At a very early age, going on vacation had a special place in my psyche. The force of wanderlust was compelling. I remember seeing a mysterious trail or an unknown road, and just going, with no thought of return―causing my family much concern. The drive to keep moving forward beyond the known, to see what was around the next corner or just out of reach was such a compelling push of rapture, unlike mostly any singular joy in life…yet perhaps, the essence of life itself.
I’d heard countless people speak of the value of recreation and that word stuck in my mind by way of two syllables: re-creation. Now this perspective of the word brings much more value to the meaning. To take something mundane and make it new, to transform routines into revelations, ennui to enthusiasm.
Exercise is certainly a form of recreation, but travel introduces so many more dimensions. Through travel we hopefully climb out of our routines and engage others who most probably have a much different perspective. Geography and proximity to divergent life styles form living patterns. There are reasons that more liberal mindsets are usually found on opposite coasts with diversified cultures and concentrated educational systems. On the other hand, in the hinterlands and remote areas, you will often find those of a like mind that gravitate in sympathy with each other, strong in tradition, suspicious of change, powerfully supportive as a clan, yet very often most welcoming and open socially. This is expressed in regional pride as “southern,” “country,” or “mountain” hospitality.
Traveling offers us the opportunity to slip through the American life stream using perhaps the metaphor of a honeybee moving from flower to flower, extracting the nectar of sustenance. Becoming rootless, our stories and consciousness unfurl to encompass all who we come in contact with, opening up new vistas, and expanding our boundaries of learning limitlessly.
Just moving from place to place and making the effort to talk with people and listen to the stories of their lives, families, local lore, the goings on, and then equally transfusing our own in return, changes our world one moment at a time, a domino effect of huge proportions.
Throughout our civilization there have been those who lived the nomadic life, beginning with the hunter gatherers, and this genetic drive remains one of the primal urges of humanity as we spread across the globe over the millennia.
The story of humanity is one of conquering and confiscating the lands of the vanquished, who either assimilated or moved on to find safe havens. The study of diaspora throughout history affirms this political and religious fact.
The phrase, “Go west, young man!” attributed to the author Horace Greely, regarding America’s westward expansion related to the concept of “Manifest Destiny,” which was popular in the mid-1800s. It was believed that settling the West would relieve our country of the “crowded” cities and poverty that abounded. People saw the West as the savior and solution to poor systems management, creating another diaspora of the native Americans in the grab for land and ensuing gold and silver rushes.
Now that humanity has filled in most of the habitable spaces on the planet we are like ants on a rock reaching out―but just not quite getting to―a sweet juicy peach on the picnic table of the solar system and stars. Yes, if we survive ourselves…there will be Manifest Destiny off the earth; and this is a story for future generations and theorists.
In traveling we search for truth in context and meaning in recreation. There have been nomads of the land but also of the heart, traveling among us in the form of wandering minstrels carrying song, story, and education to those bound by necessity. Showmen and funfair itinerants brought pleasure where drudgery abounded. Throughout the Middle Ages, masons worked in guilds or clans created to protect the secrets of the building of the great cathedrals in Europe with roots back to ancient Egypt. The stonemasons of the time who were “operative,” and not “speculative” as we have with us today, were very unusual in that they―unlike those under the kings and lords of the time―were free to move from place to place, keeping their extensive learning alive and inducting apprentices along their journeys. Many of the major edifices in Europe were a century in the building and knowledge and information passed between the builders as needed. This would soon morph into the development and protection of the arts and sciences from the prying eyes of a dogmatic church and state.
Of the most recent itinerants in America you will find hobos, tramps, and bums. Hobos were and are today’s traveling workers. Tramps work only when forced too, and bums don’t work at all. The etymology of the term hobo come from the late 1890s, some possible derivations are “Hoe Boy,” or farm hand, “Ho boy,” as a greeting, or as Bill Bryson suggested in his book, Made in America, that “Ho Beau” was an abbreviation for “homeward bound,” taken from a railroad greeting. Lastly, there was “Homeless boy.”
The railroad played a large part in the development of the hobos’ movement across America, though a number of possibilities existed as door-to-door salesmen, knife sharpeners, and workers for hire/handymen.
The culture developed an entire sub-language of words understood by fellow “’bos,” the term used to address fellow hobos. A few of many words of this hidden itinerant language were:
Banjo: a portable frying pan
Bone polisher: dog
Buck: a Catholic priest good for a dollar
California blankets: newspapers used to cover oneself on a park bench
Grease the track: get run over by a train
and many other juicy expressions. Many of these words have entered into our common lexicon such as “the big house” or “glad rags.”
As many words as were available for ’bos to communicate, there were an equal number of symbols, too, left for the discerning eye to catch in an obscure spot or fence post, such as a triangle with hands to signify a man with a gun, or a horizontal zigzag signifying a barking dog.
Many notables have lived the hobo life for a time, tapping into the heart and soul of Americana. Jack Dempsey, Loren Eiseley, Woody Guthrie and Dave Van Ronk (both Bob Dylan mentors), Jack Kerouac, Jack London, Louis L’amour, Robert Mitchum, and Carl Sandburg.
A twist in our lingo brings us to the “Boho,” from Bohemian, and the last connection to the wanderlust lifestyle. In pre-hippie years a bohemian was known as a person practicing an unconventional lifestyle with few permanent ties, a vagabond, wanderer, and adventurer. The word came into our language in the nineteenth century to describe unorthodox, marginalized, impoverished artists, writers, musicians, and actors, who practiced free love, often living intentionally poor lives. The Romanis, or gypsies, were often associated with this moniker as they were always on the move, loved music, dance, and flew in the face of rules and conventionality.
Journalists in America and specifically San Francisco in the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds became strongly associated with the idea of bohemianism, and Mark Twain and other writers tied themselves to this concept, organizing the Bohemian Club, which is still in existence today. Certain areas of the US have been designated as bohemian hot spots, many of which you are aware of: Greenwich Village, North Beach, Venice Beach, Topanga Canyon, Ojai, Boulder, Key West, and many others.
To sum up, whether you admire nomads, hobos, bohos, vagabonds,
adventurers, peripatetic wanderers, letting your hair down, or re-creating,
hear the call of the wild. Go! Listen, share, and be beguiled!