B.J. Hill, the man who walked through Lodi as part of a cross-country trip in 2008 to collect messages for the next president, delivered them personally to President Barack Obama last week.
"It was pretty amazing," Hill, 35, said in a phone interview. "I was 2 feet away."
The White House visit was the culmination of Hill's cross-country walk that began in San Francisco and ended at his home in the Boston area. He stopped in cities all over the nation and asked people to write comments to the next president. At the time, it wasn't known whether that would be Obama or John McCain.
Recently, Hill collected more messages as he walked 450 miles since Nov. 1, 2011 from Boston to Washington. One of his stops was at Occupy Wall Street.
Hill said he got a 15-minute audience with Obama. There were a couple of Secret Service agents outside the Oval Office, but Hill said that he and Obama were alone as the chief executive flipped through the books of comments Hill collected.
Obama cracked a couple of smiles while reading the comments, but Hill said, "He was very cool, very regulated."
Hill, who was a teacher in 2008 and now works for a nonprofit children's adoption agency in Worcester, Mass., began his cross-country walk on the Golden Gate Bridge on March 1, 2008. He made it into Lodi 10 days later and concluded in Boston on Nov. 2, 2008.
While in Lodi, Hill got some lodging from Alan Hansen at his cattle ranch between Lockeford and Linden. Hansen said he keeps in touch with Hill on Facebook. Hansen was impressed with Hill's determination.
"He wants to know what the people think," Hansen said.
Hill waited three years to deliver the messages to Obama because he wanted to make sure the chief executive would read them. Hill's U.S. Senator, John Kerry, ran interference for him and arranged last week's meeting.
Hill said he collected thousands of handwritten messages from welfare recipients to business owners to teachers and farmers. Topics ranged from the economy to the environment, UFO research and the war on terrorism. There were also notes of congratulations and advice for marital bliss.
Some of the comments from Lodi-area residents included:
- "Health care is at the core of what we do. Money and health care are related." — Shelly Mason
- "Just be honest. We can deal with everything as long as you're honest." — Debbie Sellers
- "Improve the economy in California." — Jonathan Villarreal
- "The gas prices are outrageous." — Elias Ambriz
Hill was excited to have his picture taken with the chief executive by an official White House photographer, though he was told that, due to a backlog of pictures of other White House visitors, Hill won't get his copies until January.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.