It was the beginning of summer. It had to be a few years before I married, because once I met Kaitzer in 1988, I wouldn’t try something foolish that just might get me killed.
At the time I was throwing down shooters with my buddy Gerry George in our favorite honky-tonk bar. I’m not sure what came over me, but I stole a line from Gandalf, a character in “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien: “I am looking for someone to share an adventure.”
I pulled that quote like a pistol. Sometimes you wait a lifetime for the opportunity to grab a piece of literature and insert it into one’s circumstance.
“What do you have in mind?” Gerry asked.
“I want to hop a freight train and travel across the country.”
He looked at me as though I was out of my mind. “Joe, are you crazy? We could get killed on an adventure like that!”
I thought of the Pony Express advertisement of 1860: “…willing to risk death daily.” That’s what made my idea so intriguing.
I explained to Gerry that when I was young I memorized every song from
’s “Hobo’s Lullaby.” Guthrie sang about hobos traversing the iron veins of the country and the oral tradition that binds the culture together. It was an age-old, uniquely American underdog tale of life on the rails. Hopping a freight connects the rider to something vital and elemental about the country, something with a powerful, driving rhythm wrapped in the exhilaration of motion. Part of the draw in hopping a freight is that you don’t know where you are going. You travel for the sake of travel. The aphrodisiac is movement.
“When do we leave?” Gerry asked.
We packed a couple of travel bags, strapped straight-edge razors to our boots to ward off those who would do us harm and began our journey in Redding, Calif. I took the following from my travel journal: “We ran from the police and hid underneath a coal car. When the coast was clear we hopped on a slow-moving train. The police didn’t see us. We fell asleep in the freight car and when we woke up, we were crawling slowly around the side of the Rocky Mountains and everywhere we looked were elk and rainbows.”
We were underway; home was definitely behind us. In front of us lay the rest of the world. As I dangled my feet from the door of the boxcar, I recorded one of my favorite Tolkien quotes in my journal: “There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”
I’ll save my adventures on the rails for another day.
I read Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” when I was in elementary school. They are a connected body of tales, poems, fictional histories, invented languages and literary essays about a fantasy world. It had to be his work that shaped my philosophy, a way of laying out the world and planting yourself in it. It’s a way of gaining insight about the self through an understanding of the natural world. One’s personage is defined through experience and challenges — an immersion into a life of adventure, so to speak.
“The Hobbit” is a major motion picture; it speaks to those qualities that are innate to man. See the movie, maybe you’ll identify with Bilbo Baggins as he casts his fate to the wind and joins Gandalf and his dwarf warriors in an adventure of a lifetime.
Having an adventure is a good way to begin 2013. Let me know what you plan. I might have a few thoughts on how to get there.