Man stops in Westmoreland on cross-country walk in search of good people
James Smith is on a mission to find the good people in the world.
He’s traversed Laurel Mountain and dodged traffic on Route 30 in Westmoreland County this week in the early stages of his cross-country journey.
He hasn’t been disappointed.
“I’m learning from people every day as I go, too,” said Smith, 50, of York County. “I’m on a high from these folks.”
Smith embarked from home on July 9 and headed west on Route 30 in an effort to spread a positive message to others and to prove that kind and generous people are willing to help a stranger, if even for a glass of water or bed to sleep in. He plans to take the highway to Chicago and then head to St. Louis and Ferguson, Mo., before making his way to the West Coast and then back home in time for Christmas.
He carries a 25-pound backpack with necessities and the hope that others will hear his message — “Point the Thumb.” The journey started when Smith found himself jaded and cynical after having some tough life experiences. When his daughter seemed to have a similar attitude, Smith quit his job as a distribution center manager and set out to prove her wrong while encouraging strangers to be introspective rather than pointing the finger at others.
He walks about 20 miles a day — about 140 miles total as of Tuesday morning — and engages others along the way.
“We’re so busy pointing fingers and blaming things, and it just drives me crazy,” he said, adding that he hopes the message could be adopted in schools, churches, prisons and elsewhere.
On Monday, Smith ended his walk at Greengate Centre in Hempfield. He spent the night at the Southwest Greensburg home of Mike Caggeso, who saw a news article about Smith’s plans and offered him a place to stay.
“We just had dinner, chatted, my kids showed him everything that they own,” Caggeso said with a laugh. “It was just a casual Monday night for us.”
A bed and a meal were easy things to offer for Caggeso and his family — wife, Missy, and sons Max, 5, and Aaron, 3.
“I think anyone has to go out on a limb to help someone to some degree,” he said.
Caggeso dropped Smith off Tuesday morning at the shopping plaza. Smith was dressed in a bright yellow T-shirt, pants and his trusty shoes. He wore a bracelet that says “Believe,” a necklace with a silver medallion commemorating his trip and a watch his son bought for him at a yard sale.
Those items and two charities he is supporting — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Disabled Veterans of America — give him a little momentum when the walking gets tough. He hopes to write a book about the experience and the people he meets along the way.
He set out amid rain showers on Route 30 in hopes of making it to North Versailles by Tuesday evening. Part of the fun, he said, is not knowing what the day will bring and whether he will meet someone who will offer a place to stay for the night.
“I’ve yet to have to sleep outside, but I’m prepared to,” Smith said.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @byrenatta.