Suppose that one fine day, 6 million Americans all decide to hold hands. They'd make an unbroken human chain from coast to coast. They'd be the largest group of people ever to take part in the same event. They'd be "the largest number of voices," according to a press release, ever to be "joined in song."
This hand is your hand, they could sing.
This hand is my hand.
To the New York island.
Now try to imagine that some very determined types actually propose to do it. That they have already raised money, hired staff, drawn up organizational charts, commissioned marketing studies, rounded up celebrities -- even issued press releases.
"It naturally causes people's imaginations to run free," says Fred Droz, who is project director of the effort, dubbed Hands Across America and sponsored by USA for Africa, the people responsible for "We Are the World." "There's a phenomenon that takes over -- the creative opportunities just continue and continue to multiply."
The event is scheduled to occur on May 25 -- at noon on the Santa Monica Pier, the westernmost link, and at 3 p.m. in New York's Battery Park, the easternmost link, three time zones away. People who want to join in -- about 1,320, give or take a few, are needed per mile along the 4,152-mile route -- will be asked for a handsk,2 out of from $10 to $30. The point of it all is to raise as much as $100 million for the hungry and homeless of the United States.
"5/25 Ops," Droz calls the project with military inflection, throwing in, for good measure, such terms as "response fulfillment" and "20-mile obligation." At 40, he's a veteran political advance man (Fred Harris in 1976 and in 1972 Hubert Humphrey, whose 21-car motorcade he once sent the wrong way down the Tampa-St. Petersburg Causeway during the Florida primary) and now heads a consulting company in California.
His candidates lost, but Droz says public response to his project -- gleaned from various "focus groups" conducted recently -- has been heartening.
"Hands Across America is like a national Rorschach test -- everybody reads into it what they want," he says. "Yuppies view it as a return to the '60s. Democrats see it as a grass-roots activity. Republicans see it as an example of private-sector voluntarism. Seniors view it as a return to neighbor-to-neighbor. And kids view it as the biggest party in the world."
Droz, it turns out, has the perfect handshake for this sort of thing -- not quite limp but not painfully aggressive either, and happily unclammy.
"We'll be breaking a lot of records," he says. "Most amount of celebrities, most miles, largest community event in history, most portable potties . . ." So far, he says, the effort boasts volunteers in 14 states and the District of Columbia, plus a full-time staff of 35 working away in West Los Angeles. "This thing will need a chapter of its own in the Guinness Book of World Records."
If successful, it will render microscopic the biggest such event to date. According to the Guinness people, that occurred in West Germany on Oct. 22, 1983, when about 200,000 peace demonstrators held hands along a 64.8-mile stretch from Stuttgart to Neu-Ulm.
"We don't know if it's actually possible," says Cyd Smith, an editor of the American edition of the Guinness book. "I think we'll just have to see," she adds, sounding like a spiritual citizen of Missouri, the "Show Me" state (where the route, otherwise known as "The Line," should take hand-holders along secondary roads northward from Cape Girardeau, pop. 31,000, to Florissant, pop. 63,000, on the Illinois border).
Droz says his staff has been talking about using satellite photos to satisfy skeptics and stifle naysayers. Others have mentioned a radio communications system to hold things together. After much study "The Line" has been chosen -- avoiding such natural barriers as the Rockies and the Grand Canyon while traversing two deserts, 10 rivers and 510 communities -- and Prince, the rock star, has bought the first mile. At this point, however, the undertaking is fraught with loose ends and unanswerable questions.
Take, for instance, the list of 600-odd celebrity endorsers -- everyone who's anyone, from Diahnne Abbott to Pia Zadora. How will Byron Allen, Marty Allen, Steve Allen and Woody Allen keep one another straight? Will Pat Boone hold hands with Kiss? Will Kareem Abdul-Jabbar be paired with Mary Lou Retton?
Imaginations continue to run free. Opportunities continue to multiply.