11 June 2007
New Baby Train
Author: Woody Guthrie
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
With Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman has seized the mantle as the most prominent Hobo Historian of our times and ushered in another Hobo Renaissance. While he does (when he's not selling Macs) briefly touch upon the idea of hobo reincarnation in his discussion of the hobo king, Joey Stink-Eye Smiles, New Baby Train further elucidates this mostly unknown component of hobo mythology.
Featuring illustrations by Marla "The Baby Master" Frazee, New Baby Train is based on a song written by Woody Guthrie, the legendary folksinger who spent his life on the road and recording songs about hobo life. (Ironically, Guthrie is hailed in the mainstream media as the Hobo Bard, but in the hobo community he was known merely as "that skinny guitar-playin' ninny who never shuts his yap.")
According to hobo mythology, once you die, you are reincarnated as a baby and taken by train to a new family. This is cosmologically convenient because hobo life is extremely intense and everyone eventually needs a rest... and what better way to rest than to become a baby? What is a baby but the ultimate freeloader, and what is childhood other than the ultimate layover?
So, hop on the New Baby Train and you are guaranteed at least a decade of free room and board. As a baby hobo, you get ample time to rejuvenate and regain your travelin' legs until the day comes when you put all your belongings in a sack and once again teeter off towards the next horizon.
Enlightenment Note: In Sanskrit, the Buddhist conception of the cycle of life and rebirth is called samsara, which loosely translates into hobo as "cradle-hopping". In Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to step out of this perpetual cycle of life and enter into Nirvana. Hoboism has a similar exit strategy. Once the soul is ready, you can choose not to ride the New Baby Train. All you have to do is upgrade your ticket to the Big Rock Candy Mountain Express. So, it's your choice: A glorious life of freedom on the road... or a land where hens lay soft-boiled eggs. Seems like an easy enough decision to me... assuming they have salt and pepper on Big Rock Candy Mountain.
I've Been Had Note: While working with infants at a family literacy program, I used to hum Guthrie's Hobo's Lullaby to help the restless ones fall asleep. At the time, I thought it was a matter of choice, that it was a neat song and one of the few lullabies that I could hum while still feeling somewhat hip (which is tough when you are covered in baby drool). Little did I know that the baby was really a reincarnated hobo who was using his hobo magic to telepathically request the song. I probably should have suspected something when the baby pulled out a flask of whisky at snack time... or by the fact that his facial hair was greasier and thicker than mine (not that that's saying much, since it takes me 5 weeks to grow a 5 o'clock shadow).
Oh well. I'm not the first to be duped by the wily ways of a reincarnated hobo baby. And I certainly won't be the last.