Harper's Magazine | March 2008
featured in Best American Travel Writing 2009 and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009
For several years, beginning when I was six or seven, I played a hobo for Halloween. It was easy enough to put together. Oversized boots, a moth-eaten tweed jacket, and my dad’s busted felt hunting hat, which smelled of deer lure; finish it up with a beard scuffed on with a charcoal briquette, a handkerchief bindle tied to a hockey stick, an old empty bottle. I imagined a hobo’s life would be a fine thing. I would sleep in haystacks and do exactly what I wanted all the time.
Since then, I’ve had occasional fantasies of dropping out, and have even made some brief furtive bids at secession: a stint as a squatter in a crumbling South Bronx building, a stolen ride through Canada on a freight train. A handful of times I got myself arrested, the charges ranging from trespassing to civil disobedience to minor drug possession. But I wasn’t a very good criminal, or nomad, and invariably I would return to the comforting banalities of ordinary life. I never disliked civilization intensely enough to endure the hardships of abandoning it, but periodically I would tire of routine, of feeling “cramped up and sivilized,” as Huck Finn put it, and I would light out for another diversion in the Territory. ... [pdf]