Wednesday, November 22, 2006

RIP - Hobo King

"Steam Train" Maury Graham has left this mortal coil and jumped that big boxcar to heaven. I'll leave his obituary to his granddaughter since I know nothing about the man. I didn't even know there were any hobos left in America, much less hobo royalty, but I mourn his passing nonetheless.

I've never really met one but I've always loved hobos.A lot of people think hobos are just bums but that's just not true. Hobos are the ultimate travelers and they work for what they get. A real hobo is a man of the world, living life on his own terms, but not a beggar or a thief.

I remember reading stories about them as a kid and thinking that sounded like a pretty good career choice. Right up there with gypsy, stewardess or bareback rider in the circus. As the grand duke of hobos put it, "it's a lifestyle/culture so sweet, so addictive, so seductive, so intoxicating, that those of us who retire after 20, 30, even 40 years of are never really free of it. Because Lady Freedom has gotten too far in our blood to gotten rid of her completely."

Sure, jumping freight trains and sleeping in hobo jungles, cooking over a makeshift campfire and drinking out of tin can cups ain't exactly the life of Riley, but you have to admire folks that give up security for freedom and the profession traces its roots all the way back to the civil war. Even today, there's a real community of hobos that consider themselves a large itinerant family. They have a code of honor and a secret language of signs and symbols. They're artists and craftsmen turning out great works of art using whatever medium is free and selling them for a pittance, though some of the better pieces are then resold by art dealers for thousands of dollars.

Of course, today's hobo is far different from his predecessors. They're as likely to communicate with cell phones as with secret codes in the rail yards and they're organized. They have websites and conventions and even a fledgling museum, yet they're still largely an invisible society. But there's enough of them left that "when one Hobo dies, though the rest of the U.S. could care less, the entire Hobo family feels the pain nation-wide."

Well, I can't say I'll miss him exactly, but today I share the hobo's sorrow for loss of a true adventurer. Rest in peace Steam Train Maury -- King of the Hoboes.


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