At this time a year ago, Jimmy Wayne was putting in a bit of lat-minute training as he made plans for a journey that had all kinds of potential pitfalls he could not completely anticipate. He announced just before Christmas 2009 that he intended to walk halfway across America — from Nashville to Phoenix — to raise awareness for the issue of homeless teens.
Jimmy did indeed set off on his Meet Me Halfway walk on New Year’s Day with Middle Tennessee windchills appropriately in… the teens, and his excursion became one of the most unusual pursuits of 2010. It stands at No. 8 as GAC counts down the one dozen top country news stories of the past 12 months.
Jimmy’s original goal was to simulate homelessness, though he admittedly had some advantages. The biggest was that he wasn’t really anonymous. Teenagers who’ve aged out of the foster-care system and end up on the streets are alone, unknown and ignored — and many are clueless about how to get a job and/or take care of themselves. Jimmy had his cell phone and was in frequent contact with people. He did interviews on morning radio shows, posted notes on Twitter and did occasional Ustream videos to give followers a sense of what his life was like on the backroads.
People were much more generous with a star than they typically are with kids who have no place to live. His hiking equipment was provided free, strangers took him into their homes and fed him, anonymous folks left food and water at the side of the road, and one man followed him with a vehicle shortly after the walk began. As one of his managers told Jimmy when he was stubbornly trying to avoid a hotel on an icy night, the goal was to simulate homelessness — not be homeless.
Jimmy saw the best in people, but he also experienced some of the worst areas in the country. In particular, he walked through Memphis’ Hurt Village, the down-and-out neighborhood depicted in The Blind Side, the Sandra Bullock/Tim McGraw movie about Michael Oher, who escaped the projects and became a professional football player. Jimmy was approached in those rough areas, but with all his weird hiking gear, potential thieves weren’t sure how to deal with him.
“No one’s tried to fight me or anything,” he said in the middle of his trip. “Here I am the crazy white boy with goggles, and I look crazy comin’ through a ghetto. There’s prostitution, dealin’ drugs, gangs and everything else, and they see this guy walkin’ through there. They’re like, ‘This guy has to be carrying a gun. He has to be crazy.’ They just let me through. I don’t have no heat at all. None. I’m not carrying anything. I’m carrying a fingernail clipper. That’s gonna be a headline: Crosses country with a fingernail clipper.”
Jimmy did make the 1,700-mile trip, though it took longer than expected. He had to start leaving the road periodically to honor concerts he’d already booked when he originally thought he could complete the whole journey in just three or four months. He also left the road to aid campaigns for foster care-related legislation in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
At the end of his journey, Jimmy broke his foot on the way down a mountain in Arizona, requiring him to do the final five miles on Aug. 1 in a walking boot. Many of his experiences inspired some ideas for new songs, some of which might appear on his next album. And Jimmy was still working on behalf of orphans this Christmas, appearing Dec. 22 on the adoption-themed CBS special “A Home For The Holidays.”