Hobo Codes

I must not have gotten the memo that Labor Day is not actually for laboring, but that's how I spent the day. I didn't mind so much, because I enjoy my work, and I had a little mini-vacation with the family over the weekend.

I employ a rule that I have to be at a destination for longer than the time involved in traveling there. There are exceptions for things like the post office, because otherwise my packages would never get mailed and none of my readers would get their fabulous svott.com merchandise they (don't) order from my (non-existent) online store. So I guess the rule really only applies to traveling outside of my city.

But how about traveling some more after I already get to where I'm going ?

An Austin suburb, where the brother lives, was the destination for the weekend. I arrived late at night; the family was nice enough to wait up for me after I was stuck in traffic along with all the other Labor Day weekend vacationers. But that wasn't all the traveling I had in store.

The next day we decided to take a vintage train ride, to nowhere in particular. When I tell this to people, they act surprised because trains are usually something you ride on when you're trying to get somewhere, and you've exhausted all the other alternatives of locomotion. But this was a vintage train, which means it had none of the conveniences and niceties of a modern train, and all of the old-world charm.

We arrived early so we would be sure to not miss any of the train conductor's song and dance, and to get situated before the train started accelerating to it's blazing speed of nearly 20 miles per hour. Much to my surprise, and your surprise as well, there were more than six people on the train, which is to say, more than just ourselves. This is apparently a popular pasttime in the South, because our train was quite crowded. If I had to make a very rough guess, I would say there were 96 people on the train, split between the various cars of even more various quality.

The train moseyed along until we reached our stop, a small town that I don't remember the name of. It was a completely forgettable town, probably with a population of a couple hundred people who thought that running water was a really neat concept. After swaying for an hour and a half, we got off so the brakeman could turn the train around for our return journey, and drop off a few extra train cars that they assured was for a really great purpose, but it did not involve us.

The first thing I spotted was Carolyn's Market, which had an old sun-bleached sign that hinted they sold groceries, chickens, and beer ! I made a bee-line to the market, fully expecting the beer to either be warm or stored in wooden crates surrounded by blocks of ice they had imported from a neighboring town. Instead I learned that electricity was flowing into this very store, doing all sorts of magical things like refrigerating beer and preserving sections of a recently butchered cow.

I gave my family more reason to suspect I am an alcoholic, because it was somewhat early in the morning to be drinking Budweiser. Worse still is when I realized (aloud) that I would have done better if I had purchased the tallboy.

The whole trip would have been mostly unmentionable, except for one thing I found exceptionally interesting and mostly irrelevant. The conductor handed out to us passengers various literature in brochure form, including a history of the train, biography on the little train that could (but didn't), a recount of the downward spiral of Thomas the Train Engine into a life of drugs and alcohol, and my personal favorite, the comprehensive list of Hobo codes.

Hobo Codes (click for big)Lest you think I'm making these up (and two of the four, I am), please click on the image over here on the right and check out these symbols and what they mean. No longer will you be left to wonder what those random-looking squiggles mean that you see etched into the undersides of bridges when you're hanging out down there in your free time, looking for treasure. Armed with this information, you can leave helpful hints to future Hobos, and revel in the satisfaction of helping the common man.

There's enough codes here that it must have been difficult to keep them straight. I wonder also how they collaborated to establish what these codes mean. Like, when a new symbol was introduced, did they scribe an English translation into the stone as well ? And if so, why wasn't that just sufficient in the first place. Maybe they had Hobo Conventions where they all drew symbols in the sand and voted on which ones they liked best. The Hobo with the winning symbol probably got a new trash can filled with collectible Hobo memorabilia and a book of matches.

I envisioned a world where Hobos proliferated, and our modern language was made up of these obscure glyphs. The vision was fleeting, however, and I didn't get a very good glimpse, but there were lots of pyramids and mummies and stuff. Don't know what to make of that.