Wednesday, June 15, 2016


By Pamela Zoslov

I met a couple of young men downtown sitting in a doorway, dressed in tattered, muddy overalls that spoke of hard living.

"Take a picture for any part of a nickel?"

They are freighthoppers, men who catch rides surreptitiously on freight trains. They are exceptionally open and friendly and speak in the casual cadences typical of young adults.

They introduced themselves: "I'm called Kid," said one. His traveling companion goes by Hesh.

"We met on the road. We've been hopping freight since last spring." They came from Spokane, Washington and landed in Cleveland by way of Lorain. "We're trying to go to Virginia, to my parents'."

What's it like traveling this way, engaging in a hallowed hobo practice that first arose after the Civil War?

"It's fun. It's always windy and sort of cold."

It's heartening, in a way, to meet young people not on a competitive career path, even if their alternative is to live like Depression-era tramps. The idea of riding the rails still, in 2016, has an American romantic quality that appeals to the freedom-lover in us.

"It's an addiction," says the Kid.

"It's better than hitchhiking," says Hesh. "I still hitchhike, but it's dangerous."

The weather can be forbidding for freighthoppers.

"Going from Nashville to Memphis, it was pouring-ass rain. Sixteen hours of water," said The Kid.

How do they elude train authorities — the "bulls," as Neal Cassady called them?

"It's a game of cat-and-mouse. Jump and run."

Hesh agrees. "A lot of running."

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