Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hobo, You Can't Ride This Train

Editor's Note: Portions of this post appeared previously in Jeff Regensburger's Google+ account.

It turns out that I've got something of a dilettante's appreciation for hobos. By that I mean that while I find myself intrigued by hobos and their place in the pantheon of American archetypes, I haven't actually taken the time to really, well, learn anything about them. As a result, my understanding of hobos has been shaped more or less by their depictions in popular culture. My Man Godfrey, Emperor of the North, and countless cartoons featuring threadbare vagabonds percolate in my memory alongside odd bits like John Hodgman's zenish list of 700 hobo names.

Oh, I tried reading William Vollman's "Riding Toward Everywhere", but honestly it sort of bogged down. That failed attempt at a more academic appreciation of the subject notwithstanding, I'm left pretty much with the cartoon version of hobos that most of us likely share. Still, the idea of hobos persists.

Part of my interest is bound up in the variety of hobo signs; those esoteric scribbles and pictographs that hobos purportedly use to share information and communicate with each other. I think it's fascinating that a written language could develop so spontaneously and around such an otherwise loose-knit group of individuals. Those simple signs got me to thinking, what if I were a hobo? What would I communicate about this area, my neighborhood?

Well, if I were a hobo, the first thing I'd need would be a hobo name. Given that I've never hopped a train, and given that my most intimate encounter with railroad tracks involves walking across them to attend soccer matches at Crew Stadium, I settled on the accurate (if cumbersome) Not on a Boxcar Jeff, the Crosser of Railroad Tracks (Jeff for short) .

As for the pictographs, they're pretty self-explanatory. Our neighborhood has been muddling along for as long as we've lived here. It never seems to live up to it's potential as an historic neighborhood, and somehow never seems to sink too far toward blight either. (That the neighborhood could "go either way" is an oft-repeated observation in our household). There's college students, young homeowners, retirees, and working class families all living side-by-side. It's a transitional neighborhood; one where small charms and small crimes mostly balance out. It's not always perfect, but it hasn't sent me packing either.

So, without further delay, Not on a Boxcar Jeff presents: Some Hobo Signs for the Neighborhood (Would-be Hobos Take Note):

Expect to have your snow shovel stolen

Throw your trash anywhere. It's cool

Good spot for beer pong

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