The International Writers
21st Century Hobo
life can be burdensome to whatever degree they choose. Men wake
up in the mornings obligated to carry out tasks they put on themselves.
The women do the same. College students in the midst of agonizing
finals week do it, as well as old farmers needing to go out and
plow. Its a part of training to become whatever image of
success one has in their minds. And with rent to pay to stay warm
and mouths to feed to stay alive, apparently, it is all for the
sake of happiness and prosperity in life.
Its not bad
at all, dont take it like that. Just monotonous.
Itll make you wonder, do people ever want to change for a while?
One morning in mid-April when a heinous cold front from the northern
United States finally finished a week long refrigeration campaign on
the South, the sun shone brighter and hotter than anyone in Murfreesboro,
Tn could have ever hoped. Wilting poplar leaves perked up with a zeal
still not scientifically explainable and the residents of this small
southern city scuttered to their porches to have a look see. My friend,
T. Dean, and I were no different. The school semester was finally over
there was no reason not to be on the porch.
Being Murfreesboro, of course it was windy that day. The gusts in this
town rival Chicago. There rolled tumbleweed down the street that someone
couldnt keep because of the wind. It looked like the shavings
of a trimmed bush from the neighbors yard.
Suddenly through the cracked screen door, we heard "Feeling Good"
by the gorgeous Nina Simone coming out of the record player just inside
the house. If you havent listened to it, I suggest it with utmost
insistence. Some songs can make the lowliest men feel bad ass, and this
is one of them.
Dean just turned and looked at me.
"The M775 comes through town today." It was a Wednesday. "Do
you know what time?" he asked me.
"I usually see some people caught up at the track crossings on
Church and Middle Tennessee around sunset." I replied proud of
how pizza delivery drivers know everything.
We walked in, grabbed a guitar and a case of harmonicas, locked up the
house and left on foot like nomadic miscreants with a wild hair.
A few supplies were needed for the journey though and, fortunately,
the corner market was just a couple of blocks away. The few items absolutely,
undoubtedly, physiologically needed for a trip like this is, well, a
pack of Marlboro cigarettes, a notepad with a pencil, and a lighter.
Water was everywhere and food would come around somehow, we hoped. If
not, we had a legitimate plan to find a few dollars.
When we left the store, Dean reached into his back pockets.
"Here, man, you forgot to say this when you were rambling about
the items needed for a trip like this on the way down here." He
tossed a twenty four-ounce can at me.
The walk to the tracks wasnt all that bad. The luggage, just some
instruments and almost empty cans by then, werent heavy enough
to cause fatigue, thankfully. The time was seven twenty five. By then,
we could see the intersection of Church street and Middle Tennessee
boulevard and the train could be heard down the track for miles.
If youve ever been caught up at a railroad crossing, you probably
know how much track the procession of cargo carriers covers. It can
go for miles. Personally, Ive counted over a hundred train cars
following one another down that iron line. Some stacked two high. So,
we couldnt exactly thumb him down to stop for us. He wouldnt
have even if he could because the conductors hate freeloading hobo types
and do everything in their power to keep the stowaways off the trains.
But, this particular intersection is within a short distance of Murfreesboros
industrial park and we knew he had to stop for some freight at a factory.
Wed use the big iron beasts length to our advantage and
hop a caboose cab when the time was right.
That wretched screech to a halt happened just then and old Deaner smacked
me on the chest and took off running for the train. It wasnt hard
to get on. The beast was still and silent and with just a hop up a grated
ladder to a little grated standing platform behind one of the last railroad
cars; our humble quarters for the journey.
Amazingly, we didnt catch any guff. There werent any old
mono-toothed men named Tracks McOswald or Blind Boy Grunt hell bent
on scaring the devil out of us. There was no one else besides us two.
The conductor didnt notice us get on, so there werent any
quick searches before the train got to moving again.
"Do you know where youre going?" I asked my friend.
"Naw, bud." He replied.
Once we picked
up speed and got out of the city, the ride seemed to last comfortably
forever. Not much was seen on the ground besides the usual fence post
or ancient mail carrying hooks you see in the movies. It all moved very
fast, but, oh, the stars.
Backwoods stars and city stars are different because you can actually
see backwoods stars with great detail. Some places the entire Milky
Way is visible as a big fog of stars running across the middle of the
sky. Being out with those backwoods stars is kind of like having dinner
with someone. You just dont talk because you have to nourish yourself
and thats understood. We just watched and were glad the wind was
warm, eventually dozing off.
Both of us awoke to the blaring of the train horn. It strangely made
me dream a little dream about Johnny Cash singing right before I came
to, too. But, nevertheless, we had no idea where we were. The train
was still. It was early Thursday morning.
After hopping off the train and trudging down the gravel for a while
instruments, cigarettes and all, we came across a main road wielding
a sing welcoming us to Guthrie, Kentucky: Home of Robert Penn Warren.
Guthrie, Kentucky is an old railroad town from way back when that has
since kind of died until recent. Shells of buildings that could be from
any small town lay around in Guthrie. Its not depressing at all. Its
worth a trip to see it if you havent, but only if youre
We walked forever down this road it seemed. Sweating from the morning
sun made us fear the afternoon one. Then we walked some more and some
more until finally, we saw a little tavern on the side of the road without
a proper sign to name itself. We just called it Tavern.
Knowing we didnt have any money and seeing during the time it
took to get from down the road to Tavern a few people were walking in
and out, the legitimate plan for money didnt seem so harmful now.
I mean, I was hungry. Shop had to be set up.
"You want to set up shop?" I asked Deano.
"I dunno. Do you want to set up shop?"
So we set up shop. Right there beside the old wooden door of Tavern.
Dean pulled out a few of his harmonicas he tugged around I broke out
the little acoustic guitar I brought with me and layed it out open in
front of us. It just seemed appropriate in a town like Guthrie, KY.
We played and played for a while never stopping. Depending on what harp
Dean was using determined what style I plucked, but mainly we dallied
in the blues and country western. Singing and sweating, we didnt
make a dime even though they were still entering and exiting. So we
played longer. Its nice to see what youll do when youre
traveling poor. It shows what kind of character one has.
Eventually, the shop keep came out and gave us a sympathy sandwich.
I think that denim clad man was watching us through the window.
"Hell, you boys dont sound bad at all." He complimented.
"What dya call yourselves?"
To this day, I regret not saying the best band name I could think of
like Charles Mulberry and the Meat or The Big Moosey or something like
that. But I said nothing.
"Ah, were just a couple of kids."
The denim man nodded his head with what seemed like approval and closed
the door behind him. We still never found out if that place was actually
a tavern or a supermarket or not. But Dean abruptly punched me in the
chest and took off with his belongings. I gathered mine and chased him,
noticing the trains whistle in the distance.
We spent all day in Guthrie walking around and playing music in front
of a store, and that was enough to get a sandwich. Thank you, Guthrie.
Catching the train this time was no different from the last. Warm wind
carried us off back into the backwoods and the wait carried us into
the nights sky. The hum of the train on the tracks made me drowsy
and quiet and as Dean played a slow jailhouse blues on an A harp, I
drifted into sleep.
Before I awoke this time, I had a little dream about the trains
cargo being nothing but sand. I said in the dream, "Man, can small
that damn sand? It smells soaked." And then I woke.
I could smell the ocean. We were in a coastal state and that sure as
hell means not Kentucky.
This scent Ive noticed and longed for even before my first trip
to the beach made, makes my mouth water and my feet go fast.
"Where are we?" I asked Dean who was just coming to.
"I dont know, but I can smell the ocean." Dean grew
up in the water. He was a red headed beach boy back in the day when
he lived in Virginia before college.
We hopped off and walked the gravel again. All of a sudden Dean stopped
and let his mouth gape open like a hot dogs mouth and let it hang.
"Whats wrong with your face?"
"Dude, I can smell the ocean and I have the most at ease feeling
right now." He kept staring at the side of the train.
"And our train says NYSE:NSC."
He lost my attention by then and I glared off into the sky until he
punched me in the chest again and started dancing off in glee.
"Were in Norfolk! Ah hahahah! We were on a Norfolk Southern
The guy was happy to be home.
"We gotta go to the beach." He kept running.
Now, Dean, in Tennessee was one of those people that could walk into
a room and take it over. I know these things because weve planned
to do so have some how executed it in hysterical fashions. But those
are other stories. Whats really impressive to me is the guy walked
into a state and did that.
He outran me up the gravel and eventually stopped when he saw a building
hidden behind the trackside tree line. I lost sight of him.
Eventually, I ran up behind the rail house to find him. They obliged
to his phone requests already, so there wasnt much I could do
but sit back and watch. It was good to be off the bumpy tracks. Dean
joined me post phone call.
Within an hour, Dean had arranged for one of his old frends to pick
us up. He showed up driving a deep brown car holding out the window
gifts of potato chips and bottles of water, so my content surfaced immediately.
After finishing those in the car and a little conversation had passed,
I found myself somehow running while trying to pull my socks off through
warm, warm sand towards the biggest body of water on earth thinking
to myself how pleasant of a change this is. Even if only for a little
Ill find another job when I get back.
© Charles Mulberry May 2007
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