YDF #2: Hoboing

Happy Friday folks. So much to write about, so little time. Let’s go.

It’s funny, but this week’s winner of the You Decide Friday contest actually fits well as a follow-on to last week’s initial one.

And, by reading that, you’ll likely guess that I decided, in the end, to go with the superdelegate vote instead of the popular one (read: I discounted the “fake” votes and instead went with only what I could tell were heartfelt expressions of my readers’ desires – communicated to me through mouselclick, of course). I also edited the results graph to reflect this, although I left the total number of votes there to somehow acknowledge the disparity (sorry Mr. or Mrs. “pants off” guy or gal).

So, the topic that landed at the top of the heap after ignoring all jiggering was: “When we used to go ‘hoboing.’” Indeed, there was a time when my friends and I used to go “hoboing.” I realize, however, that, before I jump into the good bits, some terminology needs to be explained.

Back in the town where I came of age, sowed my teenage oats, watched my first dirty movie, learned to drive and got my first car, back in that town – the city garbage collection service was, at some point, converted over from round aluminum cans lifted by hand to the modern process: a truck with a robot-arm that allows a single man “crew” to get trash into the truck without ever leaving his comfy seat or the familiar strains of Lynyrd Skynyrd. (My word, is that last bit even a legitimate sentence?)

When this happened, everyone was issued large rolling garbage containers, much like what most larger urban areas have today but with one notable difference: For whatever reason, we called these wheeled garbage cans “hobos.” I know, it sounds odd – and maybe even a bit derogatory to actual boxcar-hopping bindle-carrying folk, but it’s true. To back that up, I actually went to my old hometown’s webpage and searched on “hobo.” Low and behold, it seems like it’s not just Southern-fried patois, it’s actually some kind of brand name or acronym for the garbage can or something. From the city’s Frequently Asked Questions:

What if my HOBO (wheeled garbage container) needs repair?

Call the Public Works Department and they will pick it up, make the repairs, and return it to you. Unless the HOBO has been abused, there is no charge for this service.

Sidenote: I got a kick out of the statement: “Unless the HOBO has been abused.” Makes me think of a doctor going over the transient you turned in, trying to determine if his bumps, bruises and scrapes are a result of hobo-abuse or just a general side-effect of his nomadic, somewhat not-sleepin’-on-featherbeds lifestyle choice. Ahhh, but I digress…

So we had these trash containers, which were wheeled on the back, had two aluminum “stands” at the front-bottom on which they rested, and were also outfitted with an aluminum handlebar-type thing to make transporting them to and from the curb easier on the homeowner. You could tip ‘em onto their wheels and roll them to the curb with ease this way. At the time, we also had me, the somewhat reckless group of friends I used to run with, and the newly-minted Florida driver’s license I’d obtained through the hot days of freshman year spent circling tiny cars with no air conditioning around the driver’s-ed track. These things, coupled with the boredom of a few newly-mobile teenage punks and the fact that my parents had essentially permanently loaned me the red Nissan Sentra four-door (oh man how I loved, and alternately abused, that vehicle) one day spontaneously combined to create the summer’s hottest new nighttime activity: hoboing.

I forget exactly how it started, but I know I was driving. I was really the only one, aside from Joey, who didn’t have a car yet if I remember right, who could drive at the time. We used to drive around the town, sometimes rolling through house-lined streets in local neighborhoods for no reason other than to look for trouble. While out cruising like this one evening, one garbage-pickup eve evening, to be specific, someone got the bright idea to pull up slowly alongside one of the many “hobos” lining either side of the street. “Push it over!,” we urged to the rear passenger, likely having to shout over Experience or The Chronic turned up to eleven. At which point the passenger would roll down the window (the Sentra, although near perfectly equipped for a boy of sixteen and his misfit friends, still did not have the power-package) and shove over the garbage can with a might push, spilling the contents onto the street as I wheeled us away from the scene of the crime, giddy with laughter. Now, as fun as that may sound, and despite the unending joy you think a bunch of motley teens might be able to derive from doing it over and over again – it is not “hoboing.” No… hoboing is that to the next level, I’m afraid.

Pushing over garbage cans is pretty mean, pretty destructive… I mean, the homeowner, lest they see the mess early the next morning prior to garbage pickup, will surely be skipped by the garbage man and his robot-arm truck, an must now also suffer the double-indignity of not only having to pick up his family’s refuse, which has by then likely blown around and is littering the street, but being forced to hold that garbage for whole week longer than expected. This means, by next week, when, the poor wheels on the hobo will be creaking in protest under a load which makes it impossible to close the lid properly – the homeowner will be even more furious when we come by and do it again, y’know, because the fullest hobos obviously make the best targets.

Yes, hobo-pushing was indeed mean and rude and terrible… but it wasn’t hobo-ing. So, what was hobo-ing, you ask? Let’s see….

At some point, the chants of “Push it over” from within the car were turned up a notch: “Grab the handle!,” someone said, “Grab it and hold on, we’re gonna drag that bitch!” Ahhh… and thus was born “hoboing.” The participant, sitting in the rear seat, would wait for me to precisely position the Sentra alongside the target hobo, and would then reach around and grab the metal handlebar. Once firmly held, I’d get the “OK” and would slowly move away from the curb, whereupon the passenger would make sure the hobo turned and tilted back onto its wheels. At that point, it was just a matter of running the Nissan up to 30mph (the ideal hoboing speed, as determined through countless repeated scientific experiments) and the crew giving the signal: “Let it go! Let it go!!” And, they would; let it go I mean, to spectacularly unpredictable results.

Thirty miles-per-hour is faaast people, I’m telling you. When the hobo was released, the metal legs on the front end would make contact with the street, resulting in an immediate and uber-cool jet-engine esque bloom of sparks shining bright on the darkened night street. Sometimes they’d get hung up immediately, flipping over quick and violently in the middle of the street as soon as they were let go, tumbling and bouncing to a stop tens of feet later in a literal explosion of garbage. Other times, and these were the times you hobo’d for, the times for which hoboing became legendary, they’d actually continue to roll along in a glorious cacophony of screeching metal and fiery sparks. Where they’d stop was anyone’s guess, as they could upturn at any moment or sometimes continue along until hitting some obstacle. Crashing a hobo into a mailbox became the ultimate prize, as the impact was stunning… garbage, sparks, occasionally a downed mailbox… Can you imagine waking up in the morning to find your mailbox has been knocked over and covered with garbage? Man… I would be piiissed.

Soon, techniques were developed (I recall fierce debates about how best to position the hobo for release to ensure it would continue to scrape along under the momentum imparted, and what sort of English you needed to put on it to best “steer” its course), scoring was kept, champions were crowned, and, as with everything in those days – antes were upped.

The progression went something like this: 1) Pushing over hobos. 2) Hoboing hobos. 3) Tandem, or team, double-hoboing. 4) Highspeed-hoboing (also known as main-road, four-lane, and highway-hoboing). And, thankfully, it ended there.

You can likely guess what double-hoboing is: Where, once one rear-seat passenger has secured his hobo for the pull, I slowly maneuvered the car to the line of hobos on the opposite side of the road so that the driver-side rear-seat passenger could also grab a hobo. The pull/release process was then repeated, only this time there were two hobos spewing garbage and fire into the streets. We tried and tried to make them collide, but could never get them to converge upon release. Tandem-hoboing was actually deemed too dangerous and eventually abandoned, as the width of the Sentra plus a dragged hobo on either side was often just barely able to thread the needle down the middle of the street when cars were parked curbside overnight. Several times I had to resort to slowing to unacceptable speeds to ensure my hoboers retained their limbs – and that just wouldn’t do. The few times we were successful at team-hoboing, however, were brilliant.

Highway-hoboing was the absolute culmination, the logical pinnacle, of the activity. The idea was simple: Liberate a hobo from the tight suburban streets and pull it along a more major thoroughfare, ramping the drag-speeds to the physical maximums sustainable by the hoboer. The risks were clear: Police were on those roads, and other cars too, and the whole thing would be much less hidden and out in the open. But, the danger made it all the more a goal. It only happened once, and I think we got to 45mph. At those speeds, the hobo became unstable (duh), wrenching itself from the hoboer’s hand and spilling a fantastic plume of garbage in a large fan along the main drag. It was spectacular.

Again, I put myself in the homeowner’s shoes… and like to imagine that he used that main road to get to and from work during the day. What must one think, waking up to find their garbage can altogether missing – gone. Then, how confounded would you be as, on your morning commute, your notice that it’s your street address on the side of the upturned hobo laying in the middle of the road amidst the twenty foot long spill of garbage you were only moments before head-shakingly tsk-tsking as you neared. Surely it would rock your world.

As fun as hoboing was, like all sports it was not without price to the human participants. “Hobo-pit” was a common ailment of participants, and several lunchtime Mondays at school were spent comparing the bruises in armpits caused by the popup locks (no power-package, remember?) one had to drape one’s arm over while dragging a heavy garbage cans down the road at 30mph (not an easy task, truly). Sore shoulders, hands, elbows and wrists were another common complaint. Being dedicated athletes, however, we never let these bothers interfere with our sport – and we continued to hobo for several months.

Eventually, we stopped hoboing, probably in favor of some other awful activity, but hoboing provided us bunch of stupid kids with evenings full of fun for at least a few months.

And that’s the story of hoboing, more or less (without much proofreading, so I expect I’ll have to amend it tomorrow when I finally re-read it). Hope you enjoyed it. Goodnight.

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3 Replies to “YDF #2: Hoboing”

  1. “Again, I put myself in the homeowner’s shoes…” No, that would have been the long lost art of “empathy” a relic of a civilized utopian fantasy, forgotten along with “ethics” and “the golden rule”. Psychopathy, that’s what you did.

  2. That’s totally awesome. Shame my friends and I never thought of that one. Too old and responsible now to try it but great story!

    Reminds me of how we used to steal bowling balls from the alley and then throw them from fast moving cars.

  3. Is this typically how boys behave? Because if so I am terrified of what the boys will do when they are teenagers.

    I blame the parents. 😉

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