Since March 1, Massachusetts school teacher B.J. Hill, 32, has been walking across the country in near Kerouacian fashion — though, unlike Sal Paradise, Hill has a greater mission than apple pie and Mexican trollops. He’s collecting messages for the next US president, whoever that may be, from everyday American constituents. After nearly nine months on the road, Hill estimates that he’s collected a few thousand messages, long and short, positive and negative, in a variety of languages. Hill’s cross-country route, a gentle S-curve from west to east via Middle America, began in San Francisco.
“Once I got that first message, on the Golden Gate Bridge, it turned into something that was more than me; it was a responsibility,” he says. “If I was doing this just to do it, I would have quit somewhere in Nevada. But the president doesn’t want to meet the person who almost walked across the country.”
Hill’s self-imposed mission might sound like the delusional musings of a rose-colored patriot, but he’s already completed a similar one. In 2006, he walked diagonally across Massachusetts, from the tippity-top northwest corner to the top of Cape Cod, collecting hundreds of messages for the soon-to-be-governor, Deval Patrick, who accepted the book of concerns and well-wishes and subsequently added it to the government archives.
Political discussions with citizens from all parts of the country might have an influence on some voters, but Hill, who plans to cast his vote for president via absentee ballot, is a registered Independent who remains undecided.
“I can’t say that any conversation has really altered my view at all,” he says. “In Massachusetts, we see the world through a left-leaning angle, and we tend to dismiss the Red States as being too traditional and behind the times — not really understanding the big picture. But after spending so many months walking through places like Missouri and Alabama . . . I don’t want to say that I’ve become more conservative, but I definitely see where they’re coming from. [Conservatives] have a set of ideals they’re trying to live up to, that aren’t necessarily impractical or behind the times.”
Hill’s original plan was to walk the final leg of his journey on Election Day, ending in Copley Square. Unfortunately, unforeseen snafus have delayed his homecoming, and he’ll likely land in Boston closer to December. “Since I’ll be finishing after the election now, but before the inauguration, it will change the messages a little, because now people will know to whom they’re actually writing,” says Hill. “But the only way to get these messages into the Oval Office is to finish the goal. That’s really what keeps me going.”
Already, he’s collected a lot of good messages. “A lot of them are simple, but there are some that are really moving,” says Hill. “One favorite came from an elderly woman who was cleaning hotel rooms in Evanston, Wyoming. Her message was, ‘Dear Mr. President: My husband and I are in our 60s, and we have worked hard all our lives. Next week, we're facing bankruptcy court. What happened?’ ”
To keep up with B.J. Hill's cross-country travels, visit walkamerica2008.com