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It's a Jungle Out There : L.A.'s Hobos Are Forced to Hit the Road in Search of a New Clubhouse

January 24, 1990|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Fe Bo and Capt. Cook did what comes naturally Tuesday night when the Hobo Club shut its doors in Los Angeles for the last time. They hit the road.

The two tramps helped "decommission" their Westside meeting place and lead a farewell hobo survival workshop for club members. Then they set out to find a new home for the 3,000-member National Hobo Assn.

A developer plans to erect an office building on the site of the 45-year-old Century City Tavern & Restaurant, a small Santa Monica Boulevard eatery that has served as the group's clubhouse for five years.

"We're looking for a new place in this area," said Santa Fe Bo, who started the hobo association 13 years ago. "But we've been looking for a year," added Capt. Cook, a director of the organization.

Tuesday's survival workshop was appropriate. Owners of other Westside establishments haven't exactly lined up to turn their trendy places into a new hobo headquarters.

But most of the estimated 600 association members in the Los Angeles area are hardly scruffy transients who hop the rails for a free ride between handouts. They feel right at home in the shadow of Century City high-rises that are 65 miles from the closest real "hobo jungle"--near the Southern Pacific rail yard in Colton in San Bernardino County.

In real life, Santa Fe Bo is Bobb Hopkins, 41, an actor from Woodland Hills, who said he got hooked on hoboing on an eight-day rail ride to Boston in 1976.

Capt. Cook is the road name of Garth Bishop, 50, a Los Angeles book publisher, who said he first sneaked aboard a freight train as an Arkansas teen-ager.

Other dues-paying members of the association include doctors, lawyers and corporate executives who have adopted such rail-riding monikers as Itchy Foot, Middle Caboose Mark and Hopalong Chet.

The yuppie hobos say they like to change pace by occasionally climbing into jeans and work shirts and venturing out to Colton to hop slow-moving freights.

Besides experiencing a genuinely American form of folklore, riding the rails provides an unparalleled rush of excitement, according to the self-styled 'bos.

There's the danger of jumping aboard a moving train, the joy of watching the scenery slide past an open boxcar door and the thrill of outsmarting railroad police.

"You see how real people live," said Beverly Hills hobo Tudor Williams, 46, who hitches a train ride whenever he can take time off from his job as private chef for a Hollywood producer.

Williams, who is known to other hobos as Wandering Wills, cooked up 33 quarts each of mulligan stew and hobo chili for Tuesday night's farewell.

The hobos bemoaned the loss of their meeting place as they stood in the stew line.

"This is home sweet home to me," said Michael Followell, 30, a heavy-equipment operator from Texas, who says he travels 10,000 miles a year on the rails.

Occasional hobo Mark Stevenson, 35, came straight from work as a commercial banker. He took off his coat and tie as he entered.

"This is terrible," the West Adams district resident said. "We've got to find a new location soon. I'm going to do my best to find that place."

Hobo survival tips shared with club members Tuesday night were for the 1990s, not the '30s, when the Depression made tramps out of thousands of Americans who rode the rails in search of better lives.

They included suggestions that bedrolls include current railroad maps and at least two valid pieces of identification.

Restaurant owner Voja Vlatkovic, a 56-year-old former Olympic track star from Yugoslavia, said he didn't know what a hobo was when club members first began meeting at his place. The location was picked for meetings because both Hopkins and Bishop lived nearby.

Vlatkovic said he will miss the hobos but, he confessed, "I travel by plane."

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