North Carolinians send messages to Obama with backpacker

by Jordan Green

Two days after Election Day at about 1 p.m., BJ Hill, a 32-year-old teacher from Massachusetts, stopped for lunch at the Jamestown Oven & Grill. He cornered a pair of instructors from GTCC and two Kerr Drugs employees dispatched from the Triangle to the store here, and got them to write messages to President-elect Obama in a black bound notebook.

Hill has been collecting the handwritten notes from Americans across the country since he left San Francisco on foot in early March. The first book was filled by the time he reached St. Louis, and the second is about two thirds completed.

Hill is an unaffiliated voter, and he doesn’t disclose which candidate received his vote.

“One thing I notice coming from Massachusetts, which is in the liberal mold, is that I’ve moved more to the center politically, just seeing how most people live in the rest of the country,” he said. “Now that I’m in the Bible belt, there’s a lot more messages about keeping God in government. In the western part of the country, it’s conservative, but it’s more pro-gun. In California, it was more about legalizing marijuana, or at least keeping marijuana legal for medical purposes.”

Michelle Rogers of Apex, a trainer for Kerr Drugs, and Sean Griffith of Durham, a pharmaceutical inventory manager for the same company, were happy to inscribe their messages in Hill’s book. They also didn’t mind sharing a table, even though they supported different candidates.

“See, we can still have lunch together,” Rogers quipped.

Though she voted for McCain, Rogers appeared reconciled to Obama’s victory. She said uniting behind the new president is a given.

“I am on the more conservative side of Republican,” Rogers said. “He is going to be our leader as of January. I always predicted that whoever comes into office is going to have the toughest challenge.”

Most of Griffith’s neighbors at the apartment complex where he lives in Durham apparently received the news of Obama’s win at about the same time on election night because cheering spontaneously erupted and residents materialized on their porches to celebrate.

“My initial reaction is everything is going to change,” he said. “America has moved to a brand new level because now there is a black man in the highest office. I don’t even think the American people ever thought that was possible, especially the older generation who went through the civil rights movement and remember what it was like when Martin Luther King Jr. was alive.

“The world looks at us differently,” he added, “because we have someone of a different ethnicity. I think because of that we will regain our status as a world power.”

Griffith’s colleague said she doesn’t think Obama will have the ability to deliver on most of his promises. That was where they differed, but on another level they were in accord.

“The world didn’t end,” Griffith said.

“It’s like Y2K,” Rogers concurred.

Hill plans to end his trip in Boston around Christmastime. He hopes his governor, Duval Patrick, who has close ties to Obama, or perhaps his congressman or one of his senators will help him arrange a personal meeting with the new president so that he can personally hand off the books. Maybe they will wind up in the Library of Congress or become published, he speculates.

“Sometimes carrying this book makes me feel like Frodo carrying the ring,” Hill writes in an FAQ posted on his website, “I see people’s frustration and hopelessness, and I see what they want in a president.”

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