Honest Tales of A Hobo’s Life, Part 1

my idea of Heaven on Earth, the Redwoods!

Honest Tales of A Hobo’s Life, Part 1

Cape Perpetua, Oregon Coast

Well, where should I begin? Perhaps with the inspiration for this story? I felt like taking a little drive today so I drove south to Cape Perpetua on the Oregon coast. I’m currently parked at an RV park in Waldport, Oregon. As I was passing tourists on the trail down to The Devil’s Churn, it dawned on me that I’m not really a tourist, nor am I a local, so what am I? Where do I fit in? These thoughts along with the magnificent power of Mother Nature caused me to reflect on my position in this society. When you live the kind of life I have lived, you are perpetually on the defensive & feel the need to explain yourself. And as a result, my mind is continually searching for justifications for my not being “responsible,” “ambitious,” & all those other labels people use to rationalize their existence as “wage slaves,” as my hero, Noam Chomsky refers to the majority of humanity as. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above the herd. In fact, I’m at the bottom rung of society. My day to day existence is so precarious, in a twenty-four hour day, I can go from euphoria one minute to depression or extreme anxiety & dread the next. The negative is mostly due to the constant worry about money, where am I going to get it? What’s my next move? What are my priorities for today? The true hobos out there know exactly what I’m talking about. You are in a constant state of alert i.e. always on the lookout for ways to find work, how to get by as cheap as possible, any freebies available, how to hopefully stay one step ahead of the cops?

South Beach, OR near Newport; love this effect

Because you are living on the cheap, you are usually breaking some rule or law or ordinance, etc. It’s simply not possible to be a completely honest, law-abiding citizen when you are a hobo. To illustrate, I bought a used, fifth-wheel trailer last February (with a lot of assistance from my ex-wife & have been making payments to her) and getting my rig ready for the road e.g. having a R.V. technician go through everything & show me how to use everything safely & maintain it, along with the repairs he made to it, about completely wiped-out the savings I had planned on seeing me through until I could find some work. The last thing the RV tech strongly recommended I have done was to have the bearings on my trailer’s wheels packed & it’s brakes checked. As usual with my luck, the brakes were shot & I had to spend $650 to replace them (I pleaded for mercy & they knocked $100 off the bill—it was going to be $750). I headed off for Newport on the Central Oregon Coast & when I made it to Lincoln City, discovered that the battery in my truck was dead. I got a jump from a guy outside a market & made it into Newport, the night before the 4th of July. I had also discovered that I had put too much oil in my truck & that could really screw up my engine. When it rains it pours.

my playboy bedroom

I spent a restless night parked on Bayfront Rd. near Dock 7 because I had learned on a previous journey when I was living out of a Ford Econoline van, you can park there at night but need to move by 9 or 10 A.M. the next day if you don’t want the cops to harass you & possibly give you a ticket. Well, there I was with a dead battery & too much oil in my truck’s engine. The truck I had bought also with my ex’s help, is 13 years old & had 165,000 miles on it when I bought it. Furthermore, I feel like a moron when it comes to mechanical things & usually try to find someone to help me with even the simplest repairs. It struck me in the night as I was lying there, stressing-out, I’ve got to stop saying I can’t and figure out a way to get it done myself. I had brought my bicycle with me, so after a good deal of difficulty getting the battery out of my truck & enlisting the help of an elderly gentleman who was passing by, I loaded the battery in a backpack & rode my bike to the auto parts store a few miles away. They tested the battery and said it was shot. So, another $90 for a new battery and now I had something like $30 to my name & this was the first day of my new life as a nomad on the road.

Newport Harbor, the sea has always beckoned me

The guy at the auto parts store was amused that I had ridden my bicycle there carrying a rather heavy battery. I’m sure it must have been quite a sight seeing an overweight, fifty-six year old, with gray hair riding a bike & carrying a battery in a backpack. And that’s another critical skill you must have & constantly keep developing when you lead a hobo’s existence i.e. innovation or improvisation. I managed to get the new battery in my truck with very little difficulty & as I was doing so, I thought of how to take care of the oil problem. I had a plastic, Folger’s coffee container which was around a quart & that was how much I needed to drain from my truck so I knew where the oil pan was (a young, station attendant in Lincoln City had shown me when we discovered I had too much oil in it), so I crawled under my truck, loosened the bolt on the oil pan & drained it until the coffee container was just about full. There was a pubic garbage can nearby & I looked to see that nobody was watching & slipped it in the garbage can. I fired up my truck and headed for the South Beach jetty which is a desolate, stretch of land where I knew I could park during the day & most likely I wouldn’t be bothered by the cops. I’ve strayed far from the original point I wanted to make when I said that living this kind of life, you’re usually breaking some laws. Because of all the unexpected costs involved in getting my trailer & truck ready, I never got my trailer registered which is going to be $275. I had to weigh the pros & cons and knew that I had to have some cash on hand or would be stranded, though legal, from day one. The tags on my trailer are from Washington state & are good until November and I had just paid to register my truck & get tags for it, though my truck is registered in Oregon. I’m going to play dumb if I get stopped & say that someone told me I didn’t have to register the trailer until the tags expired. By the way, the RV tech was very competent & cut me a little slack on a few things like the amount of hours he charged me but at $75 per hour, it still hurt the wallet considerably & he joked one night saying, “yeah, they don’t tell you that it costs almost more than you paid for the trailer, to get them ready for the road.”

at my "friend" Bill's near Waldport, OR

Not exactly an auspicious beginning, huh? I had tried calling my cousin in Siletz, 14 miles away, but he never returned my calls. I remembered a guy who lived about three miles in from the coast in Waldport, who was an old hippie like myself. His name is Bill and he’s a musician I’d met a couple of years earlier when I lived nearby for a little over a month. He has several acres and I remembered that he had several people living in dilapidated, old trailers, tents, etc., and thought I’d see if I could find my way back to his place and possibly park my rig there? It took a little doing but I managed to find Bill’s place & I’d left my truck & trailer down the road a mile or so where I knew I could turn around. That’s another skill I’ve had to develop being the owner of a large, 29 ft. fifth wheel and a novice at backing it up (it’s not a pretty sight) i.e. I have to always be thinking ahead & many times parking and then walking ahead on foot to visually determine if I can maneuver my trailer in the place I want to go. It’s been very humbling & at times, humiliating but on the other hand, it’s also slowly building my confidence in my ability to problem solve in areas that I typically don’t give myself much credit for being able to do.

view from where I cooked my dinner on my hibachi many an evening while working at Newport Aquarium

Normally, I won’t ask friends & especially not strangers, for favors but when your back is against the wall, you will surprise yourself in what you will do to survive. I had just met Bill briefly, one night a couple of years previously but we seemed to share the same political views, roughly & I’d given him a copy of the essay I’d written for my son as to why a young person should not join the military. Anyway, Bill wasn’t exactly enthusiastic or welcoming but told me to call him back on Monday and I could park there for a short time because the city had come down on him & claimed he was running a trailer park without a license. He said I could park for $15 a day. So, I drove back to Newport where I could do the hide & seek game with the cops i.e. days at the South Beach jetty & nights along Bayfront Blvd. I managed to avoid the coppers until Monday and while spending my days at the jetty, enjoyed some cheap beers & sat on my couch looking out at the boats passing by and felt like King of the Road. I had a fair amount of groceries in my frig & cupboards and plenty of music i.e. I had downloaded all my CDs onto my laptop, to enjoy. This is what I mean by the alternating between euphoria & depression or anxiety. When I have a beer buzz & am snug in my trailer enjoying the magnificence of Mother Nature’s gifts, all is well with the world — well, almost. Loneliness often sneaks up on me, especially when I see couples or families out enjoying themselves. But if I have enough beer in me, sometimes I can have a good time all by myself & even occasionally dance around in my trailer a bit. I also occupy myself by decorating the interior of my trailer & I’m quite proud of how I’ve designed it. My trailer is my home & represents my life in that I have pictures, quotes, personal mementos from my life, etc. that give me a sort of comfort and feel a bit like company at times. I have plenty of books to pass my time reading & I bought a digital camera because I knew that I had to be able to visually document this experience.

Moreover, I don’t mind admitting that self-doubt, as well as anxiety, dread, & despair (the existentialist trinity) are my usual companions but somewhere deep down in my bones, I cling to my dreams. If it weren’t for my dreams, I don’t see what the point of getting out of bed would be? The life of a hobo is a constant reexamining of one’s perceptions, values, beliefs, fears, doubts, etc. It takes a hell of a lot out of you to keep from throwing in the towel because everywhere you look, you see the “normal” people going about their daily lives & the loneliness of your situation, the constant worrying about money & the cops, etc. etc. etc., wears your belief in yourself down. So, at times I feel like an arrogant bastard but it’s really a disguise for my insecurities. Where does one draw the line between a healthy ego & a narcissistic personality?

By the way, I want to share with you, something that a guy who gave me a ride when I was hitch-hiking across the U.S. back in 1974 asked me i.e. “Do you know what the difference is between a bum & a hobo?” I replied, no. He said, “A hobo works just long enough, to be down the road. A bum refuses to work.” And when I look back at my travels, I would definitely say I’m the hobo because I have never refused or been afraid of working. In fact, many employers & co-workers have complimented me on my hard work, but I believe partly because most of the jobs I’ve ever held, have been very monotonous & there was little challenge or opportunity for me to advance, & partly because the road is always beckoning me, I usually start dreaming as soon as I start a new job, where would I like to go next? This is my reason for living. This is what gives me inspiration & what calls to me as sweet as those sirens on the rocks who lured sailors to their death in Greek mythology. My deepest or most treasured dream is to become a successful writer to the extent that I now longer have to feel like a beggar & ask family and friends for help. I dream of being financially independent and being able to do something really nice & generous to those who have helped me so much especially those times when I was so desperate & so scared.

beach in Newport, OR loved the colors of the rocks

To return to my latest “adventure,” it felt good to be parked at Bill’s place because it was out in the country and I didn’t have to worry about the cops bugging me, and I was able to plug into his power outlet, & use his water to fill my tank. I felt a thrill the first time I cooked myself a meal on my stove. Felt like I was really independent. Yeah, right. I got Bill & one of his neighbors to help me unhitch my trailer which still makes me very nervous because I’m such a novice at it. But it went well & I was free again in terms of being able to drive the truck without the constant stress of hitting something because I’m so big and wide not to mention the gas consumption. I drove the 16 miles or so, daily to Newport in search of work and whatever other resources I could find. I remembered the food bank in Newport that I’d made use of a few times before and wasn’t too proud to do so again. Again, you need to always be thinking ahead. So, I stocked more food into my cupboards and frig and felt a bit more secure, at least temporarily.

At this point, I was applying for anything and everything in terms of work. I made good use of the Newport Employment office though some of the women who worked there really annoyed me with their ignorant & condescending attitudes. But, I could use the phones there to contact employers, I could fax my resume to employers, and I could use their computers. You’re only suppose to use the computers for job searches but when they weren’t looking, I’d sometimes print up the transcripts for a couple of my favorite political programs that I couldn’t watch in my trailer. I also applied for food stamps in the office above the employment office & felt a bit offended when the gal said, “So, you’re homeless?” I said, well, not really, I have my trailer. But in the eyes of the majority of straight people, someone living life on the edge like me is labeled ‘homeless.’ Which reminds me of a guy I met in a bar in L.A. a few years back when I was living in that Econoline van, and we were on this subject. He said, “I prefer to consider myself ‘house free.’” I cracked up and love that perspective because it takes that negative connotation that society has tagged people like him & I with and turned it into a positive. Anyway, I got the food stamps and felt another slight sense of relief.

beach at Waldport, OR

In addition to checking on jobs that were supposedly open (and damn few & almost everyone paying minimum wage), I was checking into “intentional communities,” a program called “Help Exchange,” which I’d done last year in Spain (and had gotten burned), and another organization called “Couch Surfing.” Again, you have to constantly be thinking ahead in order to have as many aces or options up your sleeves as possible because you can never count on any one thing or any one person. I’ve been let down so many times in my life, or been disappointed —and I know that I’ve let others down, especially my ex-wife & my son — so even when I do get good news, I don’t get very excited because I know/fear that it will not pan out and I’ll be right back to worrying & wondering.

Speaking of which, I’d received an e-mail from a couple who owned a small, health food store & ran a little RV resort & motel near Crater Lake, Oregon. They seemed very interested in me & I got the gal at the employment office to let me call them and had a rather lengthy conversation with the husband which was very positive and he ended by saying “why don’t we give it a month trial period.” So when I hung up, I immediately went out to my truck and called my ex, her name is Jeri, because she’s my closest confidante. The major problem though was the fact that I didn’t have enough money for the gas necessary to get there. Jeri said she’s send me the money and I felt on top of the world. I was suppose to call back to the Crater Lake couple the next day but asked if they could e-mail me because I was trying to save on the minutes for my phone (pay as you go cell phone is a necessity in this life on the road). And the very same day, I got a call from a motel manager who I’d applied to for a front desk job. She was very anxious to interview me so I dropped everything and went in for an interview. I have learned many of these lessons the hard way i.e. don’t count on anything, so just in case, I went for the motel job interview. I felt like I was in control of the interview because I was so confident that I had the Crater Lake position & basically told the oriental woman who interviewed me for the motel job, not to rush you, but I have this other offer and will be leaving in a couple of days so you need to let me know right away. And she did, right then and there. I was elated and when I got back to my trailer at Bill’s, I called Jeri to get her opinion. Turned out that it was fortunate that I went for that interview because the Crater Lake couple never even bothered to e-mail me or telephone me.

South Beach, Newport, OR; liked the effect, kind of Van Gogh feeling

My next problem was that the motel managers didn’t want me to start for another several days. Jeri suggested that I ask Bill if I could stay a little longer & tell him the position I was in. I did so and he even lowered the rent to $12 a day. When the day came for me to move to the motel (they’d agreed to let me park my trailer in their driveway below the motel which was out of the way and had a power outlet and water, Bill & another neighbor helped me hitch up and off I went. If you will allow me to digress for a bit, I want to define & discuss the word “hobo,” and show its relevance to my life. Again, I chose the word “hobo,” because I feel I’m in a sort of no man’s land & the very term, “hobo,” is hardly ever used these days. Much more common is the term, “bum,” and we all know its connotations.

Moreover, I’m not even sure if the term “hobo,” is the right word to describe me? Perhaps, “gypsy,” would be more accurate but that too, has mostly negative meanings attached to it. It’s instructive to note the sad & slow decay of language as we “progress” into this Brave New World of the 21st century. To begin with, I opened Roget’s International Thesaurus, Fourth Edition, and these were the main headings for the word “hobo,” in the index: bad person, beggar, bum, odd person, vagabond. Now, “vagabond,” I don’t mind because it, to me, at least, carries very little negative baggage. I don’t even mind, “odd person,” much, because I have been called or considered odd for most of my life. But the terms, bad person, beggar, & bum are clearly prejudicial and reflect society’s condemnation of people they don’t understand or approve of. I submit though that, what passes for “society’s values,” are largely the “values,” of the elite who have indoctrinated the rest of us in the interest of keeping us “in our places.” Why? Because if we start emulating them in their lives of leisure, travel, & self-indulgence, who will slave away in their factories to ensure their wealth continues to flow in?

inside my home i.e. my fifth wheel

To continue, I have to paraphrase a quote from Aristotle because I can’t find it right now but note that it has been said that you can divide Western Civilization roughly between two men, Plato & Aristotle, in terms of their influence. Aristotle said that “ A liberal education is the education of a free man, learning a trade, is the education of a slave.” And this connects to another major factor in why I have lived the life I have i.e. I have felt like I was never good enough most of my life but the more I learn, the better I feel about myself & the higher I hold my head up when in public or working at menial jobs. I’m not saying that I was always consciously aware of what I was doing when I’d quit whatever Mickey Mouse job I was doing, and hit the road again & again. But, perhaps subconsciously, I knew that traveling was what I needed to do in order to regain a sort of psychic or spiritual equilibrium?

Let’s return to Roget’s, here’s just a few of the other terms that “hobo,” is associated with under the sub-heading “bad person”; wretch, low life, poor devil, sad case, sad sack, sad sack of shit, good-for-nothing, no-good, , ne’er-do-well, wastrel, derelict, skid-row bum, Bowery bum, tramp, beachcomber, drifter, drunkard, vagrant, vagabond, truant, stiff, & human wreck. I’m not going to belabor the point because I believe it’s already abundantly clear how prejudicial & pejorative the connotations of the term “hobo,” are. This is not to seek pity but rather, understanding. And to shed a little light on the history of the term from Wikipedia on the Internet, consider this if you will:

Mother Nature's power

A hobo is a migratory worker or homeless vagabond, often penniless….Unlike tramps, who worked only when they are forced to, and bums, who don’t work at all, hobos were workers, who wandered….The population of hobos increased greatly during the Great Depression era of the 1930s. With no work & no prospects at home, many decided to travel for free via freight trains & try their luck elsewhere. Life as a hobo was a dangerous one. In addition to the problems of being itinerant, poor, far from home and support, and the hostile attitude of many train crews, the railroads employed their own security staff, often nicknamed ‘bulls,’ who had a reputation for being rough with trespassers.

Here is part of the Hobo ethical code:

1) Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.
2) Try to be a gentleman at all times.
3) Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation.
4) Always try to find work, even if temporary.
5) When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
6) Do not allow yourself to be a stupid drunk & set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos.
7) Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling (camping).
8) Try to stay clean.
9) Do not allow other hobos to molest children.
10) Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
11) Help your fellow hobos whenever & wherever needed, you may need their help someday.

so-called "rowdy bar" I frequented in Newport, OR

If only the corporate millionaires & billionaires running this world would honor such a code of ethics, how much better a world we would live in. Of course not all hobos or what we’d call today’s homeless, follow such a code to the letter but from what I’ve seen in my many hitch-hiking trips over the years is that far more of them are honorable than the corporate crooks who are poisoning our planet, starting wars, profiting from arms sales to dictators who commit genocide on their own people, etc.

my man, Socrates, is always with me

Admittedly, I’m not ‘homeless’ in the strict meaning of the term but I do find myself feeling like a bit of an impostor or a spy in the enemy’s camp so-to-speak, where I’m currently parked in this RV park in Waldport, Oregon. Why? Because my trailer, while not a ‘rust-bucket,’ is clearly out of its league amongst the vast majority of trailers, fifth wheels, & motor homes that surround me. Many of the rigs around me probably sell for $100,000 to $250,000. Before I ever even pulled my trailer out of Jeri’s yard, I made a trip to a store that sold political bumper stickers & slapped them on the back of my trailer. At first I said it was because I have to make a statement or that I like to stir things up by making people think, if only for a moment or two. But it has dawned on me since I started writing this piece that perhaps it’s my way of making sure that those around me in RV parks like this don’t mistake me for one of them i.e. the Respectable, the Responsible, the Republicans. Yeah, “Responsible,” & “Respectable,” in a pig’s eye. As I sit at my table and write daily, I see the people’s faces who walk by & I have yet to see a smile on any of their faces, no, it’s usually a frown. And this again highlights my position in this society i.e. when I’m among the poor, the working poor, the drug abusers, etc., they look at me like I’m wealthy or at least a lot better off than they are. For example, when I was at Bill’s place, the people on his land were/are, having a pretty tough time economically. And just as I didn’t fit in there, I don’t fit in here. This is the story of my life as well, when it comes to my education. I guess I’ve always been a misfit or out of place? I can relate to Charles Bukowski’s main character played by Mickey O’Rourke in the movie Barfly because he too, didn’t fit the stereotype of a skid-row bum. No, he strutted around, especially when drunk, like a prince, and he wrote poetry.

Moreover, when you lead the life I do & are on the fringes of acceptability, you are always regarded with a suspicious stare. And that was one of the things I hated most when I was living out of my van a few years back. Just about everywhere I parked just to pass the time e.g. a park, by the bay, etc., people gave me dirty looks like I was a pervert, a thief, or a terrorist or something. I was tempted to hang a banner across the front of my van, denying all of the above. And it’s even worse as a hitch-hiker because probably the majority of people who pass you by, think you’re some kind of threat or a deadbeat, etc. The lower down on the material ladder of ‘success,’ in this country, the more suspicious people are of you. Europe was a lot less so & that reminds me of a passage in a book called Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin that I stumbled upon, really struck me like a bolt of lightning because it was a revelation.

on my way south to Arcata, CA (Oregon coast)

Mr. Baldwin said in brief, “It wasn’t until I went to Europe that I realized how much energy & time I spend in America just trying to prove that I’m a regular or normal guy.” Yes indeed, because I’ve always had trouble accepting the role we’re taught by our parents, our public education system, the military, the government, church, employers, etc., I’m labeled a loser, as unable to measure up, as lazy, etc. And I’m convinced at this stage of my life it’s because my freedom scares people & challenges the major assumptions of their lives. For me to be right, they must be wrong & very few people have the intellectual courage to admit such a possibility because it threatens their entire belief structure & they’d be like a ship lost at sea without an anchor. I realize this may all come across as a romantic rationalization or feeble attempt at self-justification but be that as it may, I can only hope that I give some comfort or courage to those who may still be open to life and all its mysteries & adventures.

Furthermore, I admit that I am a bit of a snob at times and arrogant as well because I sometimes brag about my travels or my education. I realize now that this is true about me yet, I beg for a little understanding because I believe it’s largely due not to a character defect but rather because I have been put down, patronized, or condescended to for the better part of my life and quite simply, my traveling & all my searching for knowledge are all that I have. I can’t point to a long & “successful” career, or to a home that I own, or a fancy car, or a large bank account, etc., no, my successes or accomplishments are mostly intangible. And in this grossly, overly materialistic & shallow society of ours, the intangible is mocked & the material is revered. My own son, who I tried to love and be there for to the best of my ability, thinks me a loser & shows me little respect and sometimes outright contempt.

To return to my attempt to trace the path that lead me to my life on the road, it’s perhaps not really such a mystery? As a child, I had a series of mostly cruel, step-dads or boyfriends of my mom’s. I escaped mentally when I couldn’t escape physically, (And this isn’t a plea for sympathy, but rather, understanding) into the realms of fantasy, adventure, fables, legends, fictio