Who Is Bozo Texino?: The Secret History of Hobo Graffiti

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Who is Bozo Texino?: The Secret History of Hobo Graffiti. By Bill Daniel. Film, 55 min. black and white, 16mm and Super-8, DVE. (Shreveport, LA: Bill Daniel, 2005. $20.00 DVD)

"Bozo Texino" could be the pseudonym of J. H. McKinley, who was born m a Kentucky log cabin and later worked out of Laredo as a machinist, brakeman, and engineer. Or he could be a carman out of Lafayette, Louisiana, who wanted to quit smoking and thus would write his name on a railroad car whenever he wanted a cigarette. Or he could be an old hobo who has been dead for many years, but whose memory is kept alive by others wishing to capitalize on his name and reputation.

Who is Bozo Texino?: The secret History of Hobo Graffiti never conclusively answers the question posed in its tide. But it does offer an intriguing look into the world of hoboes and tramps who hitch rides on freight trains, and who sometimes draw pictures and words on the sides of boxcars with chalk, wax crayons, or paint sticks. Without ever once mentioning the word "folklore," the film provides viewers with numerous examples of occupational lore, legend, namelore, folk speech, and folk art. It also presents many beautiful traveling shots (all in black and white) of the American landscape-both rural and urban-as seen from open boxcars. The evocative music-largely country and blues-melds nicely with the sounds of tracks clacking, engines chugging, and railcars coupling.

Nevertheless, the film may ultimately disappoint the student or scholar in search of reliable information on the phenomenon of hobo culture. None of the many voices heard in the film is ever identified, so we never know if the speaker is a hobo, tramp, bum, railroad worker, or simply a passerby. For instance, one anonymous voice explains, "There are two things I don't like-responsibility and authority-and that makes me a bum." But is he really? Another anonymous voice in the film has already denigrated the tramp as a migrant non-worker: someone who rides the rails, but "won't pick up a goddamned stick of wood to help cook the food . . . [and] won't do jack shit," in contrast to the hobo who grabs wood to build a fire, cooks food, and pitches in; in other words, a migrant worker. …