"I hope you understand that I was born a rambling man."
As this old Allman Brothers song goes around and around in my head, I keep thinking of Adam Kuntz and the article and two letters about him last week in the Los Angeles Times.
There was a large picture, in full color, on the front page - bam! - of a young man sitting in a boxcar of a train rolling through the countryside. The young man, Adam, has long, unruly hair and a bandana tied over his nose and mouth and appears to be wearing a pair of grimy tan overalls.
As the long, accompanying article explains, Adam wears the bandana, which he keeps dampened, to keep the dust from flying into his nose and mouth when he jumps into and rides in open boxcars, which, as the article also explains, he does all over the U.S and constantly.
That photograph really caught my eye and imagination and, like the song, perhaps romanticizes this life, but the article makes it clear that it is a hard one. Along with the dampened bandana, Adam has learned to deal with bitter cold and blistering heat and to always wear shoes because the rail yards are littered with needles. Yes, there are also lots of drugs, along with lots of drinking, in this hobo life, and Adam has had a lot of both.
Not only is what Adam does hard and completely illegal, it is dangerous. As the article relates, Adam had a girlfriend, Ashley, who he loved passionately for being "wild." Adam and Ashley rode the rails with a passion, and then Ashley died after being in an accident.
After Ashley died, Adam went home to his father’s house near L.A, but, before long, he was off riding the rails again.
"Lord, I was born a rambling man."
One thing that struck me about the article was Adam’s father. While he feels sad and guilty about his son and encourages him with work offers, etc., I got the sense that he truly sees Adam as an adult and respects Adam’s choice to lead the life he leads. One may ask if this is a remarkably cool and understanding father or a pitifully weak and unfit one.
Indeed, a couple days later, there were two letters in the paper regarding the article. One was written by an office worker who saw Adam as an inspiration, in leaving the everyday grind behind and following his bliss, living the life he wants to live. The other stated that Adam is nothing but a hopeless alcoholic and drug addict.
I’d like to think that there’s a middle ground, that Adam doesn’t have to be one or the other.
As someone who once considered taking off with an attendant and following the Grateful Dead, as someone who is worried about getting the care that I need (will I be able to pay my attendants? get my wheelchair fixed?) now that voters have pushed California off the financial cliff after it has teetered there for years, as someone who is very much outside the mainstream, being a severely disabled, gay, quaker vegetarian (not to mention my shaved head and six dreadlocks and my overalls and Jesus patches), I understand the temptation to chuck it all and follow the roads and rails to wherever they take me. At the same time, I abhor the damage I have seen done by alcohol and drugs, and I have come to have very little or no tolerance for people who, if they can, aren’t responsible and don’t take care of themselves.
I have been known to call myself a "livehead" in adamant opposition to being labeled a Deadhead. Yes, I’m definitely a "head," but my head is definitely not dead. (And this isn’t about being thought to be retarded. That’s a whole other thing.)
Maybe Adam really is sick, a hopeless case. I don’t know, but, as a quaker who sees God in everyone, I don’t want to think this. I want to think that all the Adams, and I, can be safe and welcome in this world.