Believe it or not, the “Long Beach” blog still exists. I was enjoying a winter hibernation, or perhaps was struggling through a bout of laziness. Maybe there was nothing to write about or it was challenging to put thoughts to paper. It’s possible that I actually had other things to do rather than update this space. Work interfered or social obligations limited my freelance creativity.

Recapping the last month-and-a-half would be monotonous and this isn’t supposed to be a diary. There is plenty to be grateful for and excited about in the new year. Let’s talk about some of the highlights over the last forty-ish days.

ONE SHINING MOMENT: Michigan State blew my bracket to smithereens during the Friday afternoon session. I entered the NCAA Tournament with limited knowledge and research and paid for it with many foolish selections. The Thursday/Friday of the first weekend of the tournament are two of my favorite days of the year, and should have been an epic celebration with Thursday falling on St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately my week started spewing more than just the nonsense typically found in this space, and I did not have my game face on for last-minute basketball cramming. I put myself back together well enough to enjoy much of the action from the comfort of my somewhat comfortable recliner.

But the best part of this basketball season is that mine is over. I volunteered to coach again this winter for the same association where I helped last year. My season with the Lakers last winter was difficult, because I was brand new to the area and needed assistance to find facilities and arrange practice time. This year with the Heat Thunder Clippers, we knew we would practice outdoors most Friday evenings, we secured regular gym time every Saturday morning for practice, and we would play games Sundays on campus at Long Beach State. However, the association was poorly organized and no schedule was ever provided and many Sundays were “bye weeks” when there was no opponent to play. I miss the teams and players I coached back home, and longed for the structure and organization and eager anticipation of what I used to know.

THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED could have been the motto for my first fourteen months living in Long Beach, but my building joined the 20th century, agreed upon terms with DIRECTV, flipped the switch, allowed installation, AND I HAVE TELEVISION. This could have been its own blog entry, a blow-by-blow analysis and running diary of each click of the remote and arrangement of the sound bar and sporting events consumed. In the recent history with actual live television in my apartment, I have watched an alarming amount of basketball and hockey, along with spring training baseball, Champions League soccer, “presidential” debates, Fixer Upper, and plenty more… Just because I can, and have a lot of lost time to make up for.

THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKIN’: Certainly it is still a part of the routine to sneak away from my desk long enough during lunch to take a walk up and down the street. And most evenings include a stroll to absorb the sights and smells of Long Beach. But recent weekends have included hikes to gain a better appreciation of the scenery in Los Angeles. There have been adventures into Pacific Palisades where the homes are spectacular and the ocean views are rewarding after a long journey along the mountainous trail.

MY DINGHY’S BIGGER THAN YOUR WHOLE BOAT! Thus far I have been able to resist various invitations to sail the high seas. I’m not positive I would get seasick, but the idea of being on a boat beyond view of the coastline is enough to make me queasy. As my social circles grow and as the weather gets warmer and as my excuses run thinner, I may have to purchase a pair of Sperrys and shove off after all. I mean, I have eaten kale salad and befriended Siamese cats and lived to tell about it. How much worse could it be to fraternize on the poop deck cruising off the California coast?

HOW DO YOU MEASURE YOURSELF AGAINST OTHER GOLFERS? Well, now I measure by handicap index after signing up for the SCGA service at the Northern Trust Open. I guess now if I wanted I could enter some highfalutin tournament and surprise west coast participants with a variety of awkward punch shots and banana slices around palm trees. Golf season is here and I’ve played a few times, though the season will begin in earnest Good Friday in the canyons near Corona. Keep an eye on this space in the coming weeks for exciting golf content… While “golf” and “exciting” don’t typically collide in the same sentence, I am pumped to share something here when the time is right. FORE…!



Still Riding The Rails: Life as a Modern Hobo

Connecticut Shorty’s father is buried in the National Hobo Cemetery in Britt, Iowa. When a hobo dies, they say he’s “caught the Westbound.” Shorty’s father, Connecticut Slim, rode the rails for 44 years before catching the Westbound in 1990 to the hobo jungle in the skies. Shorty didn’t fully understand the lure of the hobo lifestyle until she began hopping trains herself in 1993.

Shorty was in her mid-40s when she caught out on her first train from Dunsmuir, California to the legendary Roseville rail yard outside of Sacramento. A veteran hobo called Road Hog USA showed her the ropes — where to hide from the “bulls” (train yard cops), where the train stops or slows enough to hop on, what type of train cars to look for, and what to bring in your pack.

“I’ve never been afraid,” says Shorty. “It’s always been such a grand adventure for me. My longest trip was from Staples, Minnesota to Whitefish, Montana over the Rocky Mountains and back.”

By the time she took the Rocky Mountain ride, Shorty was already in her late 50s. She and her traveling companion — a fella named Frog — hopped an intermodal container train. Those are the huge trains carrying double-stacked shipping containers, hardly the slow rolling boxcars of yesteryear. Shorty and Frog rode in the “well” or “porch” behind the shipping containers, exposed to the wind and dust and noise, but partially shaded from sun and rain.

“It’s not comfortable!” Shorty laughs. “Nothing’s comfortable. You’re sleeping on metal floor, after all. But it gets you where you’re going. You cross the country, you’re out there with nature, you go through Indian reservations, over mountains — it’s a wonderful adventure, and you’re seeing America for free.”

For Shorty and her white-haired hobo friends, hopping trains is one of the last great traveling adventures. Shorty’s not destitute or desperate. She has a home in Iowa and a winter refuge in Florida. For her, hobo’ing is a hobby and a way to honor her late father. But Shorty is only one type of modern American hobo.

Hobo culture is alive and well in the United States, but it’s a far cry from the sanitized Halloween-costume version most of us are used to — the patched overalls, the charcoal beard and the red-bandana bindle. Today’s hobos are gutter punks and anarchists, crusty kids and societal dropouts trying to piece together an existence outside of civil society. And the best way to get there is to hop a train.

The very first American hobos were cast-offs from the American Civil War of the 1860s. When many soldiers returned home, jobs were scarce, so hordes of young men took to the newly built railroads to find their fortunes elsewhere. The name hobo is believed to be a shortened form of “hoe boy.” The original hobos traveled from town to town looking for odd jobs and menial farm work.

The combination of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in the 1930s forced millions of Americans to become migrant laborers. According to one estimate, the hobo ranks swelled to 4 million adults and 250,000 teenagers between 1929 and World War II. These steam-engine hobos crisscrossed the country looking for paying work and a hot meal, hitching illegal rides between, on top, underneath and occasionally inside train cars.

It was during this hobo heyday that the famous hobo code was created. Since many hobos were illiterate, they developed a system of signs — scrawled on fence posts and train crossings — to communicate vital information to fellow travelers. A picture of a bird indicated a free telephone. A cross signified a free meal if you professed religious belief. There’s some question whether or not the hobo code was widespread (or even real), but it’s proven to be an irresistible bit of hobo folklore.

Today’s hobos look very different from their Civil War forefathers or the Depression-era migrants, but they also share some striking similarities. When you’ve hit rock bottom, it seems, the best way out is on the back of a train.

Full entry at How Stuff Works Now.


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