Favorite Things

Living Vicariously

I follow a hobo on YouTube. His real name is Mark Nichols; his moniker is Hobo Shoestring. Hobo's a good guy, a quiet, gentle man, who simply enjoys riding the rails. He was a helicopter mechanic in the Army before he began traveling.

Hobos have been around probably since the advent of the railroad, but were especially prevalent during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Unable to find work at home, they took to the rails and traveled from city to city, taking whatever piecemeal work they could find. 


Such is how Hobo Shoestring works. No doubt, he could get a job working on helicopters, but he prefers to travel. He has an apartment but doesn't like being enclosed by four walls. He's been taking to those rails for thirty-two years, now. It hasn't been easy. He's battled drug addiction and alcoholism -- and emerged victorious over both. He lost two fingers when he fell and a train ran over his fingers. He received injuries when he was hit by a car. Hobo is the first to admit that hitchhiking aboard trains is dangerous.


He's also the first to tell you that there aren't many hobos, anymore, at least not regular riders. Most tend to be young men just out of school, who want to experience the adventure of being a hobo. They give it a try, then get on with their lives. For Hobo, riding the rails is his life.

Hobo posts videos on his YouTube channel about what it is like riding through the countryside on the end of a grain car, watching the scenery roll past. They definitely hold that certain appeal that can't really be described in words.

As for me, I wouldn't want to ride illegally, and I'm too old to climb aboard rail cars. My riding the rails will have to remain rooted in paying for a ticket aboard an Amtrak train, watching the scenery roll past the window -- and watching Hobo Shoestring's videos.


Check out Hobo Shoestring's YouTube videos: