South Park – North Park – Golden Hill

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hobos' hot meals in SD

Hobos' hot meals; patients' pot cards; kids' tough cars.
While eating at Denny’s nearly 20 years ago, I met a nice, “young” woman who grew up during the Great Depression and claimed to have been one of the first females to graduate from UCLA. Her most memorable story was of people painting white shoes (or the outlines of white shoes) on the sidewalk outside their homes to signify where anyone down on his luck could ask for a free meal. If this is true, I plan on doing it to see what happens — maybe with a picture of a sandwich & a soda.
— Dirty Doug, via email

We’ve combed through the archives, looking through newspapers as far back as the 19th Century, and we can neither confirm nor deny this story. I’ve sent the elves deeper into the musty stacks than they have gone in a long time, and all to no avail. I can’t find so much as a single mention of this particular sigil. Zip. Nada. I did unearth a piecemeal cryptographic history of secret signs and symbols from all over the world and it might hold some clues. I think it’s most likely that the “white shoes” are somehow related to the system of glyphs that hobos used during the ’20s and ’30s, when ’bos where on the rise. Hobos had signs for everything, from basic directions (“turn left here”) to warnings (“cops jail hobos in this town,” signified by a stylized handcuff) and tips, like a pictogram of a kitty cat that meant “nice old lady lives here.” One of the most important signs a hobo could look for would indicate that a house was home to hospitable people and that an enterprising vagrant could work for a hot meal and a place to sleep. The exact form of that sign varied based on locale and hobo style, but the most common sign was a circle inscribed with a cross: O with a + inside. That particular symbol dates all the way back to the Bronze Age and pre-Christian Norse myth, but it’s still in use today by the few hobos who still ride the rails and look for work where they can get it. You could try putting one of those up to demarcate your house, but don’t be surprised if ’bos come knocking! If that doesn’t work, just dress like a cow on July 12th next year and go to Chick-fil-A. They’ll give you free food. I’m serious. It’s “Cow Appreciation Day!”

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