The incongruous ad caught my eye while skimming through Facebook. It was plugging “Hobo Handbags” at Nordstroms for “only” $284.90 regular price was $428.00. I said out loud, “Wait a minute!” I already knew that Nordstroms is a high-end prestigious department store chain. Why would such an establishment sell things for hobos and tramps? Furthermore, how could a vagrant afford to pay that kind of money for a purse? A lot of things didn’t make sense in that advertisement.
I Googled Hobo Handbags because I know very little about women’s accessories. It turns out the handbags in question are just fancy, designer purses. Although my curiosity was satisfied, the word “hobo” kept repeating in my mind.
The very word hobo triggers a vision of somebody like Red Skelton’s vagabond clown character, but more desperate because a real hobo is not a millionaire entertainer. In my mind, a hobo is a homeless person or migratory worker who lives a subsistence lifestyle either by circumstance or by choice.
My vision of hobos are of down-and-out folks who hopped freight trains in order to migrate during the desperate era of the Great Depression. This harsh lifestyle has become romanticized through folklore and movies. Most people do not aspire to become hobos.
Hobos are the human version of feral alley cats. I mean this in a positive sense, because alley cats can teach us a lot about survival. An alley cat is amazing in how well he is able to thrive in adverse situations. He’s tough and you don’t mess around with an alley cat. The world would be a lesser place without alley cats.
My mind went back to the “Hobo Handbags”. The name is used in a positive, albeit ironic way. Why would a well-to-do lady want to own a personal accessory with such a name? Are these things marketed to people who have a lingering dissatisfaction with their luxurious lifestyle? As they drive their BMWs, do they daydream about running away from it all by stealing a ride on a freight train? Do they realize how tough such a life is? Do they really want to apply their resourcefulness and skills to the bare-bones life of the hobo? Could they actually travel the countryside searching for work?
The personal safety of hobos comes to mind. The very fact of moving and living in unfamiliar territory makes them targets for theft, assault, and murder. Hobos have to be one step ahead of culprits and what to do if an attack threatens his or her safety.
Experienced hobos or people taking on that lifestyle by choice do research ahead of time. They make lists of places they can sleep, eat, shower, and find temporary employment. They know the more prepared they are, the more they will actually enjoy their migration.
The hobos I’ve met proudly call themselves hobos. They’re interesting people who have made me think of such a lifestyle for myself. Those thoughts are short-lived because I like creature comforts too much. Yet I think about these people who have placed real freedom at the top of their lists of priorities. These are folks who are living their lives to the limits. They have managed to create some sort of balance between travel, work, relaxation, and exploration.
Hobos are quite clever and inventive. They not only exist independently, but they also informally network with others. They communicate with one another about what places are safe and which are unsafe. Where can they take shelter? Where can a person find a cheap, wholesome meal? Is there work in the next town? They are masters at the art of dumpster diving.
What’s really positive about the few hobos I’ve met, is how physically and mentally strong they are. In order to survive, they must remain fit and healthy. The time on the road also gives them the opportunity to ponder life deeply and meet different people and circumstances. This is why I think of hobos and alley cats at the same time.
If or when our country experiences a severe economic downturn like that of the 1930s, it will be the hobos among us who will teach the rest of us how to survive.