The Amateur American Hobo : Salem to Vancouver (Part I)

by macksemil

The trip started in the back of my father’s foliage green Toyota Prius. My father commutes from his home in Salem, OR to his office in Beaverton, OR every weekday. Bob and I rode up one morning and started out from the Beaverton MAX station.

Bob and I rode the MAX into downtown Portland. We visited my favorite tobacconist in Portland, Rich’s. Their Carolina Red blend is my favorite for rolling tobacco. Sitting in the park blocks of downtown Portland enjoying a fine rollie we came across a homebum laying on his side on a park bench. Bob and I were sitting on the opposite side of the park from this old gent who appeared to be sleeping. Periodically, the homebum would shout a variety of phrases. A younger man walking by taunted the homebum by saying “poo-poo” as he continued his stroll through the park. The homebum would reply by yelling loudly one of a few key phrases, still curled up sideways on the bench.


Eventually the younger man got far enough away to deem the taunting excessive and stopped. At this point, the homebum quieted his voicings but continued with the key phrases in a more introverted fashion. Bob and I finished our cigarettes and continued our day.

We ended up staying with a high school friend that night who had a great little bar by her apartment. We had some food and drinks there. Later that night we all went to watch some trains in UP’s Albina yard on the Skidmore Bluffs. It was our friend Josh’s 21st birthday so it was a festive atmosphere. There is a bar in Portland that gives the first eight people free drinks for one hour if they are part of a birthday celebration. We were lucky enough to be part of the first eight, which resulted in me getting cut off at the bar within one hour of arriving. This also resulted in a very strange route home and a colorful mess on our hosts’ bathroom floor. Due to my drunken embarrassment and determination, her reading this may be the first she hears of it since I was able to clean everything up before going to sleep.

With the season already approaching fall and many miles to go east before we turned south to warmer climates, we decided to take the quickest route possible up to Canada on a budget : public transit. There exists a way though a few days of travel to take public transportation exclusively from Portland, OR to Vancouver BC. It ends up costing a little over twenty dollars and a night in Seattle. We made it to the bus that took us to Vancouver, WA early in the morning. From there, we transferred to the Salmon Creek Park and Ride bus, where the CAP dollar bus picks up. From there, we rode through lush southwestern washington where the train tracks split the interstate. There are two legs to the bus and we transferred to the second leg at the Longview transit center. South Olympia, downtown Olympia, Tacoma and on to downtown Seattle.

For anyone interested in taking public transportation between Portland and Seattle, this article has a good explanation of the schedules and fares.

After arriving in Seattle we noticed that our bus stop was right next to one of Seattle’s prized hobo tourist attractions. The Filson’s factory provided a moderate sized roll of fabric that held us over on any clothing repair we needed on the rest of the trip. Filson’s fabric is super strong and often you can find waxed peices that are somewhat waterproof.

Soon we made our way up to the University District and to the home of a friend who I did many adventures with the previous summer. Unfortunately our friend Leah was out of town but she asked her roomies if we could stay on the couches upstairs at the Honey Bucket, so it worked out well. Thanks to Leah and the other Honey Bucket residents for sheltering us for the night. Bob and I went to the Trader Joe’s to dumpster some ingredients and purchase some others and we made up some spaghetti for dinner and went to bed early to make an early bus across town.

In the morning we were up and out before the sun rose. We caught our bus connection to downtown Seattle, Everett, Mt. Vernon, Bellingham, Cordova and Blaine. For details on this route check out this excellent post on Oran Viriyinci’s blog. Also, as a quick aside I would like to throw in a link to Evan Siroky’s Epic Transit Journies wiki. Although I just stumbled across it it looks like it has a ton of good information about public transit routes all over the Pacific Northwest. I applaud your work, Mr. Siroky.

Arriving at Blaine we walked to a cafe to get some coffee and a little bit of food. Refueled, we walked to one of the two border crossings and made our first attempt at crossing the border.

There was hardly any line, we spent the first fifteen minutes in the giant glass-walled building marveling at the case of prohibited items. Alligator skin boots, Chinese medicines made out of endangered species, various bones and furs of animals. Soon our turn was up and we walked to the desk. With our backpacking-style packs and the cover story for going hiking in Glacier park with a friend, we thought we were in the clear.

However, it turns out that an old incident in Eugene would come back to haunt Bob at this time. Years ago, wandering intoxicated and lost through the streets of Eugene after a night of music at the WOW Hall, Bob found a car with a cell phone charger in a parking garage and lifted up the door handle in an attempt to charge his phone and find his way back to my residence and out of the cold November rain. The door was locked, and a security guard showed up. The Eugene Police were called to the scene. After a snarky comment about Bob’s Country Fair T-Shirt and a retort from our friend the suspect, Bob was on his way to the drunk tank for the night. After all was said and done he ended up with a charge for Unlawful Attemped Entry into a Motor Vehicle, a misdemeanor. Oh yeah, a Minor in Possession ticket also appeared at his home in Salem some months later. He was not aware at the time that he was being charged for possession.

Through the court process the ticket was dropped to a violation, which meant that Bob was not entitled to a court-appointed lawyer but that the ticket would not go on his record if he just coughed up the cash to the Eugene court. However, the court screwed up the paperwork and didn’t close the misdemeanor charge. In the eyes of the Canadian border guard, Bob was on the lamb from the charge in Eugene nearly four years prior. We couldn’t enter Canada until we could prove our story to the guards with conviction papers. Hence, we were “flagpoled”, meaning we made it as far as the flagpole and had to turn around.

Despite not actually entering Canada, we had to go through customs on the US side as well, getting barked at by grumpy people behind desks and getting our bags searched. Nothing in our packs was suspicious enough to warrant further attention so we were admitted back into the United States. “How long have you been in Canada?” “We haven’t.”

By some stroke of a bastardization of foresight and obsessive compulsive disorder, Bob not only saved the carbon copies of the court papers but remembered exactly where they were located in Salem. We were able to call a friend in town and get them faxed to us at the supermarket in Blaine. With these we went back to the same border crossing. We thought that the guard we had talked to before was warming up to us and we would be able to cross with the evidence that there was no pending charges on Bob. However, the guard we talked to before was now off shift and we encountered a 5 foot 11 inch Canadian penis who rudely denied us yet again. Apparently the four year old photo copies of carbon copies were not in good enough condition to be accepted. Flagpoled again.

After another round of waiting and questioning in the US customs office, we walked to the Blaine Library. There, we were able to scan the document into the computer and adjust the contrast of the document and reprint it. With this new and improved proof of Bob’s situation, we walked to the other border crossing station in hopes of encountering a nicer border guard. We did not, but after providing bank account statements, contact information for our friend in Canada, another account of our intentions, an account of who we are and what we do, and answers to countless other pointless intrusive questions and about an hour’s wait, we were allowed to enter the great nation of Canada. Bob threw his prohibited apple into a nearby field in rage.

We walked to the edge of the next town and managed to catch the last bus into downtown Vancouver in time to meet our friend in the gastown district for a beer.