take the westbound

Train in lonely landscape photo credit: "Train, Deer Lodge, Monata" by russellstreet (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Definition: (verb phrase) to die (hobo slang)

Example: No, I don’t see Jake anymore. He took the westbound a few years back.

“[Steam Train Maury] Graham was 89 and chief caretaker of the hobo myth, a cornerstone of which is the hobos’ term for death: ‘taking the westbound.’ ”
- Douglas Martin in the New York Times

89-year-old Steam Train Maury Graham , who died on November 18, was both the Grand Patriarch of the Hobos and Life King of the Hobos East of the Mississippi , according the Martin’s article in the Times this week. However, the King didn’t literally take the westbound. Having given up the hobo life some time back, he passed away at the Northcrest Nursing Home in Napoleon, Ohio .  

You might think that hoboes no longer ride the rails, but the annual Hobo festival in Britt , Iowa (where Graham was crowned king) is still going on. In fact, the city’s website advertises the event as a tourist attraction—a far cry from the unfriendly receptions hoboes used to get from towns.

Perhaps the broad-minded citizens of Britt enjoy the colorful language used by this subculture. As noted in a 2004 column, hoboes who camp at the outskirts of a town are called junglestiffs. To flip a rattler is not to kill a snake for dinner, but to jump on a moving train. The caboose of the train is called the louse cage. And if you don’t think taking the westbound sounds romantic enough, you can use the synonym—to go to the big hole in the sky.   Interested in attending a hobo gathering to brush up on your jungle-speak? Check out this site for a schedule.

A. C. Kemp | November 23, 2006

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