Just finished watching the 90 minute long documentary “American Nomads” and I have to say I enjoyed every minute of it. It contains the exact kind of strange counter culture that I love to write about, and love to learn about. Richard Grant makes an eccelent narrator, not in the least part because he approaches the wanderers and drifters with respect, instead of a “oh its just a phase” or “oh they fell off the tracks” attitude. Having lived a life of a drifter himself, he understands that for these people, a life of constant mobility is their ideal, and that not every wants the so called “American Dream” of large houses large families and large paychecks, and that there’s nothing wrong with them not wanting to fit into our truly (compared to every other era of human history) bizarre and stifling world of offices.
Some of the topics covered are news to me, and things I’d like to investigate myself. Obviously he visits Slab City, one of the only anarchist communities left in America, and of course he talks with truckers and with RV snowbirds. But one of the most fascinating segments was one where he has breakfast with a modern hobo. According to the hobo, a college age kid named Comfrey, hobos never went away after the great depression; people just stopped noticing them. Richard then presents a rather surprising fact: there are an estimated 30,000 people riding the rails, hiding in freight trains to get from city to city. Even more surprising is that the “Hobo Lore” is still around today, not just tricks like counting the bolts on a wheel to estimate the trains speed, but also the ever famous “hobo tags” which have etched themselves into our cultural subconscious. Comfrey shows Richard some of the various recent hobo tags sprayed around the freight station. One of my favorite moments was when he recognized graffiti from the hobo “Luke Puke”. Despite never meeting Luke, he talked about him like a friend since he had seen and been guided by Luke’s tags in the past, like a guardian angel with an aerosol can.
My other favorite moment deals with a mountain man nicknamed “Yogi Bear”, who had entered the Sierra Nevada mountain range to end his own life but was dragged back from the brink by the supreme beauty of the place he witnessed, right as he was literally standing on the edge of the cliff he had chosen to jump off of. He left behind his entire life of office work debt and commutes and now lives in the mountains, a well known and well liked figure among the hikers there. Working odd jobs, he’s able to live happily off of just 4,000$ a year earned through odd jobs. It’s an inspirational story, that if you truly have hit a dead end in this overly materialistic world of ours you can cut loose from the rat race, escape the cubicle, and live in peace.
Overall, I would rate this a 4/5 documentary, and would highly recommend anyone interested in drifters and wanderers to watch it. It’s only weak point is that it’s not particularly long, and that there was too much material to cover in just 90 minutes.