Filling Your Niche

Hobo code

I was reading the Wikipedia on hobos the other day (because I am a cross-referencing junkie, and had just finished a particular episode of Mad Men… you know the one). This led down a rabbit hole of intriguing information about hobos. Like: in spite of the common assumption that hobos are lazy bums, one of the articles in the Hobo Ethical Code is to always seek work, and work willingly. Also: there is an official Hobo Ethical Code.

The Mad Men episode touched briefly on a different hobo code– not their morals, but their written signs, the guiding symbols left by transients traveling through the countryside.

Most of them are pretty straightforward and make good sense: “Food for working” or “Nice lady lives here” or “Can sleep in barn.”

Then there’s one that looks like an infinity sign, with the caption “Don’t give up.”

Of all the things to leave behind for fellow passers-through, this one touched me the most.

Hobos were around for decades prior to the Great Depression. They consciously chose that life, preferring flexibility over predictability. They were their own masters, not bound to any city or employer, but instead lived as citizens of nowhere and everywhere.

Then came 1929.

Men were forced by necessity away from families and homes into an isolated and isolating existence. They looked for hope where there was none, searched for solid foundations and met only shifting sands. The life they knew shut hard behind them, trapped them inescapably in a railcar corner.

You could travel to find work, but you risked ending up thousands of miles from home and still jobless. You couldn’t call home. If your family lost their house while you were gone, you had no way of finding each other again except through dumb luck.  

These were the new brand of hobos. Long, grey months lengthened into years, then into many years. It’s not hard to imagine hope as one of the first casualties of the Great Depression. For these new, reluctant hobos, there was nothing but unceasing, interminable struggle.

Unemployment in 1930 was 8.9%, slightly less than it is now. In just a single year, that number doubled. By 1932, it had nearly tripled. Not just no jobs but no hope of jobs. Unemployment stayed higher than 20%  for four years; higher than 15% for the next ten. Ten years. Imagine our current unemployment rates, right now, but doubled in potency, and quintupled in length.

But for those who still believed, those seeking more, those convinced a pocket of hope still existed somewhere.. for those, the true hobos left word:

Don’t Give Up.
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Maarit • 10/24/2011

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  1. Carolyn Dekat 10/25/2011 - 7:06 pm

    Cool post. Lots to think about.

  2. maarit 11/01/2011 - 3:36 am

    @Carolyn Dekat Thanks, Carolyn.

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