"Ran into Tin Cup at the Four Mile. He rode in on the Union Pacific a couple days ago.”
I laugh, “He’s still train-hopping? The man is a champion.”
I have an old Nevada friend on the phone. He came across Mr. Cup in a Boulder Highway dive bar four miles, like the sign says, south of downtown Vegas. We knew Tin Cup back in the day.
For me, train-hopping was a sport. There is a vast separation between those who rode trains because they had to, or because it was a genuine career choice, or because it was the easiest way to get by, and my train-hopping. My riding was more in the style of a white suburban hippie. Suburban kid could be a hippie as long as he wanted, but when the time came to be a middle-class college kid, he could make that switch for the price of a haircut. Saying that, I hopped enough trains to see the life if not live it. And that, it turns out, is what journalists do.
There were dangerous, scary people in train-hopping world, different from the dangerous, scary people I ran into while hitchhiking. One difference was hobos had their own society, at least they felt like they had their own society. They were part of something bigger than themselves. And train-hopping was more of a full-time gig. You made your way to a rail yard. You nosed around, asked around, maybe found a boxcar with an open door. The train is going somewhere, you often don’t know where. You’ll get there, wherever “there” might be, when you get there. What counted was the journey. Hitchhiking tended to be more focused and temporary. You went from point A to point B for a reason.
There are times when it seems everybody has been everywhere. People fly from California to Cancún and back for a weekend. Fly to Thailand and back for a seven-day side-trip. Skype home from wherever you are on the planet. Read your hometown newspaper every morning from anywhere in the world. Watch your favorite TV shows, get the nightly news on your tablet, answer emails, pay bills, order stuff online. Traveling has fundamentally changed, it’s getting harder and harder to be out of touch. Tin Cup’s appearance made me curious about train-hopping for the first time in decades. What’s it like now?
Turns out hobos have blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and somebody, by now, must have worked his way onto LinkedIn. Hobos take iPhone photos documenting their lives. Some hobo entrepreneurs upload their pix to sites like society6 where they’ll be put up for sale. Hobos use the internet to get train schedules, use Google Earth to find the best way into rail yards and catch-out spots.
Coming into the Pasco yards
Hobos make videos and post them on YouTube. Of course they do. How could they not? Some videos are very good. Google “Coming into the Pasco yards” and enjoy hobo Shoestring’s commentary while he’s riding a freight train into Pasco, Washington. “I just hope the Ice House is still down there. The Ice House is where we hobos used to camp out, and party, and drink beer, and wait on our train.
“What I’m going to do is walk up to the Amtrak station, grab me some Amtrak ID tags, and put them on my bag. That way it will look like I got off Amtrak instead of a freight train.
“There used to be a cool Bull here named Manny. He was a short Mexican guy. He never would write you a ticket, but he would take your picture and keep it for his files, so he could identify you in case your body was ever found on the tracks.”
Some things haven’t changed. Train-hopping is illegal. Train-hopping is dangerous. People are regularly killed and/or maimed hopping trains. And some train-hoppers are, let’s say, standoffish.
Found on trainhopping.tribe.net: Re: Wishing to train hop...needing advice.
“MY ADVICE TO YOU IS DON’T FUCKING HOP TRAINS IF YOU HAVE TO GO ON THE INTERNET TO LEARN HOW TO HOP TRAINS. There are some very good reasons why you cannot get the crew change guide off the internet, because of people like you, who think it’s a happy anarchist bullshit fucking game. Most of the people who hop trains will laugh in your face if you ask them where the nearest vegan restaurant is and probably rob you later. You’ll end up raped or dead or both, because you don’t know shit.”
On the other hand, you can hop trains, meet great people, travel to exotic territories, have experiences that can be found nowhere else, and nothing bad will ever happen to you.
No guarantees. Life as it is.