you'd expect, even in something that's most likely been edited to make him look better.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:45 PM on May 13, 2009

Great article. Thanks, infinitywaltz.
posted by homunculus at 6:53 PM on May 13, 2009

I'd like to mention that, even though I'm an upstanding member of society, have a wonderful family, and am finishing up a Ph.D., I've been homeless. Not the sad, crazy last-stop homeless like DecemberBoy is talking about, but the "hey, you can't live here any more get the hell out" with no where else to go homeless. In fact, it wasn't just me, but my parents and sister as well, when we were evicted from our home. I was suppose to be in 4th grade. We moved South following the promise of work (which was not to be had in our region), eventually crashing with the 3rd cousin of my father who had three badly abused teens: one prostitute, one drug addict, and one child abuser in training.

It was a bad, bad, bad situation and it's easy to say (and be correct) that just about any decent person would have helped us with some sort of emergency assistance or service...if we knew who or how to ask. However, when you are in the middle of it this is not at all obvious. You don't end up like that if you truly understand your options, you simply don't. So, for 18 months, we lived where we were able. From the cousin, we moved in with an alcoholic that my father gave some work to a few years back when he got out of jail and was hurting. From there we lived in motel rooms as my dad (a skilled carpenter) did handy work for room and cash. Twenty-five years later, my parents have a life that looks like a typical middle class existence. I have two teenage siblings who have no concept of what the rest of us went through at one point. I've "traveled" my own ways and eventually settled down as a straight-laced, law abiding, respectful citizen. But there's a lot of history hidden underneath. Trust me, you would never know if you saw me. I've had a lot of time to work it out.

So, DecemberBoy, and I am talking to you directly here, I don't think this is simply an ideological issue, or a matter of bad choices on their part, or better alternatives not taken. I've known plenty of the kinds of kids at which you are directing your invective. They've been my friends (many hide serious addictions or past abuse), and yes, they have shitty attitudes and immature perspectives. But they usually do so for a reason (whether you agree it's compelling or not), and if they get straight, typically they grow up. Anyone who has had "issues" and has struggled and succeeded with a "straight" life knows both what these kids might be lacking that ties them to any normative sense of what people are supposed to do, and just how long it takes to fix that. Hell, everyone grows up with problems, just not everyone is lacking some vital support structure that gets them thrown into some serious shit at a point when they can't handle it and it quickly spirals out of their control.

Rather than angry, I find myself somewhat sympathetic to the situation these kids are in, even though it's clearly obvious to me (the outsider) that they have options of which they seem stupidly unaware. Even though the journalist, and their parents, portray their home life as normative, supportive, and a good place to be. If there is anything to be angry about it's not the perceived slights any of these kids might immaturely be slinging at me or "the man" or "society man" or "the SYSTEM," but the fact that this issue has been painted with a journalist's romantic "human interest story" brush. It's facile, it's coy, it's...journalistic entertainment that will soon have a reality show. The problem is not that nothing is going on here, but that SO MUCH is going on here that it's going to take these kids their entire lives to sort it out. And when they do, and have families and careers of their own, they're going to look at their young, fucked up successors and wonder why the hell these fucking kids can't get it right. And they're going to know bloody hell why.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:01 PM on May 13, 2009 [8 favorites]

Regardless of one's opinion on voluntary homelessness,

I can emathize with getting the hell out of the central valley by any means possible.
posted by The Power Nap at 7:03 PM on May 13, 2009

Nah, that's just "Compassionate Conservatism" in action. That and siccing the dogs on 'em

Yes, because only former members of the Bush administration could possibly be opposed to people trespassing on their property, facing shakedown lawsuits for accidental injuries or deaths caused by the same, or general douchebaggery.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:13 PM on May 13, 2009

A recent This American Life episode.

And, while we're talking of troubled kids who leave home, for whatever reason or self-justification, a cross-link to chunking express's excellent post.
posted by tavegyl at 7:30 AM on May 14, 2009

oh bum kids

big seconding you here mrmojoflying:
it's easy to say (and be correct) that just about any decent person would have helped us with some sort of emergency assistance or service...if we knew who or how to ask. However, when you are in the middle of it this is not at all obvious. You don't end up like that if you truly understand your options, you simply don't.

anecdotally, i have found that this problem has a tendency to persist in people who have done the bum thing, which is the saddest part of the whole thing for me

pals still feeling on the inside like a 24-7 drunk 17 year old with a bunch of facial piercings.

and as much as i want to club these kids with a gaffing hook, i would encourage people to remember - reentering society is hard once you've been out even if you want to
posted by beefetish at 9:19 AM on May 14, 2009

At least the kids in the article (...) are just doing it because they think it's fun.

They might be, but I'm somewhat loathe to take their account for these things at face value. Talk to a kid who won't do his schoolwork sometime. They'll tell you that they don't do it because it's boring, and they'd rather watch TV or whatever. They'll rarely come right out and tell you that it's because their illiterate.

Teenage homelessness tends to be somewhat similar. They'll tell you that they're doing it because it's fun, its an exciting life, etc. and they'll keep quiet about the fact that their dad likes to drink too much and haul off on them when he gets loaded, or that their step-dad is a little too over-friendly and when they tried to talk to mom about it, mom got pissed because she thought you were trying to steal her man. They won't tell you that travelling (and the associated drinking and drug use) is one of the few ways of silencing the insistent voices inside their heads.

Just because they can appear relatively functional and lucid for the duration of an interview, that doesn't mean that they are like that all the time.

So yeah, the kids who do have stable families and stuff that they can go back to are fortunate to have a high level of social capital that they can draw on for help should they ever decide that the life really isn't that great. When they finally realize that the idea of some alternative 'community' in which people don't care about the mundane stuff is just so much bullshit, and they've spent the last ten years or so, surrounding themselves with a bunch of crazy people, alcoholics and drug addicts who are functionally incapable of caring for anyone besides themselves. Having that resource might make it a little bit easier when they decide that they want to at least try to turn their lives around.

Because it's just like beefetish says -- reentering society is hard, even when you want to. It takes a great deal more consistent effort than it does to actually drop out, and anyone in that position is going to need all the help that they can get. Sure, it would be nice if they decided to do it sooner rather than later, but neither human psyches nor the world actually work like that. People are going to do what they're going to do, regardless of what you or I think about it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:14 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

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