Friday, May 2, 2014

My homeward bound life as a hobo

This hobo's primary mode
of transportation.
Since January, I’ve become a bit of a hobo.

I’m slightly better dressed than your average hobo, and I do have steady income, but I’ve been riding the rails - and buses and planes and cars - at least twice a month to travel hither and yon.

The image of hobos -- as the homeless vagabonds of the 1930s who hopped boxcars to get from place to place -- isn’t well regarded. But hobos, as itinerant workers, are different from tramps, who work when they are forced to, and bums, who don’t work at all,and there is a romantic, literary notion to the hobo life, a la Jack Kerouac and his “The Vanishing American Hobo.”

The etymology of hobo is worth exploring because it provides some context for Baby Boomers like myself who get the urge for going.

One etymologist suggests hobo may be derived from hoe-boy, meaning farmhand. Another suggests - and this is the one I like - that hobo is derivative of homeward bound.

Now, my Mom always said that “home is where the heart is”, so the hobo in a sense is just someone following his or her heart home, wherever home may be.

My heart leads me in a variety of directions these days. With my wife having taken a job at the University of Notre Dame and with my continued itinerant work and family in New England, my heart has been dividing its time between here and there.

I don’t hop a freight car and ride for free from rail yard to rail yard. I amass air miles and credit card points to and from  Portsmouth, N.H., Boston, Chicago, and South Bend, Ind.

My heart is with Jane in South Bend. My heart is also with the people I love, admire and respect in New England. I need them all - in the bars where we share our stories, on the golf course where we play against ourselves and each other, and in the offices where I reconnect with my professional life.

The itinerant work I do as a working retired Baby Boomer allows me to pack up my bindle, stow it in the overhead compartment, and move back and forth.

I’m not alone. There are others who do essentially the same thing, who are less rooted to fixed address.

Jane and I a few years ago rented a motor home for a weekend to get a sense of what living life on four wheels would be like.

We stayed at a campground and parked next to owners of a land yacht. Ours was a Class C motor home. Theirs was a Class A motor home that, honestly, was more nicely furnished than our house.

And the couple in their 60s had no fixed address. They moved about as hobos in their condo-on-wheels, visiting friends and family as their hearts moved them, or they visited various parts of the country as their wanderlust moved them. They called it “the life”.

There’s a bit of a hobo in all of us as we get older. Our empty nests make us less rooted. It’s why we Boomers do bucket lists. It’s that need to wander, to discover, to reconnect with someone or some place.

Wrote Kerouac: “The hobo has two watches you can't buy in Tiffany's, on one wrist the sun, on the other wrist the moon, both bands are made of sky.”

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