What a load of horseshit. This proves absolutely nothing and SHAME ON VANITY FAIR FOR PUBLISHING THIS LOAD OF NONSENSE. I have copied and pasted the entire Vanity Fair article (go ahead an click that link if you think I'm being less than honest or leaving things out) and have highlighted and numbered the things with which I take issue. Here it is. Go ahead, read it.
It started out simple, as these things often do. A short scene in Wild, in which Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) encounters a reporter who says he is from something called the Hobo Times, had grabbed my interest. Did the article ever appear in the publication? What is the Hobo Times even? Is there a playful, alternate version of Strayed’s tale potentially hidden in the weathered pages of an old magazine?
I first came to Strayed’s story in her memoir Wild, published in 2012. Having lost my father to cancer when I was 23, the story of Strayed’s hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, in the wake of her own mother’s death, moved me. Many of the toughest parts of Strayed’s book are part of Wild on-screen, but I was tickled to see that the unexpected, sweet exchange with the Hobo Times reporter made the cut in the film as well. I had to know if this colorful character was even aware that he'd made it to the page and screen, and I wanted to re-unite him with the woman he met on that California highway 20 years ago.
In both the film and the book, the reporter wrote down Strayed’s first and last name, snapped a photo of her (1), gave her a hobo care package containing beer, an individually packaged cigarette, canned beans, and various other items, and told her to “look for his piece . . . in the fall issue of the Hobo Times (2).” In the book, Strayed called the man Jimmy Carter; in reality, she told me, he said his name was Jerry Brown—she maintained the spirit of the original California politician by swapping it with that of a nationally known one. She looked for him, along with the issue of the Hobo Times in which she might have appeared, while writing Wild, but had no luck at the time. “I sort of assumed that he never wrote the piece,” said Strayed. “Because I kept having to say, ‘I’m not really a hobo,’ I think he believed me that I was hiking the P.C.T. (3)"
A copy of the Hobo Times is not exactly easy to find. The magazine—known as “America’s Journal of Wanderlust”—was published about six times a year from 1987 through early 2000, as a supplement with a membership to the National Hobo Association. It has almost no online presence, save a few personal blogs from affiliated N.H.A. members. With the help of several libraries, eBay, and the Hobo Museum, I found nearly every edition from 1995 and 1996—none of them mentioning Strayed or Jerry Brown (4).
Many of the Hobo Times writers penned articles under pseudonyms (some examples: ‘No Bail’ John, Guitar Whitey, Fatcar Frank, Connecticut Shorty)—better known as “road names,” “road flags,” or “road monikers”—which meant Jerry Brown could’ve been the reporter’s real name, road name, or a spur-of-the-moment improvisation. Lucky for me, the founder of the N.H.A. and director of the Hobo Times used his real name, and Bobb Hopkins turned out to be the easiest person to locate in the process—he’s a film actor, writer, director, and producer credited on IMDB and has a production company called Super Chief Films.
When I spoke with Hopkins (road name “Santa Fe Bo”), I only knew the name that Strayed gave the writer in Wild, and Hopkins didn’t recall any Hobo Times writers called Jimmy Carter, or a story about a woman who fit Strayed’s description. (In the end, he found no record of a Jerry Brown, either.) (5) “I would remember a story like that—especially from a female out on a journey like that,” Hopkins said. “As founder of N.H.A., I was hands-on with every issue and don't recall that type of article.” When Hopkins located a copy of the elusive Fall 1995 edition, in which Strayed most likely would have appeared, he confirmed it: “No mention of ‘Jimmy Carter’ or a solo female hiker,” he e-mailed me. (6)
What Hopkins did remember was a car like the one described in Wild—a silver Chrysler LeBaron packed to the windows with newspapers, books, and clothes—that belonged to his brother-in-law, Bob “Itchy Foot” Stetson. “He owned a LeBaron—it wasn’t silver, it was like a cream color,” Hopkins explained. “And I remember when my niece first read the book she called and said, ‘Oh my God, Uncle Bobb, there’s a piece in here about the Hobo Times and that may be my dad.’ . . . He was a real character. He lived in California . . . he did travel around and he did pick up a lot of hitchhikers." (7)
Stetson passed away in 2010 at the age of 65 (8), but Hopkins’s aforementioned niece, Jennifer Fellows, was happy to fill in the blanks. An infant-well-being consultant and mother of three who will soon be relocating to her native California (she grew up in Woodland Hills), Fellows is certain that Strayed’s “Jimmy Carter” was her father. “I know it was my dad. It’s not even a question to me,” she said. (9) Back in 2012—when Strayed’s memoir was first released—her sister’s friend reached out, saying, “You’re never gonna believe this, there’s this book called Wild and your dad is in it!” Fellows and her siblings thought the description was spot on—she even posted an excerpt to Facebook at the time, which garnered a strong reaction from friends and family.
“He never used his real name, so when I read [in Wild] that it said ‘Jimmy Carter,’ I was totally laughing —he had so many nicknames!” Fellows said. “I know that there’s only so many writers for Hobo Times, and of all of them he’s the only one that drove a light-colored Chrysler LeBaron.”
Plenty of other things matched up—the description of his unkempt hair, the newspapers in the backseat, even the items in his “hobo care package.” While reading aloud Strayed’s list of its contents, Fellows interrupted me at, “six butterscotch candies in translucent gold wrappers,” exclaiming, “That’s my dad! That’s him! I choked on one when I was little—he always had those!” (10)
Stetson also worked in real estate and often traveled throughout California, so his meeting with Strayed more than 500 miles north of his home would check out. Fellows suspects her father likely saw much of his daughter in the young hiker—and would’ve reacted in similarly protective fashion to Strayed’s description of Jimmy Carter (11). “When I first heard about it, I was excited for her that she got to meet him,” said Fellows. “Obviously vice versa, because she’s pretty amazing—but when I was first thinking, Oh, that was totally him! I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so glad it was him and not some other creepy guy that could’ve been out there.’”
I sent Strayed a picture of Stetson given to me by Fellows, who described her father as looking like Jack Nicholson. “The Jack Nicholson comparison really strikes a chord with me,” Strayed responded. “The floppy brown hair. And this picture you sent looks very familiar. I think it’s him! The smile is what I remember the most in looking at this shot.” (12)
Even more important, though, Strayed says, is how the people who knew Stetson reacted to the book. “I also think it’s very compelling that various people who knew Bob Stetson thought it was him when they read the book,” she explained. (13) “I’ve had that experience with other people in the book, too—Doug Wisor (who died seven years after we hiked), for example. Many of his old friends from high school and college have written to me to say that they felt I portrayed him so much the way they remembered him and many of them recognized him even before they realized I was actually writing about “their Doug." Maybe the people who knew Bob are right and it was him since they think it was (i.e., it seemed like him to them).” (14)
When I told Fellows of my possible discovery, she was effusive. “I cried on my way to work this morning," she wrote. "My parents were so amazing. I miss them every day. My dad deserves to be talked about . . . he was so unique.” (15) Strayed's trek, taken in the wake of her mother’s death, had re-united a daughter with her father, years after his passing.
And how would Stetson have felt about his portrayal in Wild? “My dad would’ve loved the book,” (16) said Fellows. “He was such an adventurer and outdoorsman, and even far before he got cancer, he just really lived life to the fullest and he didn’t wait until he got sick to start living like that—he always lived like that.”
1. ...except there is no record of this and no photo.
2. ...except oh, hey, there was never a piece about her in the fall issue.
3. "I think he believed me that I was hiking the PCT." = something liars say.
4. Well, hey, would you look at that. No mention of Cheryl Strayed written in an article by Jerry Brown or Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or Charles Manson or Elvis. That's so weird! No mention of Cheryl!
5. No record of Cheryl and no record of anyone named Jerry Brown. NO RECORD. Cheryl says that the man's name was Jerry Brown. No record of him, though. Huh.
6. Hey, look at that! Again! No record of Cheryl or her mysterious interviewer!
7. Holy shit, this lady's dad had the same car and lived in California, that's all the proof we need!
8. Damn the bad luck, the guy who supposedly interviewed Cheryl died and can't confirm dick.
9. Oh, well, that's enough for me! She *just knows it,* huh? BLAM. FACTS JUST HAPPENED.
10. That seals it up, must have been him. I don't even know what butterscotch candies are! Who's heard of those?! Not me, that's for sure! He must have been the only person in California to have butterscotch candies! I mean, his daughter almost choked to death on one! What more proof do you need??? (My friend, April, said something delightful about this: "So, her dad made it a point to always have on hand the candy his daughter once choked on? Nice.")
11. Let's just make shit up now because he's dead and can't confirm anything!
12. Holy shit, CHERYL JUST CONFIRMED EVERYTHING. OBVIOUSLY TRUE.
13. Who are these "various people," exactly?
14. Well, fuck, people *think* it was him, must have been him. FACTS HAPPEN AGAIN.
15. "My dad is dead and I liked him and junk, so here's the perfect opportunity to make him famous for something he didn't do because he was good enough and smart enough and doggone it, people liked him."
16. SHUT THE FUCK UP.
(Let's not forget that the article's author, Katie Calautti, went through her very own dead-parent drama and clearly just loves Cheryl and her stupid book.)
Okay, everybody. Your turn. Do your worst.