Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Taking a page from Tolkien

January 09, 2013|By Joe Puglia

It was the beginning of summer. It had to be a few years before I married, because once I met Kaitzer in 1988, I wouldn’t try something foolish that just might get me killed.

At the time I was throwing down shooters with my buddy Gerry George in our favorite honky-tonk bar. I’m not sure what came over me, but I stole a line from Gandalf, a character in “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien: “I am looking for someone to share an adventure.”

I pulled that quote like a pistol. Sometimes you wait a lifetime for the opportunity to grab a piece of literature and insert it into one’s circumstance.


“What do you have in mind?” Gerry asked.

“I want to hop a freight train and travel across the country.”

He looked at me as though I was out of my mind. “Joe, are you crazy? We could get killed on an adventure like that!”

I thought of the Pony Express advertisement of 1860: “…willing to risk death daily.” That’s what made my idea so intriguing.

I explained to Gerry that when I was young I memorized every song from Arlo Guthrie’s “Hobo’s Lullaby.” Guthrie sang about hobos traversing the iron veins of the country and the oral tradition that binds the culture together. It was an age-old, uniquely American underdog tale of life on the rails. Hopping a freight connects the rider to something vital and elemental about the country, something with a powerful, driving rhythm wrapped in the exhilaration of motion. Part of the draw in hopping a freight is that you don’t know where you are going. You travel for the sake of travel. The aphrodisiac is movement.

“When do we leave?” Gerry asked.

We packed a couple of travel bags, strapped straight-edge razors to our boots to ward off those who would do us harm and began our journey in Redding, Calif. I took the following from my travel journal: “We ran from the police and hid underneath a coal car. When the coast was clear we hopped on a slow-moving train. The police didn’t see us. We fell asleep in the freight car and when we woke up, we were crawling slowly around the side of the Rocky Mountains and everywhere we looked were elk and rainbows.”

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