When I was in high school there was a fellow that I became friends with whose name was Joe Hunter. He was unlike anyone I had ever met before, a beat during the initial glories of Beatdom, even tho he was only 16 years old, and knew nothing about the Beats. But he knew about hobos and the hobo jungles.
Joe would not show up for school two or three times a year, and would be gone for a week or two each time. He was an avid traveler that enjoyed hoppin' trains to various destinations. He enjoyed meeting new people and learning about new places. It always amazed me how fearless Joe was at that young age to just take off and hit the rails without any thought of problems coming to mind.
The second time he had left, I naively thought he was ill, so went over to his house to see how he was doing. "Hi, Mrs Hunter. Is Joe here?" I asked upon arriving.
"No, Joe is gone again..." a saddened voice from his mother.
"Have any idea where we might have gone, Mrs Hunter?" I asked, somewhat reserved, for I could see how lost she was.
"No, I don't. He's been doing this for a couple of years now, and I can only trust that he'll be O.K.. He always comes home in a week or two."
Cheezus! I thought that this was a new thing with Joe. But he had been runnin' off long before I had met him.
Sure enough, the following week Joe came to school, reported in to the principal, told him what he had done, without any fear or regret of reprisal.
I had talked to him between periods, during our smoke break.
"Where'd ya go this time, Joe?"
"Well, I wanted to go to California, but fucked up and caught the wrong freight train and ended up in Colorado. I got off in some small town and was just walkin' around, enjoyin' the scenery, and when I said 'hello' to an old man sittin' on a bench, he stopped me. Asked me where I was from. I told him, and he asked me if I was hungry. I told him I was, so he invited me over to his home. When we got there, he told his wife about me, and they both said that I reminded them of their son that ran away many years ago, and they had never heard from him again."
"Gee, Joe, what happened then?"
"Well his wife asked me if I'd like a sandwich and I said that I was kinda hungry, so while she was fixin' the sandwich, the old man asked me if I had any place to stay? I told them I didn't and he offered me a room, with a bed, clean sheets, and a shower... I accepted. They treated me just like a son, and I helped the old man with his garden and other outdoor chores."
"How long did you stay there?" I asked him, my mind reelin' from this young guy, that looked older than his years.
"Until the day before yesterday."
"Why'd you come back?"
"Well, started thinkin' 'bout my mom, and thought I'd better come back and see how everything was..." his voice trailing off into deep thoughts.
"Think you'll be around for awhile?"
"Yeah, I promised the principal that I'd finish the year." and I knew he would. Joe was a very honest person, that spoke whatever was on his mind without regard for any consequences.
I was reading about the Beats, Kerouac, On The Road, Dharma Bums, listenin' to jazz, expanding my horizons, and Joe Hunter was like a character out of one of those books, a free spirit intoxicated with freedom, a person that you knew would never settle down.
Joe had no other friends at school, oh, a couple of guys would talk to him, but you could tell they thought him an odd fellow. But I really liked this guy, and appreciated that sense of adventure and fearlessness that ran seemingly inexhaustibly within.
He was a person that could inspire many a story, and he was only sixteen years old... I look back on that and I'm still blown away.