I met Joseph Woby by accident. In 2010, I was on my way from Memphis to Jackson on an early-morning Amtrak service when I overheard a British journalist telling an ageing American rocker that he was on his way to Mexico to cover the drug war from Ciudad Juarez and Culiacan. The journalist, Woby, had come from Chicago and was heading south along the Mississippi on what he described as "a self-guided blues tour." I was on my way to Mexico to cover the drug war as well, but he was talking to the ageing rocker and we didn't really get a chance to compare notes. He disembarked in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and went off in search of Robert Johnson's grave
Two days later, the universe sent us both a message. I had been in Jackson with a far-Left journalist who would later go on to play a significant role in the Occupy movement. Woby had received a pool cue to the face in a bar-room brawl and been shot at while fishing on someone's private property. By chance, we found ourselves on the same train once again, and this time we hit it off over Coronas as we sat in the Amtrak observation car and crossed the bayou on the way into New Orleans. (He went on to write one of the best dispatches from Juarez I've ever read
and spent a night fearing for his life in a toilet cubicle in order to file it.) Before last year, when we caught up in Pamplona to run with the bulls, the last time we had seen each other was when we'd been drinking Hand Grenades
on Bourbon Street. We'd lost each other then, but we've been in contact ever since.
Woby found the grave he had been looking for, by the way. He almost found his own, too. Between Mississippi and Navarre, at the end of 2012, Joe was walking home from a bar in Whitechapel, London, when he tried to help a woman who was being harassed and was set upon with a hammer for his troubles.
He woke up more than a month later with a face made of metal and a resolve made of steel.
"My daughters -- I have two -- were hoping that the bump on my head would bring me to my senses," Woby told Crikey
, "meaning that I'd retire from the scene with a comically pronounced limp or something." That didn't happen.
"The attack was proof that shit happens," he said. "But if you know it's going to happen, you take precautions to soften its impact. We don't fear what we see coming."
In Woby's world, there's always something coming. Not only did he run the bulls with me -- in what turned out to be one of the bloodiest fiestas in some time -- he then continued on to the United States and set to work on a book project about the Great Recession and the freight-hopping hobos who have once again taken to the rails in a time of great economic tumult.