Hallelujah, I’m a Bum

    Once upon a time, there was a whole world of migrant vagrants.  The lore of this world can be found in many nations, and members of the group served as heroes, villains, or comic relief in many a story.  Some were men down on their luck, while others were princes in disguise.  But by and large, it was a life’s occupation.  The class started to drop out of pop culture after World War II.  Diesel trains were harder to hop, requiring a state ID to hold any kind of job made the migrant’s lot harder, and the Sixties in particular dragged in all manner of new issues as dropping out of society took on a political charge.      

     The inhabitants of this world went by many names.  Someone on Wikipedia has gone to the trouble of defining the differences between hoboes, bums, and tramps.  A hobo, says this authority, travels and works, a tramp travels but avoids work wherever possible, while a bum neither travels nor works.  Some would disagree, but you can go into the subject more deeply on other websites: hobo culture particularly has attracted attention from scholars and collectors for eons.

     The characters seen in most comic books, cartoons, and movies, therefore, would seem to be tramps.  They spend a lot of time arranging for transportation.

     Some of them in more comfort than others.

     But by and large, they are always seen traveling by rail.  (That bundle carried on a stick over the shoulder is known as a bindle, by the way.  It was usually made up of spare clothes and bedding.  Sometimes the stick is called a bindle stick, while others prefer to use this term for the entire stick and bindle set.  I have been unable to find out if a bindle is still a bindle if there is no stick.  A bindlestiff is a hobo or tramp who carries such a device.  Try working your new vocabulary into conversation this week.)

     Of course, the automobile offered new manners of traveling from town to town.  These frequently turned out to be very similar to train travel.

     Higher even on the priority list than transportation, though, was arranging one’s daily menu.  Could these lads have made it in a world of aluminum and even plastic cans?

     Fresher food was preferable, but it was seasonal.  The symbiotic relationship of tramps and cooks who left pies on the windowsill to cool was another one of those ecological features we have destroyed in modern times.

     In the right climates, though, a quick worker could harvest lunch at most any time of year.

     Though the ambience of outdoor cafés could vary widely.

     Once one had the problems of travel and sustenance figured out, though, a tramp was as free as air, without having to give up his leisure time to work or family.  So there was that.

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