Ted Conover's first book takes the reader along on his dream trip—a hardscrabble netherworld built for freight, not people—in search of an America "where numbers live like men." More
Hopping a freight in the St. Louis rail yards, Ted Conover—winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award—embarks on his dream trip, traveling the rails with “the knights of the road.” Equipped with rummage store clothing, a bedroll, and his notebooks, Conover immerses himself in the peculiar culture of the hobo, where handshakes and intoductions are foreign, but where everyone knows where the Sally (Salvation Army) and the Willy (Goodwill) are. Along the way he encounters unexpected charity (a former cop goes out of his way to offer Conover a dollar) and indignities (what do you do when there are no public bathrooms?) and learns how to survive on the road.
But above all, Conover gets to know the men and women who, for one reason or another, live this life. There’s Lonny, who accepts that there are some towns he can’t enter before dark because he’s black, and Pistol Pete, a cowboy who claims his son is a doctor and his daughter a ballerina, and Sheba Sheila Sheils, who’s built herself a house out of old tires. By turns resourceful and desperate, generous and mistrusting, independent and communal, philosophical and profoundly cynical, the tramps Conover meets show him a segment of humanity outside society, neither wholly romantic nor wholly tragic, and very much like the rest of us.