In and Out of Robin’s Hood A couple of centuries or so before the 1600s’ heydays of the English highwaymen (and women) comes mention of the most celebrated predecessor to all of these blokes (and blokettes): Robin Hood.
Far more than that of the life and times and pursuits of highwaywoman Lady Ferrers are the theories abounding about the facts and fictions and legends surrounding Robin Hood. About who he was—if indeed he was at all--and about his associations with his merry (or erstwhile tempered) men and women, his foes and friends, and the victims and beneficiaries of his mythic exploits. However, the origins of and truths regarding this dynamic figure and historic character will not be explored here. Much has been written, filmed, and said about his persona and personage, and it can be assumed much more is to come.
The only reason for mentioning Robin Hood here in the context of highwaymen and poets of the road is a particular poem I came upon on a light pole amongst a labyrinth of other graffiti, written by an anonymous hitchhiker heading east on Interstate 10 at the contiguous borders of the towns of Loma Linda and San Bernardino on the westernmost fringes of the southern California deserts. It was at this location that, on July 12, 1997, at the Waterman Avenue/Redlands Boulevard cloverleaf on-ramp, I came upon and transcribed these exact words:
In sumer when the shawes be sheyne and leves be large and longe yt ys ful merrie in faire foreste to here the fowlys songe to see the deere drawe to the dale and leve the hilles hee and shadowe hem in the leves grene under the grene wode tre
Of all the hitchhiker messages I have collected over the years, this ranks among the most interesting, intriguing, and perplexing. Frankly, as I stood out there on the freeway shoulder logging this down, it actually freaked me out a bit. “What the heck is this and where did it come from?” I thought to myself as I transcribed it. At first and for a good while after, my puzzlement was directed toward just what this very odd yet lovely, bucolic, melodic, and unusually spelled message meant. Finally, after years of research on the Internet--first attempting to do searches in the days “before the Google era” (B.G.E.), and then long into A.D. (AltaVista’s decline)--I finally discovered the origin of these words. But upon identifying its source and context, I was further baffled as to who might and why someone would write down such a passage while waiting for a ride; and even more, how the thumber had the literary knowledge, intellectual capacity, and wits about them to inscribe it at that location, on that medium, and in the moment as they stood there.
And, while the writer left not his (or her) name nor the date it was written on the pole, much to my surprise and wonder, I came to discover that this lyrical, Old English-sounding poem is actually the first two verses of the Middle English ninety-verse ballad entitled, Robin Hood and the Monk. Also known by the title May in the Green-Wood, it was authored by an unknown poet circa AD 1450, circa five centuries before it was scrawled equally anonymously on the light pole for me to find on the shoulder of the 1-10 on-ramp. And fittingly, as it is with most things regarding Robin Hood, there is some literary historical debate over this poem, as well; again one which I see no need here nor do I have the knowledge or interest to involve myself. The best I can do is provide the modern English version, which is,
In summer, when the woods are shining, And leaves are large and long, It is very merry in the fair forest To hear the birdies' song, To see the deer draw to the dale, And leave the high hills free, And shadow themselves in the green leaves, Under the green wood tree. ...translated into Modern English by Rusty W. Spell Middle English version originally published in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales http://rustyspell.com/temp/robinhoodandthemonk.pdf
While a pleasant-enough passage, whether the hitchhiker who chose to write it on a light pole was himself a highwayman or monk, a poet or punk, an enlightened soul or dark deceiver, a rogue or redeemer, or none or partly all of these likely will never be known. But, even in the story recounted in Robin Hood and the Monk, it is the highwayman, Robin Hood, who is portrayed as the hero and it is first the Monk--a messenger of the Lord--and then the sheriff--an officer of the lords--who were made out to be the bad guys.
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king… –That’s Life, Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon, Recorded by Frank Sinatra, 1966
With it all, the question still remains...why would a hitchhiker be compelled to purposefully post on a random post, such a particular passage of olde as they were just passing through nowhere in particular? Were the lords of the highways in some way involved?
Robbing Redressed As indicated in the parable of the Good Samaritan and by the fact that the ancient Greek, Roman, and Norse cultures had equivalent highwaymen patrons, the Robin Hood character and tales of his antics and deeds are not limited to the English countryside of yore--in days of old, when knights were bold...and all that. Tales of benevolent and malevolent bandits of trade and travel routes are equally common in other cultures, regions, and lands. For instance, the Germans have Nicolau Stortebeker and Schinderhannes and there is Hajduk from Montenegro, the Czech’s Juraj Jarosik, Sándor Rosza of Hungarian lore, Rob Roy (a.k.a. Robert M'Gregor) of the Scots, Willie Brennan and An Cu of Ireland, and even someone by the name of David Lewis from 1820s Pennsylvania. And there are terms synonymous with the label “highwayman” in Britain, such as knight of the road and footpad, as well as equivalents in other lands, including el salteodore in Spain, il grassatore in Italy, and the bush ranger of Australia.
So, too, there were the road agents of the American old, wild West. One of the most notable of these desperados was Charles E. Boles (sometimes also known as Charles Bolton). In the late 1800s and in less than a decade, Boles is said to have robbed nearly thirty Wells Fargo stagecoaches on the roads crisscrossing northern California which connected the gold and silver mining districts to the commercial and financial centers. Because of his polite manner while at the stock end of a shotgun, and the fact that he only stole money belonging to the Wells Fargo company–he took no cash, coin, nor other valuables in the possession of the passengers who had the misfortune (or thrill?) of being along for these coach rides–Boles was dubbed by the public and media, alike, as “The Gentleman Bandit.”
Fancying himself a bit differently, however, in an apparent paradoxical desire for both notoriety and anonymity, he selected two other self-aggrandizing monikers by which he intended to stake his claim to (in)fame and (mis)fortune. These came from his own hand in notes he left behind either in the strongboxes he weakened of its loot or somewhere else his messages would likely be found by those investigating his crimes; posts in the form of invective rhymes to the victim of his plundering. At least two such poems have made it into the historical record and read,
"I've labored long and hard for bread, For honor and for riches But on my corns too long you've tread You fine-haired sons-of-bitches"
Here I lay me down to sleep, To wait the coming morrow Perhaps success, perhaps defeat, And everlasting sorrow Let come what will I'll try it on, My condition can't be worse And if there's money in that box, 'Tis money in my purse!
each case, Boles signed his poem, “Black Bart, The PO8.”The name of Black Bart was borrowed from a
character in a popular dime novel of the day, while the “PO8" seems somewhat
more original, and is a phonetically styled way of writing the word “poet.” [Author’s
Note: And we think we are so original today, what with our texting and tweeting
and vanity PL8 shorthand].
More of a
highwayman in the standard sense than Robin Hood, Boles robbed from the
rich--targeting one wealthy company in particular--and gave mainly to support a
personal, upscale lifestyle to which he had become accustomed and very much
enjoyed in nearby San Francisco.And,
while Robin Hood had many lengthy poems written of his exploits, Black Bart was
content to pen brief rhyming autobiographical missives of his own.
The Lies of Nexus are Upon You This brings the discussion back to current times, to the side of the road, to hitchhiker messages, and to the case of one SR Smith, or so he/she claimed to be. Like Black Bart of a century before, Smith also likened and proclaimed him/herself to be “The Poet.” And, like all other hitchhiker inscriptions I have logged, I came upon his by intended accident. It was 1996 and it was in Texas. It was two days after Christmas. I, my wife and children, and Sadie, our black lab-mix were in Fort Worth visiting family for the holidays. This was the second year in a row we made the Nevada-to-Texas (NV-2-TX) road-round-trip. By my calculation, if we were to have done this a third time, such a seasonal journey could come under the heading of a holiday tradition.
Anyway, while hanging out at my brother-in-law’s house, and with everyone tangled up in some of those post-Christmas-rush blues, I figured I’d take advantage of the lethargy lying about the place and steal a few hours away to check the Dallas-Fort Worth freeway system for hitchhiker graffiti. The previous year I had done the same, driving the major east west routes of I-20 and I-30 cutting through, and a bit of the cowboy beltways cinched around, what they call back there the “Metroplex.” For all my efforts, I logged not one entry that year. And I was beginning to have a similar lack of success this visit, as well, as I ventured north on I-35W from Fort Worth toward Oklahoma on this particular morning after the morning after Christmas morning. It was becoming “metroperplexual” to me and I was beginning to think that, for some mysterious and purely Texian reason, no hitcher inscriptions were to be found on any of the dozen-numbered interstates within the confines of that six-flagged, single-starred, easternmost of the western states. Maybe because convicted hitchhiker graffiti writers got some sort of “capital letter punishment” for this most minor and innocuous of violations to Texas public property? Anyway, to borrow a sports statistics phrase, it crossed my mind that, for the second year in a row, I might be going “0-for-Texas” (0-4-TX) on my way toward yet another kind of singular Lone Star Christmas tradition.
The early morning sky was a low, dull mottle that appeared to grip the heavens like grey-white matting pressed into a clothes dryer lint trap. The farther it got from sun-up and more I distanced myself from Fort Worth, the colder and more bitter it became. Barely in the low twenties by the time I reached Denton--a town lying half way between the Metroplex and the watery Red River state line, and affectionately known locally as “Little d” being in the shadows of the big deal of Dallas–it was the morning after a cold front had quietly blanketed the prairie two days after a drenching rain. The air was a damp and icy calm; the kind that seems to settle in around and press a thick, sticky chill to you. Although I could plainly see steamy evidence of my breath as it left my body, and feel the frigid bite piercing into all my extremities the beating of my heart trying to pump warmth back into them, I needed no confirmation I was alive and living life. Regardless of how many layers you wear, gelid air like this has a way of seeping right through clothes and the skin and chilling right to the bone.
There is a type of weather condition known as a Robin Hood wind, which is defined as a particularly raw and piercing “thaw-wind” saturated with moisture scarcely above the freezing point. Named after Robin Hood who, it is said, claimed he could bear any cold except that contained in such a wind. Since there was little, if any, breeze that morning, perhaps what I was experiencing out on the roadside that Texas morning was something of a “Robin Hood dead calm” over which all the Texas flags were hanging still.
I had made maybe a half-dozen stops on I-35W on-ramps prior to reaching Denton, including checking an interchange underpass, and still no hitchhiker inscriptions were to be found. So, before succumbing to cold and pessimism and calling off the research hunt on this slushy-air morning and returning to my family, warm and snug at their Uncle Tommy’s house, I set a goal of pushing north at least to cross the Oklahoma state line. And Denton was right on the way to OK. Situated at the interclavicle of the wishbone-shaped I-35 road network that joins I-35E coming from Dallas to I-35W arcing up from Fort Worth, Denton is the interstate fusion point through which all long-distance DFW traffic funnels up to OKC and north to the states of the Great Plains. Based on what I found in Denton, perhaps the shape of this junction of roads resembles, more fittingly, a divining rod. After all, that day, December 27, happens to be the Feast of Saint John the Divine (that’s Divine, with a Big “D”).
At Denton, after having gotten off Exit 469–gliding down the exit ramp, stopping for the traffic light, shooting straight through the cross street of US-380--and then immediately zipping up the on-ramp acceleration lane ahead, I slowed down, shouldered off, and sidled up to the light pole. The surface of the south side of the pole was weathered away, revealing a greyish-red hue caused by what I surmised to be its metallic epidermal paint giving way to the rust-proofing primer pigment beneath. Perhaps this was the result of years of Robin Hood and his merciless winds buffeting the lamp post throughout the decades since its erection. Any graffiti which may have been applied to that side had long been obliterated by the time I arrived.
Preparing myself for the likelihood that the remainder of the pole would be equally vacant or weather-stripped of inscriptions, I crept the car up to get a rear view of the north side of the pole. Much to my surprise and relief, extending all the way up to the reachable lower half-dozen feet of this more silvery side of the aluminum cylinder, a tangled display of letters, words, lines, and symbols revealed itself to me. It seems I had hit something of a mother lode of messages, as if all the hitchhiker graffiti in all of the state of Texas had been channeled to and piled up at that one spot. The sense I had at that moment was of being at a crossroads of expressions and confessions overlying the dimensions of time and circumstance and the emotions of joy and angst all tied together at a common post marking a common point passed and marked on by faceless wayfarers heading in a common direction for a common purpose: to get the dickens out of Denton.
Amongst the almost three dozen inscriptions I gleaned from this two-toned pole out there on the outskirts of Denton that hoary-aired morning, were some that not only were interesting on their own merit, and a few that even were commingled with a serendipitous or cosmic or random set of circumstances. Which type of convergences these were, remains to be seen, felt, or elsewise sensed and sorted out. Of these, the one that captures my attention above all the others is a poem, the person who wrote it, and from where this self-described poet hung his hat. The entire inscription begins with the following statement:
S.R. Smith “The Poet” Emporia, Kan (last ride in a Cadillac) 400 miles to go Approx 20 hours to Wichita Fred Scharff and Kirk Vaalhies [sp?] split for Phoenix
With an arrow pointing up to it, this message was penciled on the pole at about chest-height. The thin-lined shaft of the long arrow was drawn down and twisted partly around the pole. Following this line to what I had expected would be just the fletched end of the arrow, instead there was a second arrow head attached to it, aiming at and directing my eyes toward this haunting poem:
Totalic the barbiturate Sleeps death Downer, Downer Sleep speed for breath Acid crawls for Fish or flesh Hashish lulls all Bangladesh O cocaine lushes or crystal hushes O spend your dimes for dime-bag rushes Pop top bottles of TNT I'd sooner cross the DMZ Or spill my guts for Viet Cong Then have you know that I am wrong I lie too well for you to see My gums are lined with STP
“Whoa!” was the response I had then, and is one I continue to have at this writing. Very few of the graffiti I have collected over the years have compelled me, upon reading it while standing out there on the roadside, to look all around to see if I was being watched by “someone” in a supernatural or paranormal or some other other-than-earthly or sixth or other uncommon sense. But, this certainly was one such inscription. And, there I was. Mostly just trying to figure out what some of the words were, acting more like a scrivener concerned with accuracy in transcription than a reader evaluating the composition and interpreting meaning of its contents. Even so, my cursory read of this rhyme left me more than bit startled. [Author’s Note: It’s the rare inscription like this one and the Robin Hood verses, above, that keep me searching highway on-ramps for more hitchhiker graffiti.]
Moving on past this powerful passage, I logged all the other messages I could pull out and pick from the spaghetti of illegible scrawl and faded scribbles and squiggles—thirty or more in all. To accomplish this required my alternately standing tall, stooping over, crouching down, then squatting nearly motionlessly with eyes darting, then scanning, then fixing, then darting once again first up, then down, then around the light pole as my gloveless hands turned numb from the cold as I rendered onto logbook paper what my eyes told me I was seeing. And, although the air was still, intermittent icy-wet sheets of air ripping off the hoods of passing cars and trucks--a Robin Hood wind, or perhaps in this case, a car hood wind--accelerating precarious feet from my static body tested my resolve to stand there and document, letter-by-letter and word-for-word, every inscription I was capable of deciphering. All the while, the words from this poem penned (or penciled) by, I presume, this SR Smith seemed to defiantly stare back at me and dare me to contemplate them.
On its own merit, line-for-line and image-by-image, this poem was provocative and disturbing enough. But that was not all there was to it. Not for me. Again, not that day.
Whether by grand design, random chance, or some other circumstance, this experience was heightened by a program airing on KERA-FM, the Dallas/Fort Worth public radio station my radio was tuned to as I got back into my mobile sanctuary there in Denton. Being interviewed was Paul Hendrickson, the author of the recently published book, The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996). As indicated by its title, the subject book focused on five individuals whose lives were directly affected by the Viet Nam War, and the short and long-term consequences of the conflict on them and their loved ones. A primary theme running through the book and the interview was Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense under President Johnson; McNamara the man, the captain of industry, the public servant, and the revelation of the apparent lies and deceptions he perpetrated on the American public with respect to his coming to understand that the Viet Nam War was unwinnable, and the ultimate tragic results of his not acting either on or in spite of this revelation.
I'd sooner cross the DMZ Than have you know that I am wrong I lie too well for you to see...
Whether the poem and the subject of the book being discussed on radio show had anything to do with each other, and/or if the hitchhiking poet who wrote the words had any insight into McNamara’s thought processes or even had him in mind at all when he composed or scrawled these lines, I cannot say. This may be an idea fetched from afar or from who knows where, who knows where? But is he the same as you and me if he digs poetry?
Under the conditions put forth in the poem and in the book being discussed on the radio show, it was impossible for me not to see this connection between them. So, how prophetic might it be that the song written in the style of Dylan–was it Bob Dylan or Dylan Thomas, whoever they were–from the 1966 Simon and Garfunkel album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, entitled A Simple Desultory Philippic and subtitled Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd into Submission!
'Neath the halo of a street lamp, I turned my collar to the cold and damp
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets Are written on the subway walls And tenement halls...”
To follow the theme of these lyrics, could not such prophetic words also be composed by hitchhiking poets--such as SR Smith--on road signs and street lamps at highway on ramps; and on the walls where thumbers, at night, out of sight, might crash ‘neath the shelter of an underpass in the shadows of the halo of the street lamp?
Inscription found on 2/21/98 on I-10 East Ehrenberg, AZ, Exit 1 on-ramp: Aletha + Mitch been here all night. Slept under the bridge. It's Sunday morning and we are sore We are going to SC Good luck to all who stop here and God bless you!
Inscription found on 8/24/96 on Cal-99 South, Merced, CA, at Downtown/R St on ramp: This place sucks When you read it I hope I'm not still waiting for a ride Zippo Looks like we're going to sleep here tonite again 7-83
Come and sit by my side if you love me Do not hasten to bid me bid me a-dieu But remember the Red River Valley And the cowboy who has loved you so true --Red River Valley, Traditional
Red Rover, Red Rover, Ain’t Nobody Coming Over, OK? As the radio interview with Robert McNamara came to an end, I pulled into the first truck-stop north of Denton. After racing to the restroom for relief, I got myself a cellophane-wrapped banana nut muffin and a 20-ounce Styrofoam cup filled with hot, black coffee to go before getting back in the van, petting and reassuring the dog, Sadie--my morning's companion--and continuing up I-35 toward Oklahoma. After checking and finding no graffiti on the poles up to the Red River, I turned off at Exit 504, the last exit in Texas, both to go down to the bank of the celebrated watercourse and to let Sadie relieve herself as I had afforded myself the opportunity at the truck stop a half muffin and some sips of coffee earlier.
After about ten minutes of walking through some light brush and crunching through fallen leaves, the intermittent din of the cars passing above on the I-35 bridge surrendered first to a low and then an increasingly louder and mysterious hum, until I spied downriver two Everglades-style airboats heading my way. As they got closer, I was able to make out that they were carrying men donning head-to-toe camo, each cradling some sort of firearm in his lap. Not being from them-there parts and unaware of what if any season it might be other than the “holiday” kind, and with it appearing and sounding like they might be slowing down the nearer they approached me for some unknown purpose, and with me already turning my collar to the even colder and the more damp at river’s edge than it was up above on the highway shoulders, and with me being just a little on edge anyway from the hitchhiker poem I had just logged and the radio broadcast I had heard, I thought it prudent and time that I just remember the Red River Valley mostly as I found it if those airboat cowboys—all gear, no steer—chose to come to rest by my side before hastening me to, without a trace of grace, leave behind only footprints and just a bit of my dog’s a-dieu. So back into the car I and Sadie climbed, fixing to head to Oklahoma.
Little did I know at the time, but it was just down the river--from whence those airboats had come--that back in 1931 there was an interstate dispute between Oklahoma and Texas known to fading history as the Red River Bridge War, the nexus of which being in and around the Red riverine and Texoma communities of Denison, Texas—perhaps the Texas’ “middle D,” and the birthplace of perhaps the “Biggest D“ of all: Dwight D., on whose 65th birthday I was born and for whom our entire interstate road system is named—and Durant, Oklahoma, which by not being in Texas I can only assume to be just a plain old “D” of an indeterminate magnitude. However, with respect to Durant and the matter of size, the city does claim to be the home of the world’s largest peanut—which in my estimation is equivalent to someplace also professing to have the world’s most jumbo shrimp.
Anyway, back to 1931. More a spat than any kind of a war--other than of harsh words and hard stare-downs between the governors of Oklahoma and Texas and their armed contingents of the National Guard and Rangers, respectively, amassed at their respective bank on either side of a new bridge over the Red River between Durant and Denison—this dispute was over bridge tolls and who owed what to whom and for whom the construction bills tolled. Actually, this bloodless conflict was even less a spat than a urination competition between the two governors during which the only thing that ran red was the river water. Nonetheless, it can be said that, at one time in 1931, the Red River crossing was a kind of DMZ, and that by my getting back on I-35 and going over the bridge from Texas to Oklahoma, rather than find out what if any interaction I might have had with that shotgun-packing airboat crew, as SR Smith had inscribed on the light pole back in Denton,
Curiously, and albeit only tangentially related, back in 2000, the same Errol Morris had developed a somewhat bizarre, compelling, and fascinating interview series starring far-lesser known, but no less complex, subjects than Secretary McNamara. This series, which aired on the Bravo cable TV network, was called First Person. This is only mentioned here because it coincidentally was paired up with another short-run Bravo documentary series called Talelights, hosted by news reporter Jay Schadler in which he hitchhiked around the country filming and interviewing the people who would stop to pick him up. Which brings the discussion back to the hitchhiker graffiti on the poles, and to the highwaymen and poets of the road.
SR Smith Goes to Kansas Admittedly, there is no proof that both inscriptions pointed to by the serpentine double-headed arrow on that I-35 light pole in Denton did, indeed, come from the hand and of the mind of “SR Smith, The Poet.” Such are the natures of graffiti. Much can be surmised about much of what is written, but without the author to explain, much is speculation. However, the logical assumption made here is that the arrow is evidence one author for both inscriptions. And as best as I can tell by my research to date, this untitled poem has never made it to any publication and, in searching the Internet, none of the many distinct and powerful lines comprising the poem have until now been posted on the information superhighway–only “lamp-posted” on the shoulder of the original US superhighway—Eisenhower’s Interstate.
So, the question is begged as to whether this poem could have been spontaneously inspired and simply flowed from a creative burst gushing directly from the mind to the hand of the poet with a pencil onto the light pole and was never meant for any eyes save those of the occasional hitchhikers who might happen to find themselves stranded and thumbing for rides in—of all places—Denton, Texas; and who might randomly or casually choose to look on the pole in the process and see and read this poem?
Whatever the case, the work of The Poet, SR Smith, which made about as much of an impression on me that day on a freeway radiating out from the Metroplex as, I reckon, the words of The PO8, Charles E. Boles, a.k.a. Black Bart, made on those who found his nose-thumbing rhymes meant for the Wells Fargo corporate management a century earlier on the dirt stagecoach roads radiating out from San Francisco. It just might not be clear whether Smith’s pole piece had anything at all to do with Robert McNamara, but it does at least to me. But, just as the legendary road agent-poet of an earlier time, Black Bart, left for his trackers and detractors to find his little ditties and digs to the champions of system he despised, so too has SR Smith, himself something of a “dark bard,” left us with at least this one rhyme of dope, death, and deception.
Boles was eventually caught—Robin Red-handed--and served prison time in Alcatraz for his crimes. After his release he slipped away into anonymity and historical speculation. Now, just who said wordsmith SR Smith, The Poet, might be, where he had been before making it to Denton, and why he would choose to write such a heavy rhyme on a light pole in such desolate environs is a mystery—also at least to me. He has, however, left us the following cryptic clues:
Emporia, Kan (last ride in a Cadillac) 400 miles to go Approx 20 hours to Wichita Fred Scharff and Kirk Vaalhies split for Phoenix
Smith evidently was impressed by having just been given a ride in a Cadillac. It makes one tangentially wonder if there had been a Dead Head, or even a Black Flag, sticker on it and if a voice inside his head suggested he not ever look back. Evidently, his experience was that drivers of Caddies and perhaps similar luxury cars were want to stop for hitchhikers. But at least one gave a poet a lift.
Whatever has happened to this hitchhiking poet? He (or she) does mention he was from Emporia, Kansas and was headed to Wichita. Looking ahead, he hopes to make 400 miles to Wichita in his estimated 20 hours—but does he and, if so, in some lesser or greater length of time? And Smith chose also to look back and document an interaction with a pair by the names of Fred and Kirk. But, what relationship or connection did Smith have with them to compel him to jot their names down in association with his, and where and when did those two split from him and head for Phoenix? Such is the transient existence of the hitchhiker and poet of the road and of the messages they leave behind.
If SR Smith completed this particular journey to Wichita or Emporia or whichever other destination he had in mind may never be known. I will assume he did. And it is Emporia, in addition to his being a hitchhiker as well as a self-proclaimed poet that connects him to the road, to highwaymen, and to Hermes—the Greek god of the roadways and other things (akin to the Roman’s Mercury). The word “emporia” (the plural of “emporium”) is also of Greek origin. There are ancient Mediterranean coastal and port cities which once bore derivations of this word in their names; including in Carthaginian North Africa, in Roman Spain, and in Greece proper. American towns in Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as the one in which it is assumed SR Smith hung his hat in Kansas, also bear one of these names. As a word, an “emporium,” in English, has come to be defined as a type store in which assorted merchandise is for sale. Following the route of this root definition back, the ancient towns were so called because they were trading communities. Back to the future, in the case of Kansas community, Emporia was founded in the 1850s with the hopes by the first fathers of it being successful in a similar mercantile and trading capacity.
Ultimately, the word emporia comes from the Greek emporion and emporos, which means traveler, trader, and merchant, and finally is derived from “en + poros” = “in” + “passage” or “on” + “journey.” Thus, although an emporium has come to be known as a place in which to purchase various and sundry items–a market of sorts–“emporia” were also “merchants who traveled”; in actual fact, “traveling salesmen.” Hermes, being the Greek god of the road and of commerce was also considered the patron of the traveling salesman.
With respect to all this, while some sources state that patron of the road and highwaymen, Hermes, was also the god of poets, most claim this was the role of his closest kin, Apollo. However, many sources propose that the Norse god, Odin (aka Woden), akin to the Greek Hermes, is in mythological fact the god of poets.
By no means to outdo or overshadow SR Smith’s poem, but simply to be noted here, I found two other rhymes that day on that light pole in Denton. Neither is compelling nor even very memorable or original in thought. But they are provided here merely for documentation and without poetic license.
Chuck was here That's no lie I've been here Since July
Juergen Daniel and Mark Brown Waited here too damn long! Everyone who passes by better fucking throw a rod For they can just suck our dong From Venice, CA
Both of these “poems” are reminiscent of public restroom graffiti–known to folklorists, anthropologists (anthro-apologists?), and others who study this form of expression as latrinalia, after the word “latrine”; the basic format of which is also well known to anyone who ever has used a public toilet; so, basically anyone who can read. But, while the above rhymes are written in the manner of what one might expect to find among other graffiti in a public bathroom, these are written from the unique slant of circumstance only seen from the eyes of a stranded thumber. Perhaps the study of this distinctive hybridization of hitchhiker-bathroom poetry and other graffiti can be classified and thus coined here as latroadalia (“lat-road-alia”)?
There were also, out there on the light pole on I-35 in Denton, many other messages of various kinds, all of which I logged down and took with me as I crossed into Oklahoma and as far as the Marietta interchange about fifteen miles in before turning back. Aside from that pole in Denton, I found not another legible hitchhiker message either up a few exits into OK or back down I-35 to Fort Worth. So, maybe all the messages in Texas were, in fact, piled up in Denton after all. With the volume of traffic funneling north and fanning south through Denton from much of the eastern, southern, and western parts of the state, perhaps this spot was something of a lint trap for hitchhiker graffiti. In any case, I was 0-for-TX no more. So, for me so far with respect to hitchhiker graffiti, Texas is now the Lone Pole State.
As a side note to all this comes the following pairing of hitchhiker messages I found on a light pole—not that day in Denton, Texas, but on July 12, 1999, at the I-5 North on-ramp at the State Route 41 interchange in Kettleman City; an isolated, desolate corner of central California, as noted by this excerpt from Wikipedia,
With that, these graffiti embody the spirit of Hermes in regard to gifts left by travelers at herms and, following in their paths, needy travelers accepting such gifts left by one who came before; all intertwined with the poetry of the road written in “latroadalia” style standing out in open isolation in a desolate place, such as Kettleman City.
For you who read these words of wit Better get ready for a little sit and what to do with idle time Maybe have a drink of wine Under yonder board it does lay I hope it will comfort your stay
It was good wine
The “It was good wine” statement apparently was the response of a later hitchhiker who must have seen the poem and, presumably, found and partook of the gift of the fruit of the vine left behind by a preceding thumber. If so, it could well be speculated that Hermes joined the latter in spirit and exclaimed by a close compadre of Hermes, Dionysus, with the Greek toast, “Yamas!”
Back to the Hood Finally, back to Robin Hood and the Monk. While not inscribed on the light pole at the Denton, Texas, I-35 on-ramp, come these three related verses near the end of the ballad,
Verses 78 through 80 of Robin Hood and the Monk: Thus John gate Robyn Hode out of prison, Thus (Little) John got Robin Hood out of prison, Sertan withoutyn layn; Certainly without lie he had; Whan his men saw hym hol and sounde, When his men saw him whole and sound, For sothe they were full fayne. Forsooth they were very glad.
They filled in wyne and made hem glad,They filled up on wine and made him glad Under the levys smale, Under the leaves so small in the vale, And yete pastes of venyson, And ate pasties of venison That gode was with ale.That was very good with ale.
Than worde came to oure kyng The word came to our King How Robyn Hode was gon, How Robin Hood was gone And how the scheref of Notyngham And how the Sheriff of Nottingham Durst never loke hym upon. Does never look him upon.
And with respect to wine and the hitchhiker, at the same Cal-99 South (Merced, CA, at Downtown/R St) on-ramp mentioned above, I logged,
Fredd Herb and Red Wine Tour 82 Thus are the elusive highwaymen and women and the poets of the road…..L’chaim