The Road

Jack London
The Road
Jack London
(New York: Macmillan, 1907)

Holding Her Down
The Pen
Hoboes That Pass in the Night
Road-Kids and Gay-Cats
Two Thousand Stiffs

* * *
* * *
There is a woman in the state of Nevada to whom I once lied
continuously, consistently, and shamelessly, for the matter of a couple
of hours. I don't want to apologize to her. Far be it from me. But I do

want to explain. Unfortunately, I do not know her name, much less her
present address. If her eyes should chance upon these lines, I hope she
will write to me.
It was in Reno, Nevada, in the summer of 1892. Also, it was fair-time,
and the town was filled with petty crooks and tin-horns, to say nothing
of a vast and hungry horde of hoboes. It was the hungry hoboes that
made the town a "hungry" town. They "battered" the back doors of the
homes of the citizens until the back doors became unresponsive.
A hard town for "scoffings," was what the hoboes called it at that time.
I know that I missed many a meal, in spite of the fact that I could
"throw my feet" with the next one when it came to "slamming a gate
for a "poke-out" or a "set-down," "or hitting for a light piece" on the
street. Why, I was so hard put in that town, one day, that I gave the
porter the slip and invaded the private car of some itinerant
millionnaire. The train started as I made the platform, and I headed for
the aforesaid millionnaire with the porter one jump behind and reaching
for me. It was a dead heat, for I reached the millionnaire at the same
instant that the porter reached me. I had no time for formalities.
"Gimme a quarter to eat on," I blurted out. And as I live, that
millionnaire dipped into his pocket and gave me... just... precisely ... a
quarter. It is my conviction that he was so flabbergasted that he obeyed
automatically, and it has been a matter of keen regret ever since, on my
part, that I didn't ask him for a dollar. I know that I'd have got it. I
swung off the platform of that private car with the porter manoeuvering
to kick me in the face. He missed me. One is at a terrible disadvantage
when trying to swing off the lowest step of a car and not break his neck
on the right of way, with, at the same time, an irate Ethiopian on the
platform above trying to land him in the face with a number eleven. But
I got the quarter! I got it!
But to return to the woman to whom I so shamelessly lied. It was in the
evening of my last day in Reno. I had been out to the race-track
watching the ponies run, and had missed my dinner (i.e. the midday
meal). I was hungry, and, furthermore, a committee of public safety had
just been organized to rid the town of just such hungry mortals as I.

Already a lot of my brother hoboes had been gathered in by John Law,
and I could hear the sunny valleys of California calling to me over the
cold crests of the Sierras. Two acts remained for me to perform before I
shook the dust of Reno from my feet. One was to catch the blind
baggage on the westbound overland that night. The other was first to
get something to eat. Even youth will hesitate at an all-night ride, on an
empty stomach, outside a train that is tearing the atmosphere through
the snow-sheds, tunnels, and eternal snows of heaven-aspiring
But that something to eat was a hard proposition. I was "turned down"
at a dozen houses. Sometimes I received insulting remarks and was
informed of the barred domicile that should be mine if I had my just
deserts. The worst of it was that such assertions were only too true.
That was why I was pulling west that night. John Law was abroad in
the town, seeking eagerly for the hungry and homeless, for by such was
his barred domicile tenanted.
At other houses the doors were slammed in my face, cutting short my
politely and humbly couched request for something to eat. At one
house they did not open the door. I stood on the porch and knocked,
and they looked out at me through the window. They even held one
sturdy little boy aloft so that he could see over the shoulders of his
elders the tramp who wasn't going to get anything to eat at their house.
It began to look as if I should be compelled to go to
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