Review: The Last Professional

The Last Professional, Ed Davis. Tijeras, NM: Artemesia Publishing, 2022.

Summary: A young man trying to find the tramp who assaulted him as an adolescent catches a freight and meets an old hobo running from a killer and the two form a friendship around the lure of riding the freights.

Lyndon works as a gifted programmer at a California tech firm in the early ’80’s. When an obnoxious boss attempts to sexually assault him, something snaps. He eludes the man, quits his job and hops a freight at the Roseville yard. It’s not the first time. The last was fifteen years ago as a twelve year old when “The Tramp” pulled him aboard the freight stopped behind his home as it started up. He’d seen and talked to him many times, a substitute for the father who had abandoned him. But this time was different–he was assaulted for two weeks. The author captures his ambivalence–someone who paid attention but forced himself upon him. He remembered his smell, and the distinctive, fist-shaped buckle he wore. Then he literally dumped him. But “The Tramp” never left him. And when he hops the train, he begins to wonder if he can find “The Tramp” and. . . .

Lyndon discovers he’s not alone. There’s an old hobo on the train–calls himself The Duke. Where Lyndon is trying to find someone, The Duke is running from someone. Someone from his past. He’d barely escaped him in the Colton jungle (the encampment of hobos), when Short Arm left another man dead. He was there when Short arm that name–a arm lost in a train accident–and The Duke left him for dead. Short Arm doesn’t leave anyone alive who crosses him, including two of The Duke’s friends who lie about The Duke’s whereabouts. Their paths crisscross throughout the book and The Duke knows Short Arm will find him. It’s only a matter of time

Lyndon (now nicknamed “Frisco Lyndy”) and The Duke travel, The Duke orienting him to the life of a hobo. He’s a “Profesh,” one of the last of a breed, with a code of his own and a knowledge of every yard, jungle, and good place to eat cheaply in the country. He schools Lyndon on eluding the “bulls,” the yard security, and the ins and outs of riding every kind of car and how to avoid getting killed. More than that, they just talk about life, and the draw of the freights. The Duke tells him, “These freights let you ride. They don’t let you go.”

“These freights let you ride. They don’t let you go.”

Ed Davis, The Last Professional

They talk about the man Lyndon is trying to find and the man The Duke is running from. The belt buckle identifies The Tramp as a Johnson, a group of outlaw hobos that one has to kill someone to be part of. Short Arm is also a Johnson. The Duke, partly out of protectiveness, suggests that the two couldn’t be the same person. Short Arm is the last of the Johnson’s. But Lyndon wonders. And at any rate, he won’t abandon The Duke. The Duke is the only man who hasn’t abandoned or hurt him.

In some ways, this is the railroad equivalent of Kerouac’s On The Road. The two get into scrapes and adventures as they cross the country. What separates it from Kerouac is two things. One is the friendship that forms between these two men, and the other is that Davis captures for us the hobo’s life. The narrative is broken up with numbered “Tracks” (e.g. Track #10) that are conversations on various subjects from our illusions of safety to sex to death.

Ed Davis has served up a story that builds to a powerful ending, an unusual friendship between a younger and older man, and a description of a life that is mostly in the historical past (though this article suggests there are still a few riding the rails). The illustrations by Colin Elgie both fit and created the images formed by the story in my head. I had a tough time putting it down.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Last Professional

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: March 2022 | Bob on Books

  2. Pingback: Bob on Books Best of 2022 | Bob on Books

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