by Arnold Nelson

      Many years ago before cars were so popular people who didn't have money used to hop trains. They were known as Hobos. Being a Hobo was very dangerous. some of the train security officers were very sadistic and enjoyed beating up on hobos and throwing them off the trains. A lot of hobos set up camps along the railroads. The camps were open to all hobos and they usually shared any food with anyone that was in the camp. They also shared any information on trains and train personnel. If someone had a guitar they might share some songs too. That was the beginning of the folk music era.

       Time past and it got harder and harder to hop trains and highways and freeways were being built all across the lands so they started standing on the streets thumbing for rides. The hobo camps disappeared and the homeless started gathering in alleys and back streets of all the big cities. At first hitching was pretty safe. many people hitched rides in the 1950s and 1960s. then it got more and more dangerous to hitch rides plus it got more and more dangerous to pick up hitchhikers so there were less and less rides.

     I don't know how people without money are getting around now. The homeless still gather in alleys and back streets. There are people who are trying to help, many big cities have shelters where homeless can get a meal, a shower and a bed for the night. When you have a meal in those places the food is warm but not always very tasty. The showers are like gym showers and the beds are usually clean but lumpy. I know I have slept in them twice, once in a fairly good one in Dallas Texas and another not very good one in Fresno Cal.

     Here is my story about trying to hitch a ride from Dallas to Long Beach. I got stuck in Dallas because I could not find my friends that I had there. I had hoped my friends would put me up until I found a job. When I could not find my friends I decided the best thing was to hitchhike back to Long Beach Cal. I started with a bus ride to the freeway on ramp near the edge of Dallas. At first I was making good time I had a couple of rides I was most of the way across Texas when things started getting hard.

      I had a man pick me up, he said he had to make a stop before traveling on. So I went with him. He stopped at an oil well a little ways from the freeway he said he had to check something. So I waited in the car he got out and a few minutes later got back in. He was a little upset. He drove me back to the freeway and let me go. All I could figure is that he wanted to have sex with me and when I refused to get out of the car he got upset and drove me back to the freeway and let me go.

     A little while later some city police stopped me. They said they didn't like hitchhikers in their town and they handcuffed me put me in the back of their cruiser. They drove me to the edge of their city and let me go. A little while later a semi picked me up. He drove me to El Paso. He stopped at a truck stop there and was going to spend the night. He climbed into the bed of the cab and told me I could sleep in the seat if I wanted. So I did. Long before he got up in the morning I was gone and back hitchhiking again.

     The next guy that picked me up was very drunk. He said his son just died in San Diego and he was on his way. He was going to spend the night in Deming NM. I finally convinced him to let me drive and I drove us to Deming. He fell asleep, every 10 minutes or so he would wake up and start cussing and telling me I was driving too fast. When we got to Deming I pulled off on the off ramp and got out. A few minutes later I saw him crawl into the drivers seat and take off.

    I tried to thumb another ride but couldn't. It started getting dark and cold I tried to find a placed out of the wind to spend the night but it was too cold. I finally when to a nearby motel and asked if I could spend the night in their lobby. He said that was not aloud but Deming had a program set up where a homeless person could spend the night in jail. I said ok. The cops picked me up and took me to jail. I was searched like everyone else and anything dangerous was taken away including my shoes.

      They gave me a mattress and opened the jail door. I went in, There was only one open bed so I put my mattress on it. When I settle in all the men in there started asking questions about their home towns. I answered the questions as best I could. I was surprised to find all the men about my age.

    The next morning they gave us a bowl of corn flakes and a warm cup of coffee. After breakfast was over they let me out. A few minutes later another car picked me up. he said he had to take the car to San Diego and didn't have much money so he was picking up hitchhikers and asking them to put gas in his tank in exchange for a ride. So I did. I rode with him as far as Wilcox AZ. The only problem was he had a bottle under the seat and when he reached for a drink he would serve all over the road.

     When we got to Wilcox he said he was out of gas and since it was almost dark he was going to sleep in his car that night and find some kind of work the next morning. He gave me a cold can of condensed soup for dinner. I said thank you. He said I could sleep in the car with him if I wanted. I told him no thank you I was going to try and get another ride. I didn't trust him and wanted to get as far away from him as I could.

     I got back to the Freeway and tried to get another ride, no luck. I saw a house light off in the distance so I headed for it. When I got there is was a mobile home but no one was home. I was cold so I climbed in the back of a pickup parked in the drive. It was still too cold so I tried the door it was unlocked. I crawled in side and went to sleep. A little while later I heard someone drive in and go inside. Early in the morning I heard someone walking around outside. I had to decide if it would be better to wait and be discovered or come out and show myself. I decide to show myself. I scared the man pretty bad, after he calmed down I told him why I was there. He made sure I wasn't taking anything then he told me to get out of there, I did.

     About half a block later I found a little grocery store. I asked the man for some water. he came out with a gallon milk jug full of water and gave it to me. I got back on the the freeway and started hitching again. A young family picked me up. They were very nice. They asked me if I had any money. I said no. They gave me a few dollars and let me out at a restaurant and told me to have breakfast on them. When I went in I started to eat and I started to talk to a nice man in there. He was a salesman. He bought me my breakfast so I could save my money and eat later.

    I got back on the freeway and an older Gentleman picked me up. He asked me if I would have sex with him. I refused. He drove me to Tucson and let me out. I tried to get another ride I was just too beat. So I decided to head to the Red Cross and see if they would help. They said they could not help but gave me some crackers and cookies they use for blood donors. They said to go to Traveler's Aid. So I did.

     They suggested I call someone in my family and get money to get home. I didn't want to but I finally agreed. He called my sister Arlene. I tried to talked to her but I was so tired and worn out all I could do was cry. He did most of the talking. They sent me a ticket for the Greyhound and all I had to do was go back to the bus station and pick it up.

     I went to the bus stop to get the bus back to the station. I knew it wasn't going to work. So I went off by myself and cried for about 15 or 20 minutes. In the middle of my crying some military officers came up ask asked what I was doing. All I could say was I was going home. The asked me if I was was a vet. I said yes. They said carry on.

     After I was cried out I went to the bus stop and got the bus to the station. Then I got the bus to Santa Ana Cal. Almost as soon as I got on the bus I fell asleep and slept all the way to Santa Ana. When I got to Santa Ana Arlene and her daughter Robin were there waiting. I was never so happy to see anyone. Later Arlene explained that Robin used to her savings to get me the ticket. So As soon as I could I made sure Robin had her money back.

    The strange thing about that trip is a couple of times years later I drove out to Wilcox to find that mobile home and store. I have never been able to find either one again. I keep wondering if God set that whole thing up to help me that night when I really needed it.

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