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'In the Company of 3 Hippies'
Queer Chicken Dinner by Ron West, pages 11-13

Kerouac does not have good instincts ‘on the road.’ Rather than conserve his money with intelligent purchases from grocery stores, he eats out at diners, easily tripling the drain on his limited resources. According to the Bureau of Labor calculator, his $50 he began ‘hitch-hiking’ with, is $127, adjusted for inflation, by the date George and I had hitched to Mexico and back with $90 and two of us at that. The distance differential, Lowell, Massachusetts to Denver, about 1,800 miles, versus West Glacier, Montana to Baja and back, more than 2,500 miles, points to Kerouac’s lack of common sense. Kerouac is going broke or so he would have you believe, and he is still hundreds of miles short of Denver. George and I had hitched into Baja, over 1,250 miles and had money enough for two of us to stay more or less drunk for nearly a week on cheap Mexican beer (we’d brought along our own marijuana.) When we ran out of survival rations and were stuck in Sacramento on the return journey, we’d sorted the freight trains by querying hobos, Kerouac mentions the freights in passing as a possibility he cannot act on, because he lacked good information. But in fact I do believe what he’d actually lacked was courage.

Hobos are oftentimes predators, and hippies were sometimes their prey. On an earlier occasion riding freights, I was in the company of 3 hippies I’d hooked up with, when traveling home to Montana, following spring semester at college in Southern California, my first year on the G.I. Bill, following extended tour of Vietnam. Two hobos will easily size up the possibility to rob four hippies and I had long hair and might have looked the part but I certainly was not from Sausalito. As it happened, we had to change trains at a freight yard in Oregon, and were spotted by a pair of what looked to be pretty damn mean hobos, one of them pretty big. We were on a flat car, waiting for the new train to get underway, when the predators approached. The method they employed as robber-partners, was the big one sat back and let the ‘brains’ do the talking, to size up what they were faced with, and try and create an opening.

I realized the city kids I was with were clueless, and it boiled down to it’d be me would have to make the stand with no one having my back. It did not even cross my mind to grab my pack and bail, leaving the kids to fate.

As the hobos climbed onto the flat car from the one end, I positioned myself at the center of the car, putting myself between the hobos and the kids, also strategically positioned so if one or the other of the hobos tried to get around me at the kids, to one side or the other, the hobos would be at a disadvantage and in jeopardy of being jettisoned from the flat car, to either side. Thus positioned, I took up a karate stance that was subtle, not obvious, and stood my ground. The big hobo sat at the far end of the car and observed as the ‘brains’ probed my defense.

The ‘brains’ had a very well rehearsed and hypnotic act that employed frenzied and non-sensible chatter accompanied by strange, rapid and contorted gestures with his hands, a sort of pre-Rap simulated methamphetamine hyper-pantomime in reality, incorporated into a dance of sorts, and it was plain to see his method was to distract by creating a sort of disbelief, disassociation or amazement at which point almost certainly a knife would manifest and be employed, he was pretty quick with his reflexes.

The big one seated behind him, seemingly was the pack mule and lookout, too slow to make a kill. If the bizarre dancing hobo could get past me, the kids could have been terrified into anything, in which case it would be all over for the girl, a life scarring experience at the least.

The ‘dancing hobo’ approached with rising intensity but I gave no clue of being mesmerized and he would back off winding the dance down, all the while intensely studying for any relaxation in my stance, which he sensed but did not appear to fully understand. Then he approached again with rising energy and I would show no reaction, never taking my eyes off of his. He backed away again.

The he made one more effort, coming almost close enough to my initiating a Tae Kwan Do move, I knew I was fast and pretty good, and fully intended he’d be feeling the pain before he’d landed on his head off the flat car, but he sensed it and backed away and away some more. Then, the hobos left. The kids never fully realized what had just gone down, they’d only seen a gibberish-spewing idiot and had been relieved the big one had kept a little distance.

Son of a Lesser God



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