"I crouched quietly in the patch of tall weeds. Around me fell the shadow of the viaduct that carried a highway over the railroad yards. From the edge of the yards, I squinted as I watched the railroad cars being switched from track to track. Cars and trucks were rolling over the viaduct, but what occupied my attention was the dark, cool corridor underneath it, where I hoped to intercept my train." Riding the rails, Ted Conover tasted the life of a tramp with companions like Pistol Pete, BB, and Sheba Sheila Sheils. From them he learned survival skills - how to "read" a freight train, scavenge for food and clothing, avoid the railroad "bulls." He was initiated into the customs of their unique, shadowy society - men and women bound together by a mutual bond of failure, camaraderie, and distrust. Sixty-five freight trains, 12,000 miles, and fifteen states later, Conover chronicles his impressions of their lives in this fascinating piece of first-hand reporting that becomes a thoughtful story of self-discovery.
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In Ted Conover's first book, now back in print, he enters a segment of humanity outside society and reports back on a world few of us would chose to enter but about which we are all curious.
Hoboes fascinated Conover, but he had only encountered them in literature and folksongs. So, he decided to take a year off and ride the rails. Equipped with rummage-store clothing, a bedroll, and a few other belongings, he hops a freight train in St. Louis, becoming a tramp in order to discover their peculiar culture. The men and women he meets along the way are by turns generous and mistrusting, resourceful and desperate, philosophical and profoundly cynical. And the narrative he creates of his travels with them is unforgettable and moving.
Ted Conover is the author of several books including Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America’s Hoboes. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and National Geographic. Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence in the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. He lives in New York City.
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