January 25, 2004

Things to write in an obituary for a Hobo King:
• "For every mile of beautiful scenery and warm sunshine, there are hundreds of miles of cold, dark nights, no food and no one to care whether I live or die," he wrote in his 1988 book, "Hobo King."

• He learned to drink coffee from rusty lard cans and did jobs from picking fruit to "pearl-diving," the hobos' term for washing dishes.

• In his later life, he passed out cards defining a hobo as a man who travels to work; a tramp as a man who travels and won't work, and a bum as a man who won't work.

• "He once told me that he went to the bank in Shawneetown and told the banker he needed $4,000 to pay off wife No. 3, divorce wife No. 4 and marry wife No. 5," his son said.

• "It was a great life ... I'd do it all over again."
Rambling Rudy Phillips, who was 92 when he caught "the westbound to heaven," appears in the documentary "Riding the Rails." It's worth buying: the story of hundreds of thousands of teenagers who left home--some thrown out by families who couldn't feed them--during the Depression. Filmed in the 1990s, the old men remember how they felt. I wonder which one was Rudy? Was he the man who cried remembering receiving a mailed birthday cake and eating it alone on a cold night?

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