Forced into the light by a recent murder, a transient community starts talking.
On June 18, according to Jeff Moran, spokesperson for the Health Department, Tim Bradly was found dead from "multiple blunt force injuries" to his face and head on the roof of Paradise City, a derelict squatter apartment complex at 49th and Locust streets.
The murder attracted a flurry of media coverage, with most accounts describing the victim and the others involved as gutter punks, crusties, anarcho-punks, modern-day hobos and train hoppers.
But there was little explanation of the subculture that has its roots in the anarchist punk movement of the late '70s and the hobo culture of the Great Depression. What was known was what they looked like--white kids dressed in genuinely distressed punk clothes--and where and when they surfaced--in Center City and parts of West Philly every spring.
Though it's now well into summer, these mostly young people, darkened from dirt and the sun, can still be seen in Center City, begging with cardboard signs boasting of their cross-country travels. They sit on sidewalks and in Rittenhouse Square in groups of three or four or five, sometimes accompanied by dogs. Most consider themselves punk hobos.
But there's a lot more to the punk hobo story than what the typical office worker can grasp during lunch on a Center City sidewalk. And now, thrust into the spotlight by last month's murder, many in this usually tight-lipped community are at last ready to talk.
Steve-O and Marc hang outside Five Guys, the burger joint on the 1500 block of Chestnut Street, "spanging," or panhandling.
Steve-O, 35, walks up to a couple of attractive women and fixes them with a nervous 1,000-yard stare.
"I haven't got used to being around normal people," he says later, explaining that he just got out of jail.
He hits the women with his killer line: "You guys ever have sex in an alley?"
As they walk away, he says, "It's awesome."
Steve-O and Marc, 23, are spangers, seasoned train hoppers and--in their own words--"modern-day hobos."
|Pebbles with Iris the dog.|
Immigrants are not a zombie invasion
PW's Fall Guide 2014