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NETROOTS*NATION C lieknari c –4 s FEATURING HOWARD DEAN * NANCY PFLOSI * I AVVRENCE LESS4G * VAN :10t4ES DARCY BURNER * PAUL KRUGMAN *.MARI OS NIOULII SAS * RICK NORIEGA & MORE JULY 17-20 *AUSTIN, TEXAS REGISTER AT NETROOTSNATION ORG Peripatetic film artist and aficionado of cultural obscurities Bill Daniel began researching railcar graffiti tagsand the transient hobo communities and rail worker fraternities that spawn them 25 years ago. firstis identified as Vol. 19, No. 7 of “The West’s Most Popular Hobo Graffiti and the issue is dated April 1908. If you read through all the paper-based ephemera between the book’s vintage pulp covers, you’ll learn about the hobo who dates all his tags in the 19-oughts. He was born, he says, a hundred years too late. The contents of this seemingly tossedoff treasure chest turn out to include advertisements both current and antique may or may not be from the hobos to which they’re attributed, an unreproducible recipe for a cocktail called the Hobo’s Wife, historical musings, firsthand accounts, indignant distinctiondrawing between perfectly respectable hobos \(who aren’t averse to working with rail riders, newspaper clippings, a poem about freight graffiti, handwritten testimonials, napkin maps, hobo signs, a short story, sketches, doodles, diary entries, cartoons, pencil rubbings of water-tank carvings, and lots and lots of photos of hobo graffiti. Collectively, Mostly True amounts to a charming and at least semifactual folkloric portrait of “hobohemia,” a world where America still holds out some small promise of freedom, as the concept relates to both time and space. You set your own schedule as a hobo, and you go where you want to go, just as long as there’s a line that runs there. In America, it’s only getting harder to indulge these sorts of unencumbered freedom fantasies, which is exactly what Daniel’s hobo heroes give the rest of us permission to do. Indulging them is important, steam that needs venting. Because hobohemia also offers the very American, yet vanishing, option of moving on down the road rather than going along to get along, accommodating a preference for a social universe in which not everyone wants toor has toplay the game. “They say this country is based on hard work and integrity and worshipping God,” says a hobo called Robert. “That’s a lie. It’s built on murder, man. Mayhem, slavery, oppression, lies, stealin’ and killin’. That’s what it’s based on. And you can’t change it after it started. Just stay away from it. Try to get away from it. Be independent of it. Cause if you try to deal in it, you become part of it. Stay away from it, you diminish it by one. By one:’ That’s just one ‘bo’s bum trip, of course, a single voice in a hobo chorus that spans a spectrum from rebellious to resigned, with stops along the way at philosophical and drunk. The book that binds them is a freespirited production by Brooklyn bou -tique designers with train-tagging on their rsums, and an Indiana micro publisher with a penchant for specialty press runs and small-scale distribution \(Mostly True is available through www. and akpress. orgy. The physical book, as a result, is a stylish, tactile treat, printed in black and white on paper made to decompose in the first decent rain. Flipping through unexpected page after unexpected page, even readers who’ll never come any closer to hopping a freight than catching a D.C. commuter will feel the wind in their hair, the grit in their teeth, and the rumble of rail underfoot. Brad Tyer is the Observer’s managing editor. JULY 11, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19