How to Be a Hobo

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Am I the only boy who secretly dreamed of becoming a hobo? Riding
the rails, traveling across the country, and carrying everything
you own on your back has a romance that appeals to every man’s
desire to wander.

In a 1937 issue of Esquire magazine, an anonymous writer
penned an article called “The Bum Handbook.” Unlike most
bums, he had chosen his vagabond lifestyle. And he was tired of
seeing the sub-par job most other bums were doing. This was during
the Great Depression, and many men found themselves homeless, lost,
and ignorant of the art of bumliness. The author had being a hobo
down to a science and claimed to enjoy 3 meals a day and a comfortable
place to sleep each night. While he didn’t desire to return
to regular society, he knew that most fellow hobos did, and so he
offered these tips in hopes they could maintain confidence and a
respectable look and thus find their way back to steady work.

Although much has changed since the 1930s, if you by chance find
yourself a hobo during this Great Recession or desire to become
a bum by choice, perhaps you can learn some tips from hobos of old.
Enjoy these excerpts from the article and this fun peek into the

Keep yourself clean. Filthy men can’t charm the housewife
into giving food, the passerby into relinquishing money, the man
of business into giving jobs: the housewife is scared and repelled,
the passerby is annoyed and anxious to be away, the business man
responds curtly. And there is no need to be unwashed. Every gasoline
station and railroad depot has a washroom replete with running water,
soap and paper towels; anyone may use these facilities, the bum
should wash and shave there. In the handbook for bums the first
motto is: A bum should be clean.

Stay away from the cities. City people have submerged their
humanity. I think the reason for this is their security from the
elements, for the family that is sure of food and shelter becomes
easily forgetful of other human beings’ needs and thinks vaguely
of organized charities…The farm family, on the other hand,
knows that deficit of sun or rain may touch more than its comfort,
that the house it has built must be a citadel against cold and storms;
therefore, their humanity comes more quickly to their mouths and
hands. I do not say that city dwellers cannot be “hit”
with success, but it is more difficult and only among the poor ones
have you a fair chance of receiving hospitality.

Avoid intermediaries. Direct appeal is the best: individual
should appeal directly to individual. Once I remember speaking to
some soldiers in a town that had only two restaurants. When it was
time to eat they insisted on going into one of the restaurants with
me and pleading my case with the proprietor. There was much whispering
and finally after some minutes the proprietor said, “All right,
I’ll give him reduced rates.” Reduced rates and I didn’t
have a cent in my pockets! I thanked my well-meaning friends, went
into the other restaurant alone, and received a bounteous meal.
I am sure that had I spoken to that first man myself, I would have
had no trouble obtaining food. Another time, because of the solicitude
of some CCC
boys, I found myself without a bed at three o’clock in the
morning: they had insisted that I sleep at their camp five miles
away, and when I had arrived, their superior objected strongly.

the rest of the article

21, 2010

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