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Riding Toward Everywhere Paperback – December 23, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
How many times does Vollmann actually manage to hop a freight? Not very many. When waiting for trains gets too boring, he heads to the airport to catch a flight home. He rides Amtrak too, and cell phones and credit cards are always close at hand.
Uneasy with the authenticity of this adventure, Vollmann points out Thoreau had more financial support than he let on, therefore his own experience is as valid as Thoreau's. Trouble is, Vollmann doesn't experience much of anything, and in his search for romantic old-time hobos, he shows little interest or compassion for the real bums he meets. It's all pretty empty, and his account runs as shallow as the Frontier Days cowboy re-enactments he disparages.
No matter how many times he uses the F-word, Vollmann (summa cum laude Cornell, the New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, Harpers, etc.) has trouble getting "hobos" to accept him, and it reads like he spoke to no more than half-a-dozen. Desperate to get enough material for a book, he tries to buy stories.
Coming across a ragged couple on the sidewalk (p. 89) he offers the woman $5 to tell him about riding the rails; she says she doesn't want to talk, that her stories are too sad; Vollmann keeps waving the fiver, but she still refuses and mentions being hungry. He might have treated the couple to a Big Mac or bag of White Castles, and maybe the stories would have flowed. Not Vollmann. He tells the couple he's going to dinner and he'll stop back later to see if they're hungry enough yet to sell him some stories.Read more ›
Getting on and off moving trains can be a dangerous business: Vollmann has many tales about broken limbs and lost legs. You'll learn about the people in this life--the frightening and reportedly often lethal FTRA, the misfits and rebels, the people like Steve and Brian, Vollmann's friends. People outside the life are referred to derisively as "citizens", and inside the group there are codes of conduct. You might be killed for $5 worth of food stamps, but your sleeping bag will never be stolen. There are people Vollmann meets and hears of who may (or may not) be serial killers: one tale is of a heavily-tattooed man who on one tattoo area has 30 dots--one for each person he has killed.
It's all rather like, in a way, homeless street people--people who live outside the normal boundaries of society. There's a dislike of rules, of laws. But at the same time, as Vollmann shows, you show respect to the railroad--for example, simple things such as not urinating or defecating in the boxcar you might be riding in, even if you're about to jump off a mile further on. It's no longer the kind of romantic life that you might see in Emperor of the North or Bound for Glory. There is at the end of the book a collection of 65 black-and-white photographs of the life and the people taken by the author. It's a fascinating look at a little-known life.
The best part is the first fifty pages. This is re-arranged from a Harper's Magazine piece, and benefits from cohesion, even it it sprawls in typical fashion for this author who tends to write big books. This one's comparatively brief, and it appears as if from the opening chapter, it's on target, matching author (who keeps lamenting as he's back in California that "I've got to get out of here") with a subject where he can incorporate Kerouac, Twain, Thoreau, Hemingway, London, and Thomas Wolfe. But like the last-named predecessor, he can ramble on.
"All the waiting, that living-fieldmouse smell in the grass, was a necessary part of our experience, because it transformed motion into salvation. When I hitchhike, I experience the same feeling. And I wonder whether life can be good without the hard times." (19) But, "riding the rails, like any attempt to escape from life, must taste of failure now and then unless one is willing to die." (22) A middle-aged Vollmann will not die, of course, writing this, and he often laments his slowness compared to his buddies. One expects after the start of this adventure a lot more stories about who he meets, but as he admits very late in the narrative, "absence" dominates.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book. A wonderful answer to Walden, The Darma Bums, Jack London, and Thomas Wolfe. Vollmann turns riding the rails into a meditation on fatherhood, what it means to be a son,... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Philip Rafferty Jr.
A bit disappointed. The material here is more of a diary of random thoughts with few historical pieces on train hopping experiences. I still have not finished the book. Read morePublished on July 6, 2014 by steve delor
An interesting glimpse into vagabond life on the rails. Though some literary effects seem to be over used, this work provides a box car perspective on the hobo existence of a... Read morePublished on September 26, 2012 by Raymond Viola
Its worth checking out. Kinds did it cause he wanted to, not like most that have to, but he owns that. It is a good book, and worth the timePublished on March 5, 2012 by Blaue
When I discovered this piece hidden in a used book store, I read the jacket and knew that I had to read it. After all, they say you can't judge a book by its cover. Very true. Read morePublished on November 1, 2011 by Erik B
I loved this book and it being the first I'd ever read by William T. Vollman, I decided to pursue more of his writing. Read morePublished on February 26, 2011 by LT
I've ridden a couple freight trains. If you are crazy about freight trains you will love this book, partially because there isn't much written on the topic and it a lot safer (and... Read morePublished on November 30, 2010 by Aaron Kreider
I've ridden a couple freight trains. If you are crazy about freight trains you will love this book, partially because there isn't much written on the topic and it a lot safer (and... Read morePublished on November 30, 2010