[Hpn] Hobo Youth ride USA rails in record numbers, NHA president says FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Mon, 08 May 2000 13:13:54 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - May 05, 2000


The Tennessean

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Joseph ``Dirty'' Morgan unscrews the top
off a 40-ounce bottle of Schlitz Malt Liquor and carefully pours
half of its contents into a Burger King cup.

He takes a long sip from the straw, his thumbs poking through
holes in the cuffs of his tattered hooded jacket as he offers the
cup forward.

``Want some?'' he asks before passing the beer down the line.

There are six of them in all, young hoboes who have stopped in
Nashville, not for its music or nightlife, but because of its
location on a freight train line.

They will spend two weeks here, begging for beer money, eating
food out of trash bins and sleeping in a cubbyhole under an
Interstate 40 bridge. When they are tired of Nashville, they will
move on, hopping a train heading to Louisville or Knoxville,
Chicago or Cincinnati.

``Hopping trains is an American pastime,'' says Morgan, a
23-year-old from San Diego who says he has been a hobo for six
years. ``It's all I want to do.''

It is unclear just how many hoboes are now riding America's
rails, but many who follow the lifestyle say it is getting younger.

Jon Swenson, president of the National Hobo Foundation in Britt,
Iowa, says people began hopping freight trains after the Civil War,
when work was scarce and jobs difficult to find.

The number of people hopping trains swelled considerably in the
early 1930s, when the Great Depression put millions out of work,
many of whom hit the rails, looking for employment.

Buzz Potter, a former hobo who now serves as president of the
5,000-member National Hobo Association, says train hoppers remained
a stable group through most of the 1900s but recently have become
more attractive to the young, mostly teen-agers and young adults
like Morgan, in their early 20s.

``Kids have seemed to have discovered it as an alternative
lifestyle. It's their business, I guess. We rode the freight train
looking for work. These kids are just in it for the thrill of it.
They wouldn't work if you held a gun to their heads.''

And it might not be the first time they see a gun.

The young hoboes who have stopped in Nashville say they travel
together because other hoboes are often violent and railroad
officials say hopping trains has become increasingly dangerous.

``It's dangerous, far more so than when I rode a lot,'' Potter
says. ``In my time, it was not uncommon to catch a midnight freight
train, run alongside of the train and to have five sets of hands
reach out to help you in. Today, you'd be an idiot if you rode with
a stranger because there are bodies all over the lines of people
who were killed by marauders.''

Morgan and his friends sit outside an abandoned storefront on
Fifth Avenue North near the Arcade, panhandling and drinking,
talking and laughing.

Businessmen and women pass by, most without looking. Almost none
give change.

All six of the young train hoppers say they hit the streets to
flee unpleasant or unfulfilling home lives. They went from homeless
to hoboes because they would rather travel than rummage for food in
any one town.

Because they travel in a mixed group _ three men, three women _
they avoid homeless shelters. Few shelters allow men and women to
sleep together. Even fewer allow dogs. The group has three.

Both the men and women in the group dress primarily in black,
their clothes tattered from hard living. Jeans are patched and
re-patched, a few wear thick leather pants, the holes stitched
together with dental floss.

Dark blue tattoos climb their arms, hair is cropped short but
stands at sharp angles.

``We change clothes when they wear out,'' says Nicholas ``Dis''
Parise, 23, from Manhattan, N.Y., who has been homeless since 17, a
hobo for four years.

Parise says his father died of a heroin overdose, his mother is
in jail. Now, he migrates with the weather.

In Los Angeles, he met his wife, Naomi Rose ``Rabies'' Parise,
21, from Portland, Ore. She, too, was riding the rails.

``I even asked her dad, I said 'I'm never going to be nothing. I
want to hop trains and travel,''' Nicholas Parise says. ``He said
'Let's go get a beer.'

``After we got married, we hopped a freight train to Vancouver
and left.''

Months later, they met up with Morgan and the rest of the group:
Elizabeth ``E.B.'' Brown, 19, of Milwaukee; Allie Priestley, 23, of
Minneapolis; and Paul Prino, 25, of Lancaster, Pa.

``We're a family,'' Morgan says. ``We just basically drink and
keep each other alive.''

Morgan got out of Metro Jail Thursday morning. By his
estimation, he has been to jail 25 times, in towns small and large
across the United States.

``The police are the first people we meet in most towns,'' says
Morgan, who was arrested here for disturbing the peace and spent
seven days behind bars.

In some towns, police simply pull them aside and tell them to

``We always go,'' Nicholas Parise says. ``It isn't worth it.''

Sitting on the sidewalk along Fifth Avenue North, the group of
young hoboes makes plans to leave Nashville one night this weekend,
jumping an 8 p.m. CSX train heading north.

They carry little. Sleeping bags fill their backpacks. They
carry one guitar, some water and dog food for their puppy, Thor,
their pit bull, Juda, and their mutt, Rudi.

In the next town, their routine will be the same: They will find
a place to sleep, a place to beg for money and the hot spot for
restaurants. As patrons leave, the grimy group will ask for their
``to go'' boxes. They share whatever scraps they get.

``It's not tough at all,'' says Prino, who struck out from his
Pennsylvania home six months ago but says he still calls his mother
once a week to check in. ``I'm sure she worries, but as long as I
keep in touch, it's not so bad.''

A passer-by gives Prino $1. With another dollar, the group will
be able to buy more beer.

``That's the only part I don't like,'' he says, ``the
panhandling part.''

But he does it, no questions asked.

``I just like to be free, I guess,'' Prino says. ``I just make a
little bit of money, drink beer and sleep.''

AP-CS-05-05-00 1053EDT
Received  Id AP100126EA7872CA on May 05 2000 09:54


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