It's hard to say exactly what I expected. My religion teacher at Connelly High School in Anaheim, Tom Cendejas, had told me about a man who was walking across the United States--each mile with different people (10,000 in all) from all walks of life.
The organizer of the "American Journey" and the man who has been walking since last December is Randy Roberts. Cendejas likened Roberts' walk to "Hands Across America"--the 1986 effort that joined people in a nationwide effort to publicize and alleviate the problems of hunger and homelessness in America. This time around, the beneficiary of any donations will be the Homeless Task Force.
When Cendejas explained to the class that Roberts' American Journey was to partially raise awareness of social justice issues in our country, I half expected someone to be walking with and enlightening his fellow travelers on the evils of contemporary society.
But my apprehension could not have been further from the truth, as I found out on a Saturday in March when I joined Roberts in walking that mile.
I arrived at Pearson Park in Anaheim shortly after 3 p.m., and there, sitting at a picnic table under a modest banner marked by the logo of the American Journey was a mustached man who, as I approached, stood up and stuck out his hand to greet me.
Introducing himself as Randy Roberts, he put a friendly hand on my shoulder as he explained that as we walked he would be recording our conversation for future use and reference. Roberts, 40, a Santa Ana architect who is also a seminar speaker and self-development instructor/trainer, said he plans a speaking tour of the country once his journey is complete, which he figures won't be for another 2 1/2 years.
As we began our walk, I was surprised to discover that our conversation was primarily aimed toward me and my life.
The American Journey, Roberts later told me, "is about people--people who have something to say. It is an honest, open diary of who we as Americans are . . . that even though we are different, we are all the same.
"And in the end, part of the American Journey is to show us that our differences don't mean a hill of beans, and that what we have in common is most important."
Roberts began our conversation by asking me such simple questions as where I was born and where I lived.
Roberts was born in Ft. Worth, Tex., in 1948--the elder of two children.
He then proceeded to ask me about what he referred to as "the two subjects you never discuss with a stranger"--religion and politics. I had no trouble with the question about religion, having attended Catholic schools for the past 11 years, but I did have some trouble when Roberts wanted me to describe my political affiliation.
At 17, I explained to him, it's really hard to say, yes, I'm a left-wing liberal or a right-wing conservative and fully understand the implications of what I'm saying. An understanding smile made its way across Roberts' sunburned face. He had already walked 13 miles in 80-degree weather that day.
Roberts was also interested in my family, my heroes and what was important to me. I was able to answer most of his questions with surprising ease and confidence.
I described my heroes, who, aside from my parents--are mostly teachers at Connelly who possess qualities and traits I'd like to develop. I spoke candidly about what was important to me--my family and friends.
He said he has several heroes, including his father, a few teachers, John F. Kennedy, R. Buckminster Fuller and Walter Cronkite--"people who risk, people who care about others who are less fortunate, and people who ignore cynics and make decisions, yet can admit when they are wrong."
All of a sudden, he was no longer a stranger.
"The American Journey will bring people from all walks of life together to share a common base," Roberts told me.
"You now have something in common with all the others I have walked with, and they have something in common with you--yet, you've never met each other."
Roberts wanted to know what I would ask President Bush if I had 5 minutes alone with him.
I told him of a Calvin & Hobbes comic strip that showed Calvin explaining to Hobbes that whoever got shot with a suction-cup dart was dead and that the other side would win. In the end, they shoot each other simultaneously and Calvin says, "Kind of a stupid game, isn't it?" I would like to tell the President of the strip and then ask him why we keep spending so much on the nuclear arms race.
"Part of the effect I hope the American Journey will have," Roberts said, "is to help others express themselves to George Bush and other Americans."
As we returned to the picnic table, I realized just how quickly the time and mile had passed.
But he was already off again, this time with my religion teacher, on another mile's journey.
I sat down and wrote my page in the "American Journal"--a log book that Roberts will ask all 10,000 Americans who will eventually participate with him on his journey to write in. He hopes to publish the journal.
Among the things I wrote:
"Today, I have been touched, both by the hand of a man I've never met before, and even more importantly, by his heart . . . a heart that no doubt has touched others as he has walked his mile with them."