My fellow Americans, let me be clear. I am not a hobo.
It’s true I was born in Britt, home of the National Hobo Convention and spiritual capital of Hobodom. It’s true that during my upbringing in North Central Iowa, I was immersed in hobo culture during visits to the August convention/festival.
It’s true that, on occasion, I’ve been known to dress in a manner that suggests I may have slept in a culvert or ditch, while appearing simultaneously unshaven. Hey, it’s the weekend.
I freely concede there is a Boxcar Willie song on my iPod. And my recipe for shoestring chili is widely known.
These facets of my life experience have led to rumors that I am, in fact, a full-blown hobo. An informal poll of my readers shows that 20 percent now believe this untrue characterization. “His column,” one wrote, “reads like it was scratched onto the floor of a boxcar in very dim light.”
It’s been further asserted that I am behind a stealth campaign to replace our Constitution with the Hobo Code, and force American school children to memorize hobo symbols. This is also patently false.
As Sen. Pat Moynihan said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.
The fact is that I am an infrequent rider of trains. And in each and every case, I paid for a ticket and rode the rails inside the passenger compartment. Sure, there was that time in junior high that the cops caught my buddies and me climbing on some rail cars. But they didn’t even call our parents. So that doesn’t count.
My home and workplace are both stationary, permanent structures. And although I have been on a few camping trips, in each and every case, those campsites were reached by automobile.
I rode no third boxcar on any midnight train. At no time has my destination been Bangor, Maine.
But now, let me be even clearer.
I have the utmost respect and admiration for hobos. They are traveling workers who I think epitomize this country’s strong sense of freedom and self-determination.
After all, in America, we each get to decide who we are and what we believe. We don’t have to clear it first with anyone or any group. We can be Christians, Muslims, cubicle-dwellers, hobos, whatever. All the conspiracy cranks and fearmongers can’t change that. I hope.
The innuendo train will keep on rolling, I’m sure, but none of us have to ride it.
As rule No. 1 in the hobo code says: “Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.”
Good advice. But you’re under no obligation to take it, I swear.
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