By Todd Lancaster
I always liked the word “hobo.”
I never wanted to be homeless, destitute, economically disenfranchised or poverty-stricken, but the thought of a hobo’s life always kind of appealed to me.
I guess it was the image of riding the rails with Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan, as we absorbed bucolic America through our collective perceptions, all while the gentle rumbling of boxcar wheels rocked us to sleep at night. I assumed the hobo community would welcome us with food and feast, as we each sit around the campfire, weaving a shared tapestry of experiences that would eventually loom its way into novel, story and song.
Sadly, that is just a myth, and I would have been wrong on every detail of hobo life. A true “hobo” life is generally a life of darkness, territorialism, mental illness, assault, hunger and addiction — which may accurately describe my last few months.
Over the last month or so, my family and I have been having a big part of our home remodeled, meaning my wife, daughter and I have been sharing a small space in the basement that has sort of become our own private “hobo junction.’”We eat down there, watch TV down there, fold laundry, wash dishes and share the space with three large dogs and three cats.
In other words, nine mammals and one TV remote.
As the work has been done, we have experienced problems that come with construction, like low water pressure and a lack of Wi-Fi, which are the only things that truly separate man from beast.
Have you ever been around an 18-year-old without Wi-Fi? Enough said.
We do have a microwave, a coffee maker and a toaster, but if they are turned on in the wrong order or at the same time, we lose all power. It reminds me a lot of when Apollo 13 had to reboot the command module before re-entering the atmosphere: it had to be done in the exact order or they would have had no power for re-entry — for us it would mean no coffee or bagels. Houston, we have a caffeine issue.
The decision between showers and flushing also takes keen timing. We have a deadline every morning before our crew shows up, meaning the ‘shower hand-off’ has to be as precise as Tinkers-to-Evers-Chance handling a ground ball. Truthfully, we have done a pretty good job making it out the door every morning without looking like the Walking Dead. However, even our machine-like morning routine has faced its challenges. Not long ago my son returned from college and did not understand that the whole “sleep ‘til 2 p.m., spend 45 minutes in the shower and — turn on the toaster and microwave in any dang order he wants” is just unacceptable. Having him at home is something like having a drunken circus bear stumble into your hobo camp looking for corn squeezins. It upsets the natural balance of the community and rarely works out for anyone.
What was once a proud man-cave now serves as little more than base camp in the foothills surrounding Mount Domestic. Gone are the guitars, golf memorabilia and collector’s edition bottles of Old No. 5, replaced by a rack filled with cans of ravioli, low-sodium soup, granola bars and dishwasher detergent.
Now truthfully, the folks doing the actual work have done a great job, but after living the hobo dream of communal lifestyle and shared spaces for a couple of months, I’m ready for privacy and space again. I’m pretty sure any thoughts of buying a camper have gone by the wayside as well, as it would simply be a mobile hobo camp that one pays $24 a night to park.
There have been several positives, though, like learning how to tie up my iPad in an old bandanna and carry it over my shoulder on a stick, or learning that the hobo staple of canned beans for dinner can get you some much-needed privacy — later in the evening.
Todd hopes to be back in his full house soon and he and his wife and daughter are planning separate vacations for the foreseeable future. In all seriousness, his contractors and company have done a great job and he is more than happy to recommend them if you message him.