My second impression is that he smells like the woods
and is at least a little crazy
. My first
, of couse, was outside The Reef
when he asked for change and I refused, as I always do, for lack of anything better to feel guilty about. He asks for the stool beside mine in that pointed way that's read as: "I intend to have a conversation with you." Initially, he is another old drunk
and so I smile, nod, and face the opposite direction
. Like so many old drunks, he is not to be dissuaded.
He wants the name of the bartender
. She looks at him skeptically, making no move to produce his whiskey & coke
until he begins to spread bills across the bar. Once her attention turns to the bottom shelf bottles
and the conversation nearer the front entrance, he stuffs the cash back into his wallet and begins to count out change.
"How much?" he asks us over and over. $2.25. $2.25. $3.25 if you're tipping
With that slight of hand, he has become impossible to ignore gently. It's listen or fight
"Nightrider Red" because of the ferocious red beard
and because he favors the night trains
. He doesn't say how long he's been a hobo
, but it's clear that it's a credible statement. For now, he's homesteading
out of town, building a cabin. He has two more years, then squatter's rights
kick in and the property is his. Until then he's quiet, keeps the fire down, keeps his head down.
He's been everywhere, and has the state-issued welfare cards
to prove it. Texas
is his favorite destination. Ordinarily, he'd be wearing his gun on his hip
, but that's hard to get away with in Olympia
. Texas, though. He needs the gun to keep the animals away. He doesn't shoot them - he'd rather shoot a person than a wild animal
, because you relate better to them? that's right - only scares them away with the sound. There are horned pig-beasts
in the south more aggressive than coyotes
. He'll go back before he finishes the cabin.
The rail cops
can be wonderful or terrible, and likewise with the engineers. Once he was stranded in a mormon town
in Montana. The cops picked him up, bought him lunch and a bus ticket
, and told him never to come back.
He's looking for a real woman
, someone to settle down with when he retires. Not a rail hag
, and not someone too delicate. He's had three wives, two wealthy, Korean, Japanese, Alaskan. His last wife, Native American by heritage, taught him to make the best jerky you'll ever taste
, not like that crap you buy at the supermarket.
He has a fan at the other end of the bar, intermittently roaring like a pirate
, and Red roars back.
He talks for an hour and a half, waving bummed cigarettes
dangerously close to my face and spitting. He wants to trade for my studded bracelet
, any of the many pieces of hobo jewelry
around his neck, a thick unintentional collar of hemp and leather and plated metal. One is the wedding ring of a woman who died on a train. Heart attack. He promised to take her with him
. No, over and over. Not for this. Sorry.
"You trade me for that, I'll be sittin' on a train someday and I'll sing a song
about this bracelet I got from this gorgeous lady this one night.." No, no.
But he wears me down. Fine, but only for this one, the bracelet I bought for a quarter at a garage sale
, not with me long enough to mean much. And it's a fair trade
. He pulls a ring from one of his necklaces, dirt cheap metal
. On one side it says "luck
" in english, on the other, in kanji
. Already it's broken, and he bends it around my necklace. The bracelet, he snaps onto his wallet chain, as it won't fit around his wrist.
"That always brought me luck," he tells me. "See right there? Luck. Always brought me luck