Thursday, April 07, 2011

Hi, Friend!

Ate lunch at Big Bad Breakfast today, where I ran into John Currence and got to tell him congratulations again: he's on the TOP CHEF MASTERS show, you know. The season's debut was last night, and a lot of people were up at City Grocery Bar to watch with the man himself. And something exciting and unexpected happened: when TV John Currence served frog legs on the show, for example, actual waiters bearing enormous platters appeared IN THE BAR, serving frog legs to everyone there. It was like the TV CAME TO LIFE! I saw my friend Jill at both places, too (City Grocery Bar and BBB). The railroad festival is this weekend in Jill's hometown of Amory, Mississippi. Every year, we say we're going to go, but something always happens. In Jill's childhood, the festival was all about hobos. Hobos would come from all over the country to attend. (Aside: last night in the bar, my grad student Burke was suspicious of the word "hobo" - but it does represent a very specific culture. I am sure some people use it as a broad insult toward an unfortunate person [Burke's kind concern, I think], but hobos themselves do not use it that way, and I am certainly not using it to be cute, quaint, or insulting.) The site they have up now for the Amory railroad festival is kind of depressingly generic in that it doesn't mention hobos at all (just things like "food vendors" and a "5K run") so perhaps - like Burke - they are distancing themselves from the concept of hobos. Jill said she is going to check with some of her friends back in Amory about that. When she was a kid, all the hobos would camp out in the local park during the festival ("by the old locomotive," she said) and make stew and sell walking sticks. They'd give you some of their stew for free. Every year, a hobo named Steam Train (pictured) would come address Jill's school in a big assembly. He would always say, "What do you say when you see a hobo?" and all the kids would shout back in unison (waving broadly in a sweeping, circular motion), "Hiiiiiiiii, friend!" What a nice thing. Jill and I wave that way and say "Hiiiiiii, friend!" every time we see each other. (Another aside: Megan Abbott did some hobo research for her novel BURY ME DEEP, and when she came down here to promote the book, I found her talking to Rod Wiethop, an interesting guy who had befriended "King of the Hobos" Rambling Rudy in the 1980s.) While I was looking online for information about this year's Amory railroad festival, I found a site that revolves around an annual hobo gathering in Iowa. I clicked on every page and found lots of fascinating stories and facts. There was even a mention of Steam Train's wife ("Mrs. Steam Train") who sadly was in the hospital at the time of the report and not doing too well. Steam Train passed away a few years ago. In his obituary (from the New York Times) I see that he carried a walking stick "decorated with owl feathers" and decried phony "show-bos." Today Jill told me that when Steam Train came to town, all the kids were really excited because they "loved him as much as Santa Claus."