Adventure, Travel

Who Tips Their Hat to the Kids in the Gutter?

Image via LATFO

My book Lúnasa Days is FREE on Kindle today and tomorrow. Get it here and tell your friends.

My gutter punk name is Bann. This is a combination of “buddy” and “man” and it was given to me by two traveler kids outside a coffee house in Minneapolis, MN. I was on a break from my then-museum-job and I wore a sports coat with no tie which is what all the hip 29 year olds do. I stopped to talk with the travelers because they were quoting a favorite movie, and we had a moment where I wasn’t conscious of my class or status, which is hard to do when looking a homeless person in the face.

No one likes a gutter punk. These are the young people dressed in brown who sit together at corners and ask for donations. I always wonder how they get so many great brown pants and coats. The brown doesn’t show dirt, and it sets them apart as travelers. They may not have much money, but they have to choose rugged, durable clothes that will last in the woods and on the rails. I wish I could find such great leathers without making them myself.

“Gutter punk” isn’t really accurate. It’s a sub-sect. A good catch-all is travelers. I know this is confusing, because lots of people travel who have homes and money. I travel and I work and publish and pay rent. But “traveler” is the de facto term for people who jump trains. I suspect it’s a nod to the Travelers of Ireland.

Within the travelers, there are career train-hoppers who are in it for life, and those are hobos. And there are young ones who drink too hard and try any drug and don’t know yet, as fledglings never do, just how to survive out there in the life they’ve chosen. And those, I’m told, are the ones most worthy of “gutter punk.”

And there are other stripes and species, but we lump them together.

They live in a secret world, a world we make sure we can’t see. The broken window on the back of the abandoned house, that leads to free lodging. The end of the train yard, where security doesn’t look, where the ride is easy to catch. They do not work jobs or pay rent, and this angers people.

But to hear them tell their own stories, they’re in search of something greater. Some are just young or lost, but all share the revelations of living in the wild, both wilderness and the urban wild which is far less forgiving. They know what it is to renounce, to surrender comfort for a personal conviction. Very few people are born riding trains, you know.

My reader Cecilia is a traveler, and explains:

The idea of school being our hand out of poverty is no longer realistic. Poverty is here, and coming harder. What “traveler kids” are seeking is the knowledge necessary to sustain our lives with very little resources. Practical skills, like farming, processing animals, folk medicine, etc. Living. With very little comforts.

And since most of us come from already impoverished families, our only opportunity to gain these real skills are to put one foot in front of the other… I won’t say I don’t hold up signs on highways when I don’t have shoes, or that I never spend my food stamps sharing meat with my dog, but traveling is not a choice for many of us. We have so much to learn, and very little time to learn it.

In that sense, travelers are the ones doing what everyone tells the poor to do: pull those bootstraps. Some may be from upper class families, some may turn violent, some may have little respect. But they have all done at least one brave thing. They have left home, and that is the practice of heroes.

I can’t count the times I’ve mocked gutter punks or snickered about them with my friends. What a rotten sense of humor. I have slept in the open rain, I have stumbled with heatstroke into fire ants, I have arrived filthy and salt-crusted at a door to beg for a hose to drink from. Some accident of history equipped me with a laptop, and that is the only way I’m different.

At Thanksgiving, Jessica and I packed sandwiches and $20 bills to give to the homeless of New Orleans. I suggested we take bottles of booze, too. Everyone is horrified that the homeless might like a drink at the end of the day. We took 375 mL bottles of rum, scotch and bourbon and gave it to those in need.

One bottle went to my favorite street artist Conan, who broadcast his very own radio station for us using a bullhorn. Most of the bottles went to little groups of gutter punks sitting in high spirits in the 50 degree weather.

I will never forget the cheers they gave as Jessica gave out gifts. I hope they had a good party.

L Days cover_front only_half size

Lúnasa Days is FREE today and tomorrow—and presently #1 in Fantasy on the Kindle free store. So get your copy quick and please, tell your friends!