Basurero de Juarez

Basurero de Juarez

Basurero de Juarez

The great Charles Bowden passed away last year. He wrote a great many articles and books about the border; the one we share with Mexico. In the years since NAFTA passed there have been hundred upon hundreds of women murdered in and around Juarez–a great many of them maquiladora workers. A maquiladora is an assembly plant, or factory which hired thousands of women and paid them stoop labor wages to do piecework–sewing, circuit boards, and other close work that required small, deft hands.

A great many women from as far away as Central America flocked to the border for jobs. So NAFTA managed to impoverish two cultures. The women of the maquiladora plants and the American union worker, and some big American companies outsourced jobs here to avoid paying a living wage to union workers: Levi’s, Motorola, IBM, Black & Decker, GM, Cooper Tire, among others.

The murders started after the flood of new workers settled in and around Juarez. The powerful and ruthless Juarez cartel was blamed, as well as gangs like Los Rebeldes and La Linea Juarez. Bowden’s books, The Blood Orchid and Murder City; Ciudad Juarez, are visceral, heart-breaking testaments to a world where sanity has unraveled at a frightening pace. Still the murders are unsolved. One wonders what would happen if hundreds of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Suzy cream-cheese types were slaughtered and left for carrion birds in the desert.  The cable series, The Bridge, did a brilliant job underlining the insanity of the drug war and the culture of death endemic to both sides of the border; where traffic in drugs, humans, and cheap labor have created a culture of nihilism and despair.

It almost certainly had to be based on some of Bowden’s writings, which were poetic, and hard to read, as they were blanched of hope. This piece is about this part of the world: The border that we share and the trust we do not.

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 11:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

A No. 1

“Chicago is the greatest railway center in the United States. No one knows these facts better than the hobo. It is a fact that trains from all points of the compass are constantly entering and leaving the city over its 39 different railways. According to the Chicago City Manual, there are 2,840 miles of steam railways within the city limits. The mileage of steam railroad track in Chicago is equal to the entire railroad mileage in Switzerland and Belgium, and is greater than the steam railroad mileage found in each of the kingdoms of Denmark, Holland, Norway, and Portugal. Twenty-five through package cars leave Chicago every day for 18,000 shipping points in 44 states.”

On Hobos and Homelessness— Nels Anderson

A No. 1

Given that Chicago was the hub of the American railroad system, it’s not a surprise that the largest ‘”hobo jungles” were here. The area around North Dearborn Street, (Washington Square–better known as Bughouse Square) was one of the safe harbors for itinerant men and women.  In the years between 1900 and 1920, much was changing in American life and this part of the city, known then as “Tower Town,” because of its proximity to the water tower.  It was known as a neighborhood of bars like the Dill Pickle Club, brothels and gambling dens.  It was also the center of the avant garde in Chicago.  The nascent American art form of jazz could be found here, although mostly on the South side.  It also had devotees among this crown of free thinkers.

The historian, Bill Savage, informs me that all manner of thinkers inhabited Bughouse Square; a place that Sandburg had read his poetry, Dr. Ben Reitman treated hobos and hookers for the clap, and where other luminaries like James Joyce, Yeats, Emma Goldman and John Reed had spoken there in favor of unionization.  So Bughouse Square was more than a platform for political cranks, crack-pots and whack-jobs.  It was a plain air marketplace for American ideas.  Socialists, liberals, America-firsters, anarchists, and those hung for the Haymarket bombings were all habitue’s of Bughouse Square.  It is where the term “soapbox” actually started; named for the platform whichever whack-job or organizer stood upon while addressing his “constituency.”

It was a fascinating place where people of all beliefs workshopped ideas about freedom and democracy, and every idealistic faction was represented. When I was a kid, there was a nutjob named Lar Daly who ran for everything from mayor to President in every election.  He dressed up like Uncle Sam and was known as Lar “America First” Daly.  He was the right-wing whackjob of his day and, well into the late 60’s, railed about everything from repealing civil rights bills to outlawing mini-skirts.  He was as entertaining as hell, though.  He had a bullhorn and an Uncle Sam hat and a sandwich board.  It is no accident that his brand of politics had its roots in Bughouse Square.

Almost every hobo jungle had an “A No.1”. . .a top dog. . .a mayor of sorts.  His responsibility was to adjudicate disputes between hobos and provide a plan.  He would also act as a mouthpiece for the community in dealing with cops, bulls railyard dicks and other aggrieved parties.

Published in: on April 25, 2009 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Last Ride

The Last RideHey–

In George Milburn’s, The Hobo’s Hornbook, a 1930 collection of hobo balladry and poems and songs, he draws a distinction between hobos and tramps; a distinction pointed out to him by hobos themselves.   Hobos considered themselves migratory workers, where tramps depended on other sources of revenue; the tramps given more to the criminal class than hobos.  Mr. Milburn’s collection is, by his own admission, not definitive, but it is indispensable in any discussion of hobo music or poems.  They were musical and a great many of their songs harshly satirical.  A great many of them were written by Joe Hill, the IWW organizer and hobo martyr who was executed for a murder he did not commit.  Hill is one of the heroes of labor union history and was framed and executed by firing squad in 1915 in Utah.

Part of the hatred of hobos was intertwined with the rise of the nascent labor movement.  Cops, Pinkertons, and railroad “Bulls” were well-aware a great many union organizers traveled with the hobos riding the rails and boxcars, in order to organize coal-miners, cattlemen, fruit-pickers, and all other manner of working people.  Often the Bulls laid in wait for the hobos and issued severe beatings; killings were commonplace and your average Bull was much like the mental defectives who cannot become cops or jail guards.  It was a perilous life and your seasoned hobos knew to jump off the trains before it reached the rail yards.

Many of the organizers who rode the rails were branded as “Reds” and in fact, many were socialists of the Eugene Debs mold and believed only the unions could protect them and provide work.  A great many hobos became, or were, former railroad men and unionization did not come easily to the railroads.  One of the bloodiest strikes was right here in Chicago; the Pullman strike; which inflamed racial hatred and killed 13 strikers, but in that case the union held.  Until the Feds came in and broke the strike with troops claiming that the strike interfered with the U.S. mail, a great many hobos passed stories of the Pullman strike back and forth generations later and to a man, were pretty much union men.

This one is for the men who took the beatings– it’s called, ‘The Last Ride.”

This is the hobo symbol for, “Be ready to defend yourself.”


Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: