Sunday, December 17, 2006

Global Hobos: A Cross-Cultural Examination of Effective Salesman(or woman)ship.

Krakow, Poland:
The Krakowian hobo scene thrives on the predominantly Catholic population's sympathy for the meek, ragged, leprous, etc. In Stare Miasto during peak hobo hours, you will find no fewer than eleven middle-aged hoboes spasming behind their aluminum walkers. Taped on the front of each of their walkers is the same laminated bilingual sign that reads (in 72-point Times New Roman font), "Please give me to the money" and "Szrzczrzczsz rzcz rzczrzczłić." These Polish hoboes are afflicted by a rare form of Parkinson's Disease, whose body-convulsing symptoms vanish the instant the hobo's palm nerves make contact with a fistful of loose złoty.

Chicago, Illinois:
Is it any wonder that this festering bastion of diversity is home to the most paradoxical hoboes in the world? Chicago plays host to the sort of hobo who makes you shine his shoes, who is a Boeing executive making 2.3 million a year, who will toss you a quarter for doing nothing.

Daegu, South Korea:
Like much of the local non-hobo population, the Daeguian hobo is an entrepreneur first, an alcoholic second, and a Level 32 Dwarf Priest in World of Warcraft. He coasts about downtown, lying chest-down on a four-wheeled wooden scooter, the kind you used for roller dodgeball in 3rd grade P.E. class. His lower half is swathed in a tarp of black rubber, mermaid-style. Whether or not there are legs underneath the tarp is a topic of some interest to Korean young adults aged 13 to 16 who are on their first dates. On his cart, each hobo carries a small boombox capable of blasting, at 120 decibels, the most sorrowful Korean waltzes you ever did hear. There are eight of these men downtown at any given time and one imagines they are equipped with GPS equipment so as to not infringe on another hobo's rolling grounds.

Minneapolis, Minnesota:
Notoriously picky hoboes. Whimsical. Eccentric. Capricious. They ask you for 37 cents and if you don't have exact change, they walk away.

Berlin, Germany:
The Berlin Hobo (German: der Berlinerhobo) is among the most enterprising and talented in the former Holy Russian Empire. An accordion virtuoso, a prolific caricaturist, a juggler of flaming crucifixes, and a public urinator extraordinaire, der Berlinerhobo often gets so wrapped up in his performance that he forgets to ask you for change. But he will find you some days later, even if you have since left the country or continent.

Omaha, Nebraska:
The Omahobo is Walt Whitman, Kofi Annan, and a wet paper bag full of cigarette butts and bottlecaps all rolled into one. He will tell you a woeful tale of marital estrangement and high seas hijinks on the River Mississippi; he will talk politics, at once impressing you as right-wing and left-wing without touching anywhere in between; he will perform a magic trick in which he spontaneously materializes some treasured artifact from your early childhood. And then, he will ask you if you've got a buck, "cause [he] wanna get laid out tonight and it already [nine] o'clock." As you walk away, the thing that impresses you most is his honesty, and his smell.

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