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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Trying to name the painter or graphic artist who best expressed the hippie spirit makes for an interesting exercise.

Robert Indiana’s LOVE, of course, is iconic. But the remainder of his output, as much as I enjoy it, is tightly rendered, as we’d say. Hardly the free-flowing roundness that so separated the feminine awareness of hippie counterculture from the Bauhaus precision of the earlier cutting-edge high culture.

Peter Max has the color and imagery befitting the new era but strikes me in retrospect as formulaic or even commercial. Where’s the depth?

Mark Rothko I’ll mention for his cool, mysterious Zen meditations, but I’d say he’s more from the earlier beat phase of bohemian vision. Not that I don’t return to his artwork often.

And then? Well, twist your expectations. Not to the art gallery or public sculpture but the street.

The Fillmore posters commissioned by Bill Graham faithfully advance the vision, and it’s significant that they also reflect the movement’s primary artistic medium – music, as in rock concerts. The series’ major graphic artists – Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, among others – remain largely unknown, no matter how widely recognized their work remains. Or how amazing and still inspiring.

And then we have R. Crumb’s comics. Seen with the right substance, his panels turned 3-D and unbearably hilarious. Seen straight, they’re still sharp and on target. Let’s not overlook his Keep On Truckin’ mantra, either.

So here I was, trying to draft my big hippie novel. I had a mental image, the Subway Hitchhiker, but the material was becoming overwhelming. It was taking me too long to get him to the tracks, too. I wanted a short and sweet novel, but I didn’t want to lose all the rest of the story, either.

Somehow, though, I decided to start with the finale. (Or what was the finale until I recently began drafting a new final novel – one that stretches forward to the present and backward to the beginning of the 1900s. More on that when and if it’s ever ready.) And that’s the book published as Subway Hitchhikers.

I wanted it to have a light, airy, playful feeling. One of wonder, flight, and discovery in a turbulent time.

As I revised to that end, I came to deepening appreciation for the combines, assemblages, and prints of Robert Rauschenberg. He’d already come to prominence a generation before the hippies, but he was on the right side of the Vietnam war protests and much more. What I especially admired was the fast-moving clash of imagery – even a feeling of afterimage – moving across and out from his canvases and paper. His work was based in news dispatches and the litter of a materialistic society but magically transformed into dance and divine utterance. He was content to leave bold splashes seemingly unfinished – this is a flash, not perfected as we’d expect. And it was liberating, often filled with light air … as in white spaces.

Well, I aimed for something similar. As for the clashes, I settled on alternating some chapters in a then/now/then sequence like subway trains passing on parallel rails.

Hope the novel, too, expresses a spirit of the time. And continues to do so.

Care to ride?Subway_Hitchhikers~*~

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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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In a generation that vowed its sexual relationships would not repeat what it saw in its parents, a couple’s journey began with a shared promise. But what if their words held differing expectations and meanings? In my novel, in the initial attraction of opposites, Jaya and Eric soon leap from his small town in the Midwest and head, via the Ozarks, to their promised land in the Pacific Northwest only to find themselves living in an orchard surrounded by desert. Building a life together is more challenging than they ever anticipated, especially in the face of their rapidly changing situations. Living up to their promise becomes a spinning compass in their faces. Can they learn from their mistakes and regain direction? The clock is running throughout my novel Promise.


PromiseTo learn more about my novel, go to my page at


The fabric of communities across America has been shaped and informed by the local newspaper. Even before the arrival of online editions, these daily journals were under stress on multiple fronts, beginning with owners who were bleeding the profits rather than reinvesting in the future. Idealistic reporters, photographers, and editors who saw all the potential for growth were constantly clipped by the demands of the bottom line. Can democracy survive without a healthy press? My Hometown News novel looks at what could have happened – and is happening – both ways.



To learn more about my novel, go to my page at