Ted Conover's "Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America’s Hoboes"

Ted Conover's "Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America’s Hoboes"

Author: 
Ted Conover

For a year, Conover rode the freight rails as a tramp, learning how to survive the life of a hobo, and interviewing those who live it "full time" along the way.  This is his first book.

Book Excerpt: 
We almost kept going when we reached Spokane. Often I have wondered what might have turned out differently if we had. The idea of stopping in Spokane to work a day or two had been discussed since Fargo. The St. Vincent de Paul charity store there employed transients, paying them partly in cash and partly in the necessities of life: food, clothing, showers. Sleeping bags, in par¬ticular, were the currency Pete and BB hoped to receive, for though they each slept in two, one inserted inside the other, often wearing all their clothes, the bags were too old and thin for the autumn nights ahead. But just a few steps off the train, BB stopped. “Wait a minute,” he said. “It’s Friday night. Tomorrow’s the weekend, and St. Vinnie’s ain’t open on the weekend. We’d have to wait till Monday.” “Forget it, then,” said Pete. “Let’s keep on going.” They had already turned around when I spoke up. It was Thursday night, I asserted, and tried to prove it to them by count¬ing back the days since the last weekend. But both of them refused to listen. Just then, however, a brakeman swung out from between two cars, not far from us, and I posed the question to him. “‘Course it’s Thursday,” he said, laughing. BB and Pete were humorless. Silently they changed directions again, and we arrived at a weedpatch not far from where they had jungled up just a few weeks before. The tramps had been traveling so much that they were the victims of their own kind of if-it’s-Tuesday-this-must-be-Belgium syndrome I was up at dawn. Arrive at St. Vinnie’s much later than that, BB said, and they might already have all the guys they needed. Because of his ever worsening wound, Pete would not work; instead, I would donate the bedroll I earned to him, since I already had the best bedroll of the three, and BB would keep the one he earned. We were, after all, partners, and among partners, as Pete had said, it was “all for one and one for all.” But BB, strangely, lingered over his coffee, and then spent a lot of time helping Pete wrap his hand in a clean bandage “bor¬rowed” from the first aid kit of a caboose. “You better get goin’,” he said. “I’ll finish this and be right over.” The work involved a lot of loading trucks and moving furni¬ture. I was somewhat annoyed as the day progressed and BB failed to show, but other things kept my mind off it. One was the arrival of a police car and paramedics at the loading dock of a plant across the street. “Old Willy’s been hurt,” I heard one of the workers tell another. It seemed that Willy, a well known personage around the yards, often slept under the dock. Apparently, the night before an eight by eight inch wooden beam had fallen on him while he slept, pinning him and fracturing his ankle. It was midday now, and he had just been discovered. After learning Willy was still alive, though, nobody seemed worried: “He’s got it good, now. Two or three weeks in the hospital, with clean sheets, a real roof over his head, new clothes, free food, nurses … I want to go there, too! Only there’s no wine. Poor Willy!” My salary, at day’s end, was a small pouch of Bull Durham tobacco, rolling papers, two dollars, and the bedroll for Pete, con¬sisting of a green blanket, comforter, and a length of twine.
Year of Publication: 
Sun, 1984-01-01
Rights Information: 
copyright, Ted Conover
City of Publication: 
New York
Book Publisher: 
Random House