September 1, 2014
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In My Backpack
Stories and Travels of Bob Hocking

There’s nothing like a subtle sense of humor to catch a reader’s eye and ear, which is why we were immediately charmed by a news release announcing a book by a local author several weeks ago:

“Bob graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in English. While at school he began working on the campus ambulance service, which developed into a decent medical background when combined with teaching for the American Red Cross and several years working in the operating room of a hospital. Naturally, with an English degree and medical background, the majority of his professional career has been spent in other fields.”

The Bob here is Bob Hocking, the younger (not to be confused with the elder Bob Hocking, a former news photographer for WJAR).

“I have lived in Warwick for my entire life before I went to college,” Hocking told us last week, as he rattled off the geographic details in typical Warwick style. “Buttonwoods … Park Elementary … Gorton …Vets, Syracuse University…”

Not URI?

“I liked the teams.”

Now that Hocking, who is 45 years old, has so assiduously avoided another year of working in the vocations he was trained for, he has announced the publication of yet more evidence of what he has been up to. “Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road” went on sale last week. It’s more of Hocking’s adventures on the road and taking pictures that have been gleaned from his website since 2003.

“The site was a bit of a fluke,” said Hocking. “I was an English major with writing ambitions, but I started doing photography. I started writing again as part of my photography, telling stories about the pictures I was taking. That got me back into writing, which I have always liked doing, and I started the website to write. If anything, I now consider myself a writer with a camera.”

If all this is getting a bit confusing, that’s all right. Writing about everyday confusions, ironies and observations is what Hocking’s “In My Backpack” is designed for. Nowadays, they are called blogs, but Hocking’s is more like an old time columnist on a small town paper. On Feb. 17, he wrote:

“In any event, everything that I was told to focus on as a child has, by one organization or another, been declared bad for me. In fact, the entire four food groups have been replaced by a pyramid – and commercials with baseball legend Ozzie Smith telling me to eat just nine… nine… servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Wow. Funny thing, I have never heard anyone debate the old advice of eating right and exercising. What is eating right is open to debate… but still. Smaller portions, not as many desserts, take a walk. Not a bad plan at all.”

Hocking said he considers his writing in the vein of Robert Fulghum, who famously had a best seller with “All I need to know I learned in Kindergarten.” On the other hand, Fulghum, a Unitarian Universalist minister, is not likely to be writing about what the character Electro will look like in the next Spider-Man movie, followed by a link to a recipe for coconut cake.

Over the years, the site has included general interest essays, sports and travel material, and an ongoing journal.

As for his “All I need to know” moment, he said that came in college, when the eccentric genius Frank Zappa spoke at Syracuse University. Zappa informed the undergrads that their education was just beginning.

“He said, ‘You are not here to learn things, you are here to learn how to learn things,’” Hocking recalled.

When Hocking met Terry Fator, the ventriloquist and entertainer who gained fame on “America Has Talent” several seasons ago, it reminded him of another childhood hero, ventriloquist Paul Winchell, the 1950s creator of “Jerry Mahoney” and the voice of Tigger in the movie version of “Winnie the Pooh.”

“Winchell said the secret to success in life is always follow through,” said Hocking. “It was interesting that, when I brought up Winchell while I was interviewing Fator, his wife was puzzled by our knowledge of Winchell, who is not as famous as he once was.”

Hocking has conducted hundreds of other interviews, many of which have appeared in full or in part on his site, like Suzi Quatro, Jimmy Haslip, Terry Fator, Jerry Springer and Emilio Estefan, who are more or less famous, and celebrity chefs.

“Tom Colicchio is one of the best interviews I have ever done,” said Hocking, of the restaurateur who recently produced “A Place at the Table,” a documentary about hunger in America. Colicchio is also a judge on the television show “Top Chef” and a major restaurant industry executive. “He gave me a lot of really great time and attention. I really liked him.”

While he considers himself “a writer with a camera,” Bob has created a sizeable portfolio of professional work. On his website, photo galleries exist for several entertainers, as well as a feature on the touring exhibition of “Diana: A Celebration.” His photographs have been used by groups such as Legends in Concert, a touring group of “tribute” performers who do a whole show of impersonations of performers.

In January of 2012, Bob began an effort called Local Friends for Local Business. By establishing a monthly challenge, Local Friends strives to raise awareness and support for unique and special neighborhood treasures – the small businesses in every community.

These days, Hocking’s community is in Danielson, just over the border in Connecticut, with his wife, Terry, and their two St. Bernards, Molly and Gus. His parents still live in Warwick.

“My wife – I believe I mentioned my wife, Terry … Not sure if I mentioned she is also from Warwick,” Hocking wrote in an e-mail. “That's not how we met, but we both grew up in the city, and her mother still lives there. Terry is a very special lady, and I certainly wouldn't be accomplishing what I have without her support, encouragement and assistance.”

The rest of the Hocking kids have traveled further than Bob.

“Same basic story as me... Park to Gorton to Warwick Vets,” he said. “Kristin lives in Seattle now, and Kerri in Australia.”

Hocking’s day job is in the financial sector, but given his druthers, he’d probably choose travel. The title of the website and the books pretty much gives that away. But he says he’s perfectly happy writing about everyday things like Christmas, chipmunks living in a stone wall, “perfect glasses of lemonade” and fame itself.

“Funny… and many of you know this… given a bit of slack, I’ll wander all over the place when telling a story,” Hocking confessed. He also will roam all over the country. The latest book contains tales of national parks – like the Everglades, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Joshua Tree – and well-known attractions – like Cirque du Soleil, Disney World, Disneyland and the San Diego Zoo – and a few hidden treasures along the way.

“From dolphin swims to sunset wine cruises, Bob and his gang share the fun, excitement, thoughts and information about several amazing places,” his press release promises.

Bob’s 2012 release, “Time Just Drifts Away,” a collection of observations and interviews from the website, focuses on the time between 2003 until March of 2012 and includes the Tom Colicchio, Suzi Quatro, Rick Price, Mark Patinkin and Jimmy Haslip interviews.

Hocking has no illusions about getting rich off his website or his books, and expects he will probably still be working full-time as a financial specialist (“if only for the medical benefits”) while he continues his website and travels.

“I’d like time to do more of what I’ve already done,” he admits, as he ponders what he will be doing 10 years from now. “But I know I’ll still be writing.”

For more about Hocking and his books, visit www.inmybackpack.com


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