My project, The Nikon Kidd, didn't begin because I wanted to be a photographer, or because I wanted to tell stories - It was nothing like that.
I started traveling because it was my only option. I had to get out of small town Arkansas and "see the world". Like many millennials, I grew up believing I could do anything I wanted. I wanted to learn computer programming, and I did. I did very well in college, until my friends started graduating and struggling to find jobs. The ones who did find jobs were at abusive companies, working long hours for too little pay. Everywhere I looked, my peers were coming to realize that the jobs they had been promised were gone. Their unhappiness was discouraging and I felt like I was wasting time and money. The recession wasn't kind to my hometown in Arkansas. I dropped out and began stocking shelves at Walmart for minimum wage.
It was this experience that motivated me to leave. I worked the night shift, from 10pm - 7am. It was hard work and thankless. I was contributing nothing to society and making barely enough money to get to work and back. I was getting nowhere in life.
I've never been one to stay still. I bought an old van, saved up my money and hit the road. Eventually my van broke down and I began hitchhiking. Along the way I kept meeting the most interesting people. I met Art, "King of the Buskers" in Springfield Missouri, and Abby the Spoonlady in North Carolina. I decided to begin documenting the people who, like me, decided to live unconventional lives. Vagabonds, tramps, hobos, hitchhikers, vandwellers, and the like.
Over time, I became known as The Nikon Kidd, in reference to great vagabond photographer "The Poloroid Kid." My work has been published by The Plaid Zebra and Matador and I've been interviewed by Newsweek.
One day I'll have enough interviews for a book. Until then, enjoy the stories here.
Can I take your picture?
Do you have a dollar?
Well, do you need one?
Why do you pick up hitchhikers?
I made a vow to myself and the world. That vow is to treat others the way I would like to be treated. Also it was about to rain and I didn't want you to be stuck in Knoxville.
Before I got my first car I used to hitchhike everywhere. Man, I did a lot of hitchhiking, but after my second year of college I got my first car, a Mustang.
I was very happy. I've never been as thin or as fit as I was then, since I was either walking or riding my bike everywhere.
ince I'd done all this hitchhiking, I thought it was my karmic duty to return the favors and pick up hitchhikers. This was back in the early to mid seventies, when hitchhiking was accepted and everyone did it. I picked up a lot of hitchhikers. There were a couple I picked up that I wished I hadn't, but nothing bad ever happened. Everybody was fine and I met a lot of cool people.
One day I picked up this really harmless looking young kid.
He got in the car and he pulled a gun on me.
I was carjacked before it became fashionable.
He wanted my wallet and it was well worth his while. I just cashed a check and I was on my way to pay my landlord with $300 cash on me. He had a good day.
He told me that he didn't really want my car. He was just going to take it because he needed a getaway. I was trying to engage him in conversation because I thought if I could keep him talking he might not shoot me. I don't know how I thought of this, but I asked him to park it next to a fire hydrant. He did, and it got towed the next day. I got the car back. If he'd parked it in some apartment complex, it'd still be there today.
He was the most harmless looking kid I'd ever seen, but he had a big gun.
After that experience, I figured I'd paid it forward enough and stopped picking up hitchhikers. Today when I see hitchhikers on the road, I acknowledge them and am sympathetic to them, but unless I know them, I don't pick them up.
Why do you pick up hitchhikers?
We've both hitchhiked before and I feel it's important to open up, not necessarily just to trust people, but to show that, especially in the Southeast, we're not backwards hicks.
Abby is a famous "mother hobo" and busker. I asked her if she had any advice for the currect generation of trainhoppers:
Quit being stupid
What's something you've learned since you started traveling?
People are kind of the same everywhere. There are different accents and more of certain kinds of people, but for the most part the world is occupied by really nice people
I was on a train. It was one of the ones with the three big holes on the bottom. I asked my buddy for rolling papers to roll a cigarette. He leaned back and went through the hole. He was gone, just like that.
One night I was on a ride with 20 kids all on top of a boxcar drinking, having fun and singing. In the morning four of them were gone. We lost four kids that night out there in Arizona. That's why I got this (four dots tattooed).
It really does change your mentality. You start to think about how dangerous it is. People think we get by for free, but honesty we pay dearly for this. We pay with our lives.
That's why now I won't travel with anyone who doesn't know what they're doing. Because now I'm responsible for that person's life. What if something happens?