Like Jack Kerouac, I have always been drawn to the edges and fringes of modern society. The drifters and hermits, modern-day hoboes and wild-eyed street people who stalk the back alleys and forgotten corners of our modern world, these are the ones whose stories have always intrigued me.
I know I could never live that life, but something about these people who live on the edge calls to me... in particular, the group of modern-day hoboes who still ride the freight trains, and take the time to tag the freight cars with their unique calling cards.
Imagine the recent scene in a small New Hampshire town. I stood in front of a small Irish pub near the railroad tracks as a freight train rumbled by, happy and excited to take part in our first live music session in over fourteen months.
Standing there with my musician friends, saying how good it was to be back, I noticed something familiar on a box car rolling past. A simple little drawing, a short bit of text, and a name: Freight Bandit.
It was like seeing an old friend - an old friend I've never met.
You see, I have been paying attention to these markings on freight cars for years. Most folks don't notice them - the big flashy spray-painted graffiti grabs the eye much more readily. But if you look closer, they are there - the tags and road names of the mad and hardy few who still choose to ride the rails.
I have photographed these modern-day hobo sigils a number of times while out train-watching, and the Freight Bandit's low-key tag, usually accompanied by a bit of wry prose, has always been one of my favorites. To see it roll by on what was already a special and emotional day was even more poignant.
I have no idea who the Freight Bandit actually is, or the story behind why he has chosen the life he has. But as I go about my day-to-day routine, I am glad that he is out there doing what he does. What most see only as ugly graffiti, for me are little messages of hope from the other side of the modern life - a reminder that the world is still turning, those big noisy freight trains are still rolling, and a few hardy souls are still out there riding them.
So ride on, Freight Bandit, my unknown friend... you might be lonesome, but at least you're free.