Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Hit the Road

I finally got my DVD of the documentary 10 mph in the mail today. It features a couple of guys who are disenchanted with their corporate jobs and metropolitan lifestyle, so they quit and launch a career in the indie film industry, and begin by documenting their zany cross-country trip from Seattle to Boston... On a Seqway. They have more obstacles than answers, and don't try to romanticize the cliche of “carpe diem”. Where they'll sleep, how they'll fill up their gas tank, and other financial concerns mount in the face of growing personal debt. Whether they can afford to finish their trip is as much a part of the story as their encounters with the kindness of strangers. They really captured the heart of rural America, especially in the West. Wish they'd shown more of it.

It stirred up a longing. Every spring the urge swells to revisit seasonal field employment. A little voice makes it sound so simple... Randomly pick a state on the map, look at the seasonal job ads on TAMU, plop everything into storage and go! It was easier to do back then, fresh out of college. Hopping on a plane or passenger train every few months to a new state, a new job, a new adventure, where I didn't know a soul. You’re put up in hotels, homes, fifth wheels, trailers, tents, etc. It’s intense…And then it’s over, and you’re off on another adventure of your choosing. That kind of freedom has a powerful pull. As a kid from Washington who mostly worked her way through school, I'd hardly ever left the Pacific Northwest. So after college when I began to apply for seasonal wildlife jobs -- rule #4 of the hobo code -- I picked places on the map as far from home as I could get. I wound up in areas even more remote than the foothills I grew up in. It scared the hell out of my mom.

The jobs were like something from a National Geographic assignment. Lots of open land, daily immersion in the natural comings and goings of wildlife; plenty of sitting, waiting, watching, recording, or hiking, paddling, wading -- during sunrises, sunsets, and all hours in between. It was endlessly amazing for an animal and bug-lover such as my crew mates and me. America's regional cultures were no less interesting. I fell fully into each one and often wrote home with stories. I quickly learned: you can expect to find fresh barbeque sandwiches in every east Kentucky gas station, hushpuppies in Mississippi's, and in North Dakota... well, mainly lots of abandoned grain elevators that Gazetteers list as towns. In spite of all the neatness of it, I learned that no place is as special (to me) as the Pac NW. Before long all I wanted was to go back. So of course I wound up in Arizona.

I was readying for a return to grad school in wildlife, unsure of that major, when someone offered me a job in entomology. I’d fallen in love with it as an undergrad. It's a great job (my current job). I write grants, educate the public, do a lot of publishing, dabble in research, and coordinate much more than most in my position are allowed. Occasionally, I even get to play with the arthropods. I like my line of work. Love it, even. It scratches that itch that tromping through marshes and forests and prairies all day didn’t. Still, I'd be lying not to admit that the seasonal gig calls to my inner hobo.

A little over a hundred years ago, the American hobo emerged as our nation underwent the change from an agrarian society to an industrial one (Beesley, The American Hobo). Perhaps as we transition from an industrial society to the indoor isolation of the Information Age, we'll be seeing a re-emergence of the hobo. How better to connect with our own nature, or witness our vanishing landscapes than as a working wanderer...?


Anonymous said...

If your inner hobo takes over, my field office may be hiring seasonal help.

You have my email, so if you are interested let me know and I will send you the advert./info.

The only draw back is that it only pays between $10-11/hr. So you'd have to have a strong hobo calling ;)


Max said...

As a fellow recovering field assistant, I can relate to your bouts of wanderlust. Now that I have a wife and dog, temp jobs are out of the question, but I hope to find permanent work that allows enough travel to prevent my longing for the old days.

Good luck with your search!

JP said...

Kelley: thank you, that's really nice! I think this is just a case of remniscindulgence, and a tinge of the-grass-is-always-greener. Having said that, I never made it to New England... I'll come knocking if my inner hobo ever takes over.

Max: when I find a support group for wanderlusters I'll let you know.