So how did we get here? In this mess?

I’d have to say we’ve had a lot of missed connections. Or trains that jumped the tracks. And folks who stepped on that fatal third rail.

I hear echoes, too, of the straight-laced professor arguing we’d been living New Testament ideals, but would have to add, We ran away from the Cross, when it mattered.

Not that any of that quite surfaces in my Subway Hitchhikers novel.

All I can say is it’s been a wild ride from being a wide-eyed youth then to my station today.

No reason we can’t still share part of the journey. Some of the best parts, actually. Return again and again for a token of inspiration. Or reminders of ways we might finally get it right. Now let us play …



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Forget the office towers, exclusive boutiques, world-class symphonies and operas, museums and galleries. Nothing defines a great metropolis as much as a subway. Consider the cities that have them: London, Paris, New York, Moscow, and so on … Then consider the remainder. Underground, you’ll see the collective psyche of a people and place ride.

For many individuals, a metropolis becomes a destination, a nexus where dreams play out. In its locus of massive power, culture, glamour, and wealth, not everyone enjoys all the benefits, a fact one cannot avoid noticing in the subway. In the tunnels appear the price tags of the social machine – the city itself – extracts from many whose labors make it function.

Perhaps it’s simply that ancient lure of adventure – the call of the open road and countryside beyond – that gave hitchhiking and its distant cousin, bumming the tracks, their timeless Gypsy appeal. Nothing symbolized freedom more than riding the rails as a hobo or flying down the highway in the company of colorful kindred spirits. Combining subway rails and hitchhiking, moreover, as I did in one novel, re-creates a time of collision, an era that encompasses the late Sixties through early 1990s.

The conflict – between old and new, past and present, limitations and desires, the given and the dreamed – is that of a generation attempting to live simultaneously in the countryside (the back-to-the-earth movement) and in the metropolis (Bright Lights, Big City). It’s the struggle of a generation that wanted to have its cake and eat it, too – only to discover there’s no such thing as a free ride forever.

It’s ultimately a metaphor of the search for meaning in this era, station by station leading into the vast universe before arriving in an unexpected and yet nearly familiar place of communion.

Adapted from Third Rail
copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson


In getting from one place to another, some opportunities are overlooked or missed entirely. We speak to one person but not another. Or slight one, perhaps unintentionally. A shortcut misses a more scenic, memorable route. We’re just too pressed for time to do otherwise.

The three sections of Third Rail –perhaps more short stories or flash fiction than outright novellas? – return mostly to my earlier fiction while adding their own twists. There’s the deadly third rail of subway tracks, naturally, along with lost lovers and buddies. The bohemian stream of awareness. Always in the background, the hitchhiker or dreamer.

It’s a flight, then, through recent history. Along with an invitation to ride along.

Third Rail 1


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One lingering question is just when did the hippie movement end – at least in the phase everyone considers.

No, it wasn’t the end of the ’60s. The movement really boomed in the early ’70s.

You might peg it to the end of the Nixon administration. Or the end of the military draft.

I’m more like to say December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was assassinated in Manhattan.

On a more personal note we might consider the time when we stopped hitchhiking as well as the time we stopped picking up hitchhikers.

Let me explain.

At first, hitchhiking was dangerous – and exciting. You never knew, either, whether you’d ever get a ride or just be left standing there. (Me, middle of Montana, summer 1970.) Or whether something nasty might happen.

And then came the stretch where everybody did it. It was a free-rolling party. The unwritten rule was you had to share something in reciprocation to the driver. You know, the old ass-grass-or-ass mantra. What I’ll cite as my introduction to trail gorp from the first Mennonite I’d met.

Somewhere, though, something turned ugly. A few hitchers began to think drivers owed them a ride and cursed those who passed by. Bad karma. And then a few you picked up were just scary. I mean really scary, and rather incommunicado. For me that was the summer of ’73 going into early ’74. It just wasn’t worth the risk, and it wasn’t any fun.

At its zenith, hitchhiking was largely a rural practice. The cities – especially the large metropolitan areas – could be tricky. Not everyone was cool. And not everyone could be trusted. So I was told.

Actually, much of the hippie movement had migrated to the countryside and college campus communities to escape a lot of the big city hassles, especially those of the authorities. But the inner city or bohemian urban enclaves still provided a lot of the action. It seemed to me that hippie wanted to go in two separate directions. One thing was clear, and that was the suburbs just weren’t included.

And so I wound up working with the metaphor of the Subway Hitchhiker. Beating the system you were using. Riding free … and freely. Seeing the world around you magically transformed.

As it turns out, even this fantasy vision would have a limitation in time.

The underground rails turned ugly after that. Not just the overwhelming graffiti, either – the assaults and other crimes proliferated.

And then the homeless – the ones who came to be known as the Mole People – began living in the permanently dark, secret recesses of the tunnels. Things became really scary, if you weren’t careful or couldn’t read the signals.

One thing for certain: the rails have recovered – and I find them fun, even at rush hour (admittedly, it’s because I’m just a visitor rather than a daily commuter).

And my novel remains a souvenir of that earlier jubilation – maybe you want to look at its short chapters as postcards.


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The Author regrets the number of gimmicks necessary in telling this story. It would be much easier if he merely told you that Duck was a Leo, Miso an Aries, and Luma a lowly Aquarian. Some readers, however, would be angered by such generalizations. Besides, there wouldn’t be much story left.

The Author would rather be telling a realistic, socially relevant muckraker dealing in human misery and raw political force than to relate a few fairy tales for adults, but one cannot always control destiny. This is the story that emerged; you may either accept it or stop reading.

The Author had hoped that Rolling Stone might first publish the work serially, the way The New Yorker launched J.D. Salinger earlier. Writing puts one in curious time warps. As he writes this, the Author knows he will look back on it someday, possibly even to see his dreams fulfilled. As he retypes it, a decade after its first draft, many things have already changed. He once envisioned Straight Arrow Books embossed on his book; now he wouldn’t let them touch it.

100_9848As he looks back, he sees that once thinly veiled events are now totally fictionalized as the abstractions have far outrun the prompting.

Past/present/future all within the fantasy of this moment of keyboarding. An old man in a baggy gray coat and black shoes and black slacks and old-man baggy hat walks down the street; as he smokes a pipe, the phantom becomes the Author in 50 years. Except that now, in the lapse of decades, the Author would not touch a pipe or cigar, either.

These things move one page at a clip.


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100_9850Dear Reader:  Are you aware that this is a social protest novel? Have you delineated the symbolism running through construction? Can you guess the antecedent novels that most influenced the Author in his quest of the Muse? What form will his next opus assume? Will he learn from his mistakes? Does he even perceive them? Will he renounce writing? Who will turn this into his next movie? What music will be selected to amplify it?

Please clip and mail to the Author. Your comments are always appreciated.

Thank you.

The Author.


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The Author indulges in megalomania, perchance?


What we have here is quite amazing. What Jnana has done to subways and, for that matter, rail transportation in general parallels what Melville did more than a century earlier to whales. (Both, we might add, are dying species.) Perhaps, more fittingly, what Brautigan did for trout fishing. Except that this work is more like a rock’n’roll or War and Peace containing a surrealistic focus. It’s hardly a slender volume of whimsy. It moves forward in strobic flashes a series of fantastic snapshots detail piled upon detail through its hundreds of vignette chapters, progressing through dwelling places more and more removed from society in general reflecting the pilgrim’s increasingly antisocial frame of mind, even as he becomes increasingly social within ever smaller communities until the reader finds himself in a bizarre farmhouse somewhere in New England.


Then, when the anticipation of subways from the title becomes unbearable, Jnana drops his reader into the heart of the work, a journey that occupies all too little of the volume; he engineers a conceptual art that even Cristo would envy. In the end, this is an encyclopedia of the Sixties and Seventies a pilgrimage many began and few completed. Remarkably, Jnana pulls it off with few, if any references, to the standard landmarks of the times: the litany of the Dallas and Memphis assassinations, LBJ or Nixon, Agnew or Clean Gene McCarthy. This is an inward journey, friend. If you wondered what happened to Hitchhiking in America, expect some answers.


Well, that’s how it looked briefly, before I broke the story out into the four novels of my Hippie Trails series. Meanwhile, please pardon my inflated self-esteem from the past. It was all too nice while it lasted … and reality set in.