Bud is still asleep under the Christmas trees at the library when he hears the sound of someone stepping on a stick. Someone is sneaking up on him. Bud thinks that he can feel two eyes staring real hard at him, and he knows they’re not critter eyes. They’re the kind of eyes that can make the hair on the back of his neck raise up the way only “human bean eyes” can do. He pulls his jack knife out carefully with the intention of pulling the blanket back and stabbing whoever is above him. Suddenly, the intruder jumps on top of him, but Bud is able to begin pulling his arm back to stab him. Only the voice saying, “If you ain’t a kid called Bud from the Home I’m really sorry about jumping on you like this.” Bud knows it’s Bugs. Bugs explains that everyone at the Home knew about Bud’s knife and how well he could use it, so he jumped on him to make sure he could stop the knife until he could identify himself. Bud also realizes then that Bugs is on the lam as well. Bugs explains that he’s going back to riding the rails, and when the Home heard that Bud had beaten up the son of his foster family, he figured his friend would be somewhere near the library and came looking for him to go along. Bugs answers all of Bud’s many questions about riding the rails, and then, they each spit on their hands and rub their palms together to seal the deal as brothers. Then, they go to the mission to get information about the running of the trains.
The two boys find out that they’ll have to go to a city called Hooperville, outside of Flint. Unfortunately, no one knows exactly where it is. It takes them until after midnight to find the right trail through the woods. They eventually can hear the sound of a mouth organ and smell food cooking. However, they are surprised that the town of Hooperville is no more than a “cardboard jungle,” a collection of huts and shacks thrown together from pieces of boxes, wood, and cloth. There are at least 100 people milling about, with one man stirring clothes in a large pot while another hangs them on a line while three other pots hold some kind of food. There is a family of white people sitting around their own small fire with a baby who is obviously ill.
The two boys flip a coin (a contest Bugs rigs against the less aware Bud) to determine who will ask for help. Bud loses and steps forward to ask where the city of Hooperville is. The man playing the mouth organ advises him that it’s not Hooperville, but Hooverville after the former President of the United States, and that there are hundreds of them all over the country. When Bud asks if he is in the right one, the man asks him three questions: Is he hungry? Is he tired? and Is he scared? When Bud answers all three with a yes, the man tells him this is exactly the one he is looking for. He goes on to explain that it doesn’t matter where he rides the rails, there’s always a Hooverville at the next stop. People all over the country are in the same fix as all the people there and need to band together for food and help. He offers Bud and Bugs food, but they have to do KP afterwards. A woman hands them their “china” - flat, square tin cans - which they fill with muskrat stew twice! The woman even offers to keep watch over Bud’s suitcase while they wash up all the cooking utensils and the “dishes.” The two boys are led to the river by a young girl who has lived there a long time and knows the ropes about KP. She says her name is Deza Malone and she is full of questions and a romantic interest in Bud. She is obviously a child who has learned from her time on the road and passes on her comments to Bud as a way to help him learn what he will face. Then, she leaves him with his first kiss - he scooches his lips up and mashes his face on Deza’s and stays there for what is not more than a second, but feels like a long time. She smiles and takes his hand and leads him back to the camp. On the way there, they hear the mouth organ playing “Shenandoah.” She recites the lyrics, and he agrees with her that it’s a sad song, one that reminds her of her parents. She tells him she’ll never forget this night, and he’s sure he never will either. When Bugs sees Bud, he asks what’s happened, because the younger boy looks like he’s been chunked in the head with a rock. Bud can only say that the song is making him sad.
Bud asks Deza about the white family who have their own fire and sit off by themselves. She says they’ve been invited to join the big fire and have been offered clothes, food and blankets, but they won’t accept anything. Their answer is that they’re “white people and they won’t take handouts.” The man with the mouth organ tells the boys that if they’re heading out on the west-bound train for Chicago, they’ll need to get up by 5:15. They find a shack filled with boys and bed down there. Bugs falls asleep immediately, but Bud has a harder time of it. He can’t help but think about heading west when it’s more likely that any family he might still have would be around Flint. He takes out his blanket and checks all his belongings to make sure they’re still there. He opens the tobacco pouch which holds the stones he found in a drawer after the ambulance took his mother away. Someone had taken a pen and had written on all of them in some sort of code he couldn’t understand. One says, “Kentland ill. 5.10.11.” Another says, “loogootee in. 5.16.11,” and the last says, “flint m. 8.11.11.” He doesn’t know what they mean, but he’s unwilling to leave them behind. He double-checks all his treasures and once he’s satisfied that everything is still there, he uses a trick that has helped him fall asleep before: he pulls his blanket over his head and breathes in very deeply the smells of the blanket, the smells that reminded him of his momma and how she used to read to him every night. His last thoughts are about pretending to be asleep so his momma wouldn’t tell him the end of the story, about a man with a giant fiddle and how he just keeps walking away because he can’t turn back, and about Deza Malone who smiles and says, “See you in seven years.”
Suddenly, Bud is awakened with a man’s screams telling them all to get awake, because “they’re” (the authorities) trying to sneak the train out early. Bugs tells Bud to hurry, because they have to get on that train. Bud puts everything in his suitcase and ties it shut only to have another boy hand him the blue flyer which he had forgotten to put away. It seems like there’s a million men and boys running as fast as they can, so Bud decides to wait until they hop the train and then return the blue flyer to the case. He just tucks it between the rope and the case itself. They break out of the woods where he sees the steam coming off the engine and what looks like a million cars behind it. Nonetheless, none of the men or boys is trying to jump on the train. When Bud pushes his way to the front of the crowd, he sees four cop cars and eight cops standing between the crowd and the train. One of the cops yells at them that they can’t get on this train and to go back to their Shantytown. He also warns them that the Flint police are on their way and will shoot anyone who tries to hop the train. One man says he’d rather be shot than sit around and watch his kids go hungry. They all need to head west to try to find some kind of work. The poor men trying to ride west are enough of a threat that the cops, one by one, begin to throw down their billy clubs just as the big engine begins its shushush sound of movement. A million men and boys break for the train. Bud gets pushed to the side and is nearly trampled until someone reaches down and pulls him up and helps him keep running. Bugs gets on first and yells to Bud to throw him his case. Bud uses both hands to throw it up there, but the blue flyer escapes the rope ties and blows, miraculously, right back at Bud. It makes Bud slow down, fold it, and put it in his pocket. Meanwhile, Bugs screams for him not to slow down. But it’s too late. So Bugs picks up Bud’s suitcase and throws it back out at him. Bud props himself down by the tracks and watches the train chugging on to Chicago. He has just found some family in Bugs and now he’s lost it again. Six or seven other people also miss the train, and the police who are still there warn them that the big fire they see in the distance is really the Flint police burning down Hooverville.
When Bud reaches the camp, he and the others who missed the train spread out in the woods and watch from behind trees as the cops destroy the makeshift town. Bud sits down a distance away and looks again at the blue flyer. He thinks it is perhaps then when he truly comes to believe that Herman Calloway is really his father. For the first time, he sees the similarity between his name and the musician’s name. Then, he reminds himself that he’s on the lam and heads for the mission for breakfast.
This unusually long chapter relates in many ways how destiny might be a real force in human lives. Bugs just happens to remember how much Bud liked the library and when he heard the younger boy was on the lam, he went there looking for him. Bud thinks Bugs is his new family, but Deza’s explanation of family and Bud’s inability to hop the train make him thinks his family might still be in Flint. Going to the mission leads them to Hooverville which in turn leads them to Deza Malone, who gives Bud many answers to his questions about life. Out of character, Bud forgets to place the blue flyer back in his case and that’s what keeps him from hopping the train. The stones and their strange code seem obvious to the reader as places where Bud’s mother may have been with his father. The police burn down Hooverville, which forces Bud to head back to Flint. He finally sees how similar his name is to that of Herman Calloway, the musician on the blue flyer. It seems at this point that Bud is made to stay at least for while in the city where he’s lived all his life.
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on Bud, Not Buddy".
. 23 March 2015