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Au fil du rail: L'Amérique des hobos (Feuilleton non-fiction)

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1980. Ted Conover est un jeune étudiant en anthropologie de vingt-deux ans lorsqu'il se décide à partager la vie des "hobos", ces sans-domicile itinérants américains. En leur compagnie, il avale des milliers de kilomètres de rail dans des trains de fret, avec pour seul bagage un sac de surplus de l'armée en bandoulière lesté d'un bidon d'eau. Fuyant une vie de confort, il 1980. Ted Conover est un jeune étudiant en anthropologie de vingt-deux ans lorsqu'il se décide à partager la vie des "hobos", ces sans-domicile itinérants américains. En leur compagnie, il avale des milliers de kilomètres de rail dans des trains de fret, avec pour seul bagage un sac de surplus de l'armée en bandoulière lesté d'un bidon d'eau. Fuyant une vie de confort, il va ainsi parcourir les États-Unis quatre mois durant, "brûler le dur" et multiplier les rencontres inoubliables avec ces compagnons de la marge. Vivre avec eux, partager les casses-croûte, les bagarres, les galères et les coups de gueule, et apprendre à se cacher des "bouledogues", ces flics postés à chaque intersection pour expulser les "trimards". Avec une humanité profonde qui fait la peau aux clichés, Ted Conover nous entraîne sur la route. Il nous livre un document historique sur un monde aujourd'hui révolu, mettant des mots sur ces visages qui peuplent l'asphalte, sur la violence, la philosophie et l'esprit de l'errance. À mi-chemin entre Into the Wild de Jon Krakauer et Sur la route de Jack Kerouac, Au fil du rail, reportage inédit en France, est un modèle de journalisme "undercover". "Peut-être l'idée de vivre avec des hobos m'était-elle apparue comme un moyen d'échapper aux limites des us et coutumes de ma propre classe sociale, de prendre du recul sur moi-même. Peut-être était-ce le défi de voir si ma personne délicate et biberonnée à la fac pouvait s'en sortir dans leur dure réalité : leur monde était-il, comme le suggérait un sociologue, 'un monde d'étrangers qui sont amis' ? Existait-il une fraternité du rail ?"


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1980. Ted Conover est un jeune étudiant en anthropologie de vingt-deux ans lorsqu'il se décide à partager la vie des "hobos", ces sans-domicile itinérants américains. En leur compagnie, il avale des milliers de kilomètres de rail dans des trains de fret, avec pour seul bagage un sac de surplus de l'armée en bandoulière lesté d'un bidon d'eau. Fuyant une vie de confort, il 1980. Ted Conover est un jeune étudiant en anthropologie de vingt-deux ans lorsqu'il se décide à partager la vie des "hobos", ces sans-domicile itinérants américains. En leur compagnie, il avale des milliers de kilomètres de rail dans des trains de fret, avec pour seul bagage un sac de surplus de l'armée en bandoulière lesté d'un bidon d'eau. Fuyant une vie de confort, il va ainsi parcourir les États-Unis quatre mois durant, "brûler le dur" et multiplier les rencontres inoubliables avec ces compagnons de la marge. Vivre avec eux, partager les casses-croûte, les bagarres, les galères et les coups de gueule, et apprendre à se cacher des "bouledogues", ces flics postés à chaque intersection pour expulser les "trimards". Avec une humanité profonde qui fait la peau aux clichés, Ted Conover nous entraîne sur la route. Il nous livre un document historique sur un monde aujourd'hui révolu, mettant des mots sur ces visages qui peuplent l'asphalte, sur la violence, la philosophie et l'esprit de l'errance. À mi-chemin entre Into the Wild de Jon Krakauer et Sur la route de Jack Kerouac, Au fil du rail, reportage inédit en France, est un modèle de journalisme "undercover". "Peut-être l'idée de vivre avec des hobos m'était-elle apparue comme un moyen d'échapper aux limites des us et coutumes de ma propre classe sociale, de prendre du recul sur moi-même. Peut-être était-ce le défi de voir si ma personne délicate et biberonnée à la fac pouvait s'en sortir dans leur dure réalité : leur monde était-il, comme le suggérait un sociologue, 'un monde d'étrangers qui sont amis' ? Existait-il une fraternité du rail ?"

30 review for Au fil du rail: L'Amérique des hobos (Feuilleton non-fiction)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Ashleigh

    I read this book because riding rails with hoboes was something I always wanted to do as a child. After reading this book I no longer felt the need. The experiences of this book are told in a very real way, and it does describe what life for rail-riders is like. But, the story is lacking and, like the title, goes nowhere.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dov Zeller

    Part anthropologist, part immersion journalist, part social critic, though with, I think, a unique idealism and a unique realism, Conover strikes me in this, his first book, as a stubborn, gifted, curious, meditative young man beginning to shape a passion and a narrative approach that has lasted all these years. "Rolling Nowhere" reveals him as someone who will to to great lengths to write from a position of insider, though he does so without ever losing sight of his social and cultural position Part anthropologist, part immersion journalist, part social critic, though with, I think, a unique idealism and a unique realism, Conover strikes me in this, his first book, as a stubborn, gifted, curious, meditative young man beginning to shape a passion and a narrative approach that has lasted all these years. "Rolling Nowhere" reveals him as someone who will to to great lengths to write from a position of insider, though he does so without ever losing sight of his social and cultural positioning in the larger picture of his life. One thing that struck me in "Rolling Nowhere" and also in reading about his work as a guard in Sing Sing, is his willingness to risk losing himself completely as he works to understand all the mechanisms at play in a given setting or situation. It is almost as if he is very lovingly taking apart a broken, yet magnificent watch, and crawling inside it and settling in with its gears until he can barely distinguish himself from the ongoing activity. He allows himself to feel the brokenness, camaraderie, pressure and desire of the investigated world, but never taking his eyes off the larger structures at work or his own privileged positioning. From what I can gather he tends to investigate extreme circumstances, and to really look for the driving social, emotional and economic forces at play. After diving (or hopping) into the world of the American hobo (whether or not citizenship is granted, all of the people he encounters in this book are living a hobo life in the U.S.), Conover finds communities of people and more solo fliers who don't fit into any kind of American mainstream. He values their incredible resourcefulness, knowledge and skill. They may not be living in a well-understood, or broadly-accepted way, but they have found some way to take care of themselves -- a way to live in a world that often doesn't have much to offer. It is painful to see Conover struggling with questions that go something like this: "am I, could I become, a life-long hobo? Could I get lost in this world?" He discovers that there is an almost mystical wall one crosses in order to live as a hobo. And when he crosses to the other side, he is no longer seen by "outsiders" as fully human. On the other hand, he finds that the people he once ignored or looked down upon or saw others look down upon and mistrust, are skilled survivors living in entirely different but overlapping cities and towns. And he finds pleasure in becoming skilled enough to survive in these "other" worlds. I am going end with a quote from Goodreads member Ron because he captures the spirit of the book so beautifully and succinctly. "With little knowledge of real hobo life, Conover left college in the East, jumped a train in St. Louis and headed west. In the months that followed, he crossed and recrossed 14 states, meeting and traveling with a dozen or more modern-day hoboes. He learned from them how to survive, living off of handouts, sleeping rough, avoiding the railroad police. And he learned about loneliness and loss of identity. There are moments of pure pleasure, a tin cup of steaming coffee on a cold high plains morning, the unbroken landscape gliding by open boxcar doors. And there are times when the romance of adventure disappears completely -- in bad weather and bad company."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    As a young man, in his early 20s, Ted Conover traveled on foot and by rail over most of the Western states, first with hoboes and then with undocumented farm workers from Mexico. In his travels, he discovered two itinerant worlds, sometimes overlapping, that are often misunderstood, and invisible to most Americans. In many ways naïve and sometimes too trusting, Conover also discovered the limits of his middle class upbringing. His first two books, "Rolling Nowhere" and "Coyotes" were based on hi As a young man, in his early 20s, Ted Conover traveled on foot and by rail over most of the Western states, first with hoboes and then with undocumented farm workers from Mexico. In his travels, he discovered two itinerant worlds, sometimes overlapping, that are often misunderstood, and invisible to most Americans. In many ways naïve and sometimes too trusting, Conover also discovered the limits of his middle class upbringing. His first two books, "Rolling Nowhere" and "Coyotes" were based on his experiences. Together they represent a kind of coming of age in America. With little knowledge of real hobo life, Conover left college in the East, jumped a train in St. Louis and headed west. In the months that followed, he crossed and recrossed 14 states, meeting and traveling with a dozen or more modern-day hoboes. He learned from them how to survive, living off of handouts, sleeping rough, avoiding the railroad police. And he learned about loneliness and loss of identity. There are moments of pure pleasure, a tin cup of steaming coffee on a cold high plains morning, the unbroken landscape gliding by open boxcar doors. And there are times when the romance of adventure disappears completely -- in bad weather and bad company. I greatly enjoyed this book and was often touched by Conover's youthful pursuit of independence and experience, often taking risks and crashing head-on into realities he does not anticipate. At the end, the romance of the rails has been pretty much stripped away; he's not sorry, but he's had enough. His book "Coyotes" is a great companion to this one, as it shows him a little older and somewhat wiser, on yet another risk-taking adventure that throws him into yet another marginal world.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    What is most interesting about this book about riding freight trains with the tramps and hobos is that this is from the early 80s, not present day. I know lots of folks who ride freights and many of them have written zines about it. If this book was more present day, I might view it a bit different. Essentially Conover was an east coast college student who decided to experience tramp life riding the rails. He went about it as a bit of an anthropological study and gave himself to it 100%. His exp What is most interesting about this book about riding freight trains with the tramps and hobos is that this is from the early 80s, not present day. I know lots of folks who ride freights and many of them have written zines about it. If this book was more present day, I might view it a bit different. Essentially Conover was an east coast college student who decided to experience tramp life riding the rails. He went about it as a bit of an anthropological study and gave himself to it 100%. His experiences are interesting and insightful and while ultimately his young white male middle class privledge gives him an "out" anytime he needs it, he tries not to and consequently learns quite a bit not only about getting around on the rails, but also on surviving in yard jungles amongst those who (mostly) have little or no choice in their circumstances. What is quite depressing is how hard it is to get up and out of the life for most and the drinking that ultimately consumes so many. While some drink their days away, others go for day labor, or welfare, or relief offered at the missions. Conover learns a lot and survives quite well to tell an interesting story. Many things have changed in 18+ years and many have not, just as though much has changed on the rails in 60 years and much has not. I'm curious to check out his other books about Coyotes on the border and working as a guard at Sing Sing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    A worthy heir to Gonzo Journalism- "Hell's Angels" with hoboes. A very funny and more than a little bit frightening book. A great read! I will look for others by the same author (who made this flavor of immersion journalism his career). A worthy heir to Gonzo Journalism- "Hell's Angels" with hoboes. A very funny and more than a little bit frightening book. A great read! I will look for others by the same author (who made this flavor of immersion journalism his career).

  6. 4 out of 5

    D. B.

    I couldn't help thinking of the song "Common People" while reading this song. Conover captures some interesting details of the culture and customs of riding the rails, but the sense that "if you called your dad, he could stop it all." I read the Rolling Nowhere because I was looking for an in-depth history of hobo culture in the U.S.--a book that does not appear to exist in any form--and looked at whatever I could find on the subject. Perhaps my problem with the book is with my own expectations; I couldn't help thinking of the song "Common People" while reading this song. Conover captures some interesting details of the culture and customs of riding the rails, but the sense that "if you called your dad, he could stop it all." I read the Rolling Nowhere because I was looking for an in-depth history of hobo culture in the U.S.--a book that does not appear to exist in any form--and looked at whatever I could find on the subject. Perhaps my problem with the book is with my own expectations; I thought it would chronicle a legitimately disaffected youth dropping out of society, experiencing the hobo life (and, more importantly, the hobo mindset), and returning to us to tell the tale. Instead, Conover readily admits in an updated introduction/reflection that he was little more than an average, well-adjusted college graduate looking to make a name for himself as a journalist. Rolling Nowhere depicts his travels in the form of personal essays, where he initially relates to what he experiences like an alien. He tries very hard, as the book progresses, to show that the experience transformed him, but I never got the sense that what got him through it was little more than survival instinct and the knowledge that the anecdotes would build his story to the proper crescendo. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he played with the real chronology of events for maximum effect. The writing itself is good, engaging and at times poetic (sometimes self-consciously so), but I wanted at least one of two things from this book: background information on hobo history and the development of the subculture, and/or an experience of hobo life through the eyes of someone who really, truly belonged to that culture. Rolling Nowhere didn't have either, and Conover doesn't provide much insight into the personalities or psychology of the odd characters he meets in his travels. It's a dud, from that perspective.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dragos

    I really like Ted Conover. He's a great storyteller with an ethnographer's flair and nowhere is this more evident than in this, his most 'gonzo' book, about riding the rails with hobos. Conover's book reads like an ethnography which perhaps isn't too surprising considering he first thought of it as an anthropology thesis, despite some criticism from his professors. It went on to become, at least in my opinion an american classic, giving us a snapshot of survival and freedom on the raggedy edge o I really like Ted Conover. He's a great storyteller with an ethnographer's flair and nowhere is this more evident than in this, his most 'gonzo' book, about riding the rails with hobos. Conover's book reads like an ethnography which perhaps isn't too surprising considering he first thought of it as an anthropology thesis, despite some criticism from his professors. It went on to become, at least in my opinion an american classic, giving us a snapshot of survival and freedom on the raggedy edge of society in the 80s. Enthralled by stories of hobo wanderers and folk songs Conover went out to seek the last few of these american legends in the 80s. What he found was amazing. A cadre of the last few hardened hoboes, a 'freegan' lifestyle out of necessity rather than hipsterdom and a society that likes the sin but hates the sinner, both in love with the hobo legend and offended by hoboes themselves. This is probably Conover's best work and I say this having loved Coyotes. Read it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    I read Ted Conover's second book "Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders With America's Ilegal Migrants" (1987) before I read "Rolling Nowhere" and think that "Coyotes" is a far better book if you are going to choose only one. It is more polished in prose and, I think, has a more interesting story to tell. Nevertheless, "Rolling Nowhere" is very good book and a recommended read to those who have ever wanted to hop a freight. Conover rode the rails in 1980 and the account of his journey gives depth of I read Ted Conover's second book "Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders With America's Ilegal Migrants" (1987) before I read "Rolling Nowhere" and think that "Coyotes" is a far better book if you are going to choose only one. It is more polished in prose and, I think, has a more interesting story to tell. Nevertheless, "Rolling Nowhere" is very good book and a recommended read to those who have ever wanted to hop a freight. Conover rode the rails in 1980 and the account of his journey gives depth of understanding to the world of hoboes and provides a glimpse into their pysche. Since he first published the book, I think that more info has come to light on homelessness, particularly with the increased problems of homelessness that came with Reagan-era budget cuts. Yet Conover, because of his lived experience with hoboes, offers an empathetic (though not glowing) description of a largely invisible world that goes beyond mere statistics. In the new edition of the book, however, Conover notes that the world of rails and "jungles" that he experienced differs from the experiences of the homeless today. Still, I think a number of themes and characteristics likely carryover. As mentioned, I read "Coyotes" before reading "Rolling Nowhere." Hence, for me, the most interestings sections of "Rolling Nowhere" were his encounters with undocumented migrants from Mexico and his brief experience in the citrus orchards. His appreciation for the work ethic of undocumented migrants shows in these early encounters and undoubtedly planted the seed of interest that led him to travel, work, and live with undocumented workers. He then chronicled these experiences in "Coyotes," a book that is a must read for anybody concerned with or interested in immigration issues.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    I thought a book about hoboes would be more compelling, honestly. I liked the idea--a young, privileged, white college student takes to the rails to find out what it's really like to live this lifestyle. What's most compelling, to me, is that Conover didn't have a book deal or a travel stipend--he just wanted to do it, so he did it. The book came later. However, I was hoping for more analysis, more context. What I got was a day-by-day account of Conover's experiences on the rails. In the introdu I thought a book about hoboes would be more compelling, honestly. I liked the idea--a young, privileged, white college student takes to the rails to find out what it's really like to live this lifestyle. What's most compelling, to me, is that Conover didn't have a book deal or a travel stipend--he just wanted to do it, so he did it. The book came later. However, I was hoping for more analysis, more context. What I got was a day-by-day account of Conover's experiences on the rails. In the introduction, Conover says he was reluctant to publish his inner thoughts, so I was expecting more interiority, more rumination on what drove him to take this kind of trip. Nearly halfway into the book, I wasn't getting anything I came for, so I abandoned it. I think Ted would understand. Life's too short.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Szatkowski

    This is a worthy read, but somewhat dated as to details (the events narrated take place the '80s). I do not suggest a trip as Conover took, but the characters that he describes are interesting. I also suggest that the last chapter raises the questions I had been thinking of as I was reading the text. That is - what 'variance' are we as society willing to tolerate, and why? What room do we make for those who cannot or do not fit into what we define as 'normal'? This is a worthy read, but somewhat dated as to details (the events narrated take place the '80s). I do not suggest a trip as Conover took, but the characters that he describes are interesting. I also suggest that the last chapter raises the questions I had been thinking of as I was reading the text. That is - what 'variance' are we as society willing to tolerate, and why? What room do we make for those who cannot or do not fit into what we define as 'normal'?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Hiskes

    Conover rides trains across the American West for several months in 1980 or so, befriending hoboes and learning about their lives. His reflections are about what you'd expect for a college-age white male from the upper middle class slumming it for a while, but it's still a lively mix of reporting, anthropology, and adventure. Conover rides trains across the American West for several months in 1980 or so, befriending hoboes and learning about their lives. His reflections are about what you'd expect for a college-age white male from the upper middle class slumming it for a while, but it's still a lively mix of reporting, anthropology, and adventure.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Fayette

    This is an interesting book written by a (then) 22 year old college student in the 80's after he decided to take some time off from school to "ride the rails" and study the hobo/tramp culture. Although hobos riding on trains are mostly now history, the culture of these homeless people most surely parallels that of today's homeless communities/culture. This is an interesting book written by a (then) 22 year old college student in the 80's after he decided to take some time off from school to "ride the rails" and study the hobo/tramp culture. Although hobos riding on trains are mostly now history, the culture of these homeless people most surely parallels that of today's homeless communities/culture.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sissy

    I had always heard tell of my great-grandfather riding the rails after he got back from the war, and feel satisfied a bit by reading this. The writer's naivete is often difficult to get over but it fills a void on railroad literature. If only someone tough and full of symbol lore wrote a memoir like "You Can't Win" by Jack Black, now that would really be something. I had always heard tell of my great-grandfather riding the rails after he got back from the war, and feel satisfied a bit by reading this. The writer's naivete is often difficult to get over but it fills a void on railroad literature. If only someone tough and full of symbol lore wrote a memoir like "You Can't Win" by Jack Black, now that would really be something.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sonja

    I was going to give this book a 4 but, after reading the last chapter and the author's view of what he had learned through this experience, I give him a 5. He went from young adult to manhood while riding the rails. This book was written 40 years ago but was very interesting nonetheless. He was extremely brave and writing about this experience gave him a whole new career. Kudos to him! I was going to give this book a 4 but, after reading the last chapter and the author's view of what he had learned through this experience, I give him a 5. He went from young adult to manhood while riding the rails. This book was written 40 years ago but was very interesting nonetheless. He was extremely brave and writing about this experience gave him a whole new career. Kudos to him!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I first heard about this book from a NRP The Moth Story Hour. I was instantly intrigued. This book definitely brings a light to a poplation of men and women who we may not give a second thought to. Very well written book!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tifany

    Rare is the book that brings my weary eyes to tears at the very end of reading it voraciously late each night. Read it

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brian Beatty

    Not my favorite book about hobo life, but a great (if likely dated) read for those tempted to hit the rails.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Pretty good insight to the world of the modern-day hobo.

  19. 5 out of 5

    A_McPeak_614

    Another enjoyable and thought provoking adventure from Ted Conover.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Ene

    A must read for your adventurous spirit

  21. 4 out of 5

    John J. Pittl

    It's nothing like riding a boxcar. It's nothing like riding a boxcar.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sam O'H

    I really enjoyed it. I'm interested to read more of this author's books. I really enjoyed it. I'm interested to read more of this author's books.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Steinberg

    What an adventure!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Michael Lu

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I was never really into nonfiction. The reality in nonfiction just isn't as appealing as the worlds of fantasy and imagination in fiction. But of course, there are exceptions. Rolling Nowhere Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes is an eye opening adventure that allows the reader to follow the author, Ted Conover, on his journey across the country as he rides the rails and lives the life of a tramp. Throughout the experience, he comes across unique people and situations that change his perspect I was never really into nonfiction. The reality in nonfiction just isn't as appealing as the worlds of fantasy and imagination in fiction. But of course, there are exceptions. Rolling Nowhere Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes is an eye opening adventure that allows the reader to follow the author, Ted Conover, on his journey across the country as he rides the rails and lives the life of a tramp. Throughout the experience, he comes across unique people and situations that change his perspective on who tramps are and why they live the way they do. Conover starts the book off with his first time jumping onto the trains, but quickly rewinds back to the time before his journey. We are introduced to the reasons why he wanted to see what a tramp's life was like and his reflection on what kind of people they were. In the beginning of his trip, everything fascinates him and his endless curiosity. The life of a tramp was just like he thought it was: full of freedom and carelessness. He meets endlessly interesting tramps and gets himself into endlessly exciting circumstances that there is almost never a dull moment in the book. The vivid detail used to describe what he is seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling made me feel as though I was sitting right next to Conover as he was talking to the fellow tramp or riding in the box-cart. The second half of the book begins to explore deeper into the world of a tramp. As Conover continues riding the rails, he meets more and more radical people and is faced with more and more difficult encounters. Discrimination, sexual harassment, violence, betrayal, it's all there and really gives the reader a new insight on what hoboes truly feel. He realizes that being a tramp isn't just all fun and games and his own perspective changes as well. The characterization of the author himself is evident as he is a completely different person by the end of the book. His feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and fear are very down to earth and are portrayed with such vigor that I could feel it pounding in my chest. Conover exposes the reader to every aspect of his experiences with other tramps: their disgusting lifestyle, their mental scars, their disturbing reasons for becoming a tramp, he shows it all and I felt like my own insight was changing along with Conover's. By the end of the book, you are left questioning society and its treatment of tramps. The book Rolling Nowhere Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes is an invigorating rollercoaster ride that will leave you breathless at the end. It illustrates both the freedoms and the restrictions of being a tramp oh so vividly and reveals to the reader anything and everything about his experience, no matter how vile it is. At the end, you will emerge a different person with a different outlook on your life and I highly recommend this book to anyone willing to do so.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brook

    3.5 stars. C'mon, it's another "rich kid rides the rails" book, man. You just reviewed one of those in 2013, Riding Toward Everywhere. Why do this one, too? Well, for one, it was recommended to me. Two, Conover is not a one-off writer who just penned his experiences, like the above book and, say, A Walk Across America. He's an investigative journalist who "goes deep," immersing himself in the environment he wishes to report on. This was his first effort, as a college student studying anthropology 3.5 stars. C'mon, it's another "rich kid rides the rails" book, man. You just reviewed one of those in 2013, Riding Toward Everywhere. Why do this one, too? Well, for one, it was recommended to me. Two, Conover is not a one-off writer who just penned his experiences, like the above book and, say, A Walk Across America. He's an investigative journalist who "goes deep," immersing himself in the environment he wishes to report on. This was his first effort, as a college student studying anthropology at small, liberal Amherst College in Massachusetts. The sincerity and naivete of the book is what sells it. As the author notes in the preface to the 2001 edition, it's really journal entries edited into a book, not a book based upon notes, so it reads very open. Conover does not dwell anywhere long, and takes "breaks" to get back to "civilization", staying with friends and friends of friends for short spells. The book is largely free of unnecessarily, overly-poetic passages like "the sun shone over the fields like a golden ocean with tiny tractor ships sailing like lone pirates," etc, etc. There is some good imagery, but the reader is left to form his own impression of the trip and scenery. Most descriptions beyond "it was very pretty" are left out. This works well. It's not Kerouac, it's a guy who would become an anthropologist and serious journalist telling a story of people he meets on the road. Where I gave Riding Toward Everywhere 2 stars, this one is just better in every way, and provides a glimpse into the world of tramps and railroads at the start of the 80s. The preface, which I read after finishing the book (a neat way to read non-fiction accounts that works well), notes that pretty much everything he describes is gone now - and the 2001 edition was published just before 9/11 would further tighten down rail yards. This book definitely gave me a hankering to take a short trip myself (even as late as the 80s, students, workers, and vacationers saw riding the rails as a "legitimate", if not legal, way to travel, even for something as mundane as a school commute or football game). However, in today's world, with the brakemen and many sympathetic railroad and railyard workers gone, stepping into at train yard to catch a ride might be closer to stepping onto the grounds of a power plant than what is described here. Enjoyable, and fascinating from a sociological point of view. Reading his list of published works, I will be picking the rest up (he moonlights as a guard in a US prison, in one).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nathaniel

    Conover wrote this book while he was still an undergraduate at Amherst; but it establishes his method as an author. He is a combination of cultural chameleon (spy), investigative journalist, anthropologist, autobiographer and social commentator. He pulls off this combination nicely. Paul Theroux, at his best and least obnoxious has a similar style of telling true stories; but Conover is more political and engaged--in his action and focus. I haven't read John Howard Griffin's "Black Like Me"--the Conover wrote this book while he was still an undergraduate at Amherst; but it establishes his method as an author. He is a combination of cultural chameleon (spy), investigative journalist, anthropologist, autobiographer and social commentator. He pulls off this combination nicely. Paul Theroux, at his best and least obnoxious has a similar style of telling true stories; but Conover is more political and engaged--in his action and focus. I haven't read John Howard Griffin's "Black Like Me"--the story of Griffin's experiences as a white man, painted to look like a black man, in the American South of the early 20th century--but it seems that Griffin's book had the most profound impact on Conover's methodology and concerns. Conover's style has matured a great deal since "Rolling Nowhere", as has the sharpness of his perception and the importance of his research. It might grate some people when Conover's pampered background prances into the foreground, especially when he seems so pleased with himself for managing the transition from rich kid to railway tramp; but those moments do provide readers with a much clearer understanding of the nature and limitations of their narrator. I'm thinking about moments like, "I had dismissed the church as simply the place in whose lot my dad used to park his sports car. Looking again, I saw a number of young men lounging around on the lawn outisde the place, and all of a sudden remembered similar scenes from days when I had passed the church with Dad. He worried about the safety of his car with guys like those around, and had intentionally looked away from them. That had frightened me. Tonight, though, I exchanged greetings with some." Balancing out some of the hokier, doctors in Aspen type references, is the perspective Conover develops of his own background. For instance, "Being suddenly among the Stanford students was less a solace than a shock. Most of them were from wealthy backgrounds, had seen few hard times, and appeared to be suffering the maladies that an overdose of comfort can cause: self-indulgence, self-pity, self-absorption." It was a clear sign of the talented and significant author that Conover turned out to be, that he managed to write this book at the dawn of his twenties without being self-indulgent, self-pitying or self-absorbed.

  27. 5 out of 5

    David P

    Ted Conover, raised in Denver and educated at Amherst, read about hoboes riding the rails during the great depression and wondered if they still existed. In 1980 he took a break from his university to find out, and this is his story. Yes, hoboes still ride the rails west of the Mississippi. Black, White, Mexican, even a few (very few!) women. They own what they carry, their food is often scavenged from dumpsters, their clothes come from charities, many are addicted to cheap booze, and they are Ted Conover, raised in Denver and educated at Amherst, read about hoboes riding the rails during the great depression and wondered if they still existed. In 1980 he took a break from his university to find out, and this is his story. Yes, hoboes still ride the rails west of the Mississippi. Black, White, Mexican, even a few (very few!) women. They own what they carry, their food is often scavenged from dumpsters, their clothes come from charities, many are addicted to cheap booze, and they are likely to spend their nights in makeshift tents in "jungles" by the railroad, or at the "Sally" (Salvation Army), and at times, in a local jail. Conover discovers these harsh realities and allows the reader to share his impressions. What sets those hoboes apart from (say) the homeless of New York is their close association with railroads. A hobo's schedule may involve avoiding rail yard guards ("bulls"), boarding trains already in motion, huddling beneath "piggyback" trailers tied to a flatcar which is rolling at high speed into pouring rain, and arriving at unexpected destinations. His geography of the United States differs from ours, focusing on large railroad yards--Havre, Montana; Wishram, Washington; Colton, California, etc. Cities are rated by the opportunities they offer a vagrant. Who are these people? Why do they put up with such a hard and dangerous life, even the many who are strong enough to earn a living conventionally? Some, in fact, do work, especially illegal Mexican immigrants, who form a class of their own--speaking Spanish, keeping their dignity and working diligently, but living in a legal limbo. Most hoboes however hit the road because they shun any long term commitment: they are loners, outcasts of society, rolling nowhere. As the author befriends them (the associations rarely last long), he listens to their stories, often laced with fantasy, and find finds a great diversity. Hoboes do not lack ability and most can be surprisingly generous to strangers. But each seems to have his trail of trouble, of broken marriages, alcoholism, uncontrolled temper or unreal dreams. This book tells an interesting story, but seems to offer little hope for those that still ride the rails, whose greatest handicap is usually within their own minds.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    I picked up Rolling Nowhere after rereading Ted Conover's ,cite>Coyotes, which is a really brilliant narrative of his immersion into the world of illegal migrant workers. Rolling Nowhere caught my eye as it chronicles his experiences as a 24 year-old riding the rails in the early 1980s, an era when I thought hobo culture had died out. He does a good job reporting on the lifestyle, and for that the book is definitely worth reading. Where it falls a bit flat, though, is that it is definitely being I picked up Rolling Nowhere after rereading Ted Conover's ,cite>Coyotes, which is a really brilliant narrative of his immersion into the world of illegal migrant workers. Rolling Nowhere caught my eye as it chronicles his experiences as a 24 year-old riding the rails in the early 1980s, an era when I thought hobo culture had died out. He does a good job reporting on the lifestyle, and for that the book is definitely worth reading. Where it falls a bit flat, though, is that it is definitely being told through the eyes of a 24 year-old grad student who is exploring a culture to which he doesn't really have a visceral connection nor the life experience to see the down and out existence of life on the road as more than a grand adventure. And while this attitude -- almost as though he is embarking on his journey into this subculture as a summer camp experience -- changes dramatically over the course of his adventures, Conover himself alludes in the book's forward to looking at this work with the benefit of twenty years of living under his belt and being amused by the obvious child he was when he wrote it. That aside this is a good read, not as good as Coyotes but worth checking out for anyone who is interested in the recounting of what I read as the last throes of the uniquely American hobo culture.

  29. 4 out of 5

    David Ward

    Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes by Ted Conover (Vintage Books 2001) (305.568). This is Ted Conover's first book, and it is his initial foray into participatory journalism. It is clear that this is a formula which works well for him. The instant tale finds the author as an extremely young man learning to hop freight cars. He learned the craft well enough that he spent several months riding the rails from Missouri west to Denver, northeast to Fargo, west to Seattle, south t Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes by Ted Conover (Vintage Books 2001) (305.568). This is Ted Conover's first book, and it is his initial foray into participatory journalism. It is clear that this is a formula which works well for him. The instant tale finds the author as an extremely young man learning to hop freight cars. He learned the craft well enough that he spent several months riding the rails from Missouri west to Denver, northeast to Fargo, west to Seattle, south to Los Angeles, and then southeast to El Paso. He lived as a hobo by traveling with hoboes and surviving in hobo jungles, always filthy, always hungry, and never welcome. I have now read three of Conover's books (the current volume; Coyotes: A Journey Through the Secret World of America' Illegal Aliens, in which he crosses the United States border from Mexico and tours much of the country with a crew of illegal migrant farmworkers; and Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing, in which Conover works as a prison guard aka "Corrections Officer" in one of the worst prisons in America). I am starting to think that Ted Conover is not happy unless he is miserable. Hobo jungles, railroad bulls, and a filthy lifestyle are only a few of the dilemmas that he faced with the hoboes on a daily basis. Ted Conover has once again taken the reader where he or she will likely never have another chance to go explore. My rating: 7/10, finished 9/6/16.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tim Boroughs

    I was looking forward to this book but frankly it was repetitious and quite dull. The author recounts some random journeys he took riding the rails in the US circa early 1980's. In every place he hops off he pretty much just goes to charities for handouts and meets assorted miscreants, most of whom exhibit symptoms of mental illness. When not scrounging hand outs Conover and his cohorts sleep in makeshift shelters of cardboard and junk in "jungles" on the outskirts of towns. Conover attempts ear I was looking forward to this book but frankly it was repetitious and quite dull. The author recounts some random journeys he took riding the rails in the US circa early 1980's. In every place he hops off he pretty much just goes to charities for handouts and meets assorted miscreants, most of whom exhibit symptoms of mental illness. When not scrounging hand outs Conover and his cohorts sleep in makeshift shelters of cardboard and junk in "jungles" on the outskirts of towns. Conover attempts earnestly to engage with these borderline personalities and ends up getting abruptly rebuffed or threatened with a bashing. Conover genuinely takes on the life of a tramp complete with eating food from dumpsters, contracting lice and being arrested. The context of the book stuck me as relentlessly grim and aside from the earnest freshman Conover, the characters in the book were all pretty much unpleasant. It would have been a better book had Conover described more about the US rail network or gave his impressions of the cities he visited or wrote more of the magnificent countryside he rode by. However, Conover was very young when he wrote the book and mid way through an anthropology major so the naivete and his desire to immerse himself in the psyche of tramps is quite understandable. These points aside, the audacity of his project was remarkable.

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