Train Hopper

January 18, 2015 - single portrait

Strolling 6th street in Austin Texas during the South by Southwest festival last March you get to see some interesting people of all walks of life.  On corner of 6th street and Neches there were about 6 or 7 rough looking guys sitting on the same corner for three days straight.  Being as rough looking as they were I was a bit nervous but soon I overcame it.  I spoke with man for around 5 minutes or so.  He grew up in Detroit Michigan from an affluent family that gave him whatever he wanted.  By age 13 he had already run away.  He’s been riding trains around America for the past 13 years.  He looks like he’s 40 years old but he’s probably only 25 or 26 years old.  He has been cited and arrested many times for riding trains but as soon as he’s let go, he hops back on the train.  He’s covered in tattoos, a lot of which look like they were done himself.  He claimed he was married to one of the women he was traveling with although I wasn’t sure if he was telling me the truth.  Everyone of the people he was with was very dirty and looked like they had been through a lot.  One of his traveling friends had been bitten by a very poisonous spider the day before and had to go to the hospital.  He was eager to show me the bandage and what the spider bite looked like.  They had traveled to Austin by train and were planning on living there for a while until they decided to move to another place.  I asked for a photo and he wanted some money for it, so I gave him a dollar and he posed.  I couldn’t imagine hopping trains for 13 years straight, let alone leaving your family behind and never contacting them again.

› tags: 100strangers / austin / photography / portrait / texas / usa /


  1. Sometimes i so envy these ppl who dont attach themselves to the same house, same work, same everyday routine and same life.
    great portrait and story Robbie.

  2. IjonTichy says:

    Thanks for the post, Robbie and a warm welcome here.
    When I was a kid I read Jack London’s hobo stories and I wanted to be one. Even today, the idea of being free and not being forced to “report to anyone” appeals to me and the idea of just running away seems oh-so-sweet but oh-so-impossible. I recently saw a book with stories about modern american hoboes in the Railroad Museum in Sacramento, CA and got it. It starts with a quote by J.R.R. Tolkien:

    “Not all that wander are lost.”

  3. Thanks Victor and Ijon, I appreciate your comments. It reminded me of the movie “Into the Wild” quite a bit.

  4. Great portrait and story, Robbie … Made me think of my son who is a wanderer too. That’s why I am with you and Tolkien. 🙂 Sometimes I think it’s the settled down ones who are lost.

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