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Hobo Code

Stay Wild

Souther Salazar works in an art studio 10 feet from the train tracks. Trains slowly rumble, hiss, and thunder their crazy-loud whistles as Souther quietly creates art that reminds us to stay wild-eyed and aware of our personal relationships with the little things that profoundly impact us. In Souther’s artwork, a pencil polished from years of use, worn down to the hard eraser, can become a spaceship; a burnt-out light bulb becomes a hot air balloon; and a brittle page torn from an old book is the start of a painting about floating down an irrigation ditch in a rubber raft full of dear friends, basking in the sunshine of endless summer.

Nobody understands endlessly floating better than hobos. They’re floating through life, hopping trains with no destination in mind, surfing each gritty metal wave as it presents itself. Hobos live in the moment. Hobos are free. Hobos are wild. Or at least, this is what the hobo has come to represent in our culture. Really, the hobo truth has a lot more heroin needles than bandana bundles tied to sticks. One hobo truth that you should know about is their secret written language, an alphabet of symbols. It’s an old tradition left over from the Depression, but if you look hard enough, you’ll still see these symbols chalked around train tracks. Recently two of these symbols appeared on an underpass outside Souther’s art studio. One was a drawing of a train, meaning this was a good place to hop on and off (trains slow down here). The other symbol had eyes with two crossed lines, meaning it was a good place to camp (the overpass works as a roof, and it’s out of sight from cops). 

The hobo alphabet has been scratched, chalked, inked, painted, and doodled for almost 100 years, but Souther wanted to do it in a different medium. What do hobos carry in their bindles? “Duct tape, chili, oatmeal, and baling wire,” says Souther. “It’s just like the common-man’s tool for everything… twistable strong iron.” So he used baling wire to create hobo symbols, and put them on the tracks next to his studio for the passing trains to smash. Oh boy, those trains smashed the crap out of these symbols! A word of caution: Don’t do this! The train company hates it, and they’ll call the cops on you. They called the cops on Souther! Plus, it’s dumb to play around trains, unless you’re a real-life hobo or an artist making something awesome.