ELKTON — On a hot summer day, Chris Walker can be spotted on one of Cecil County’s busiest intersections, wearing sunglasses and armed with a neon green sign.
The sign reads “Just smile” with a smiley face next to it. From his spot on the median at the U.S. Route 40 and Route 213 intersection, Walker is often greeted with a chorus of car horns.
“Some people perceive it as ridiculous. But I’m having fun out here. It’s just so much fun being out here,” he said, waving at passing cars. “I want people to smile. It’s something that’s free and it can change someone’s day.”
It’s an act not so different than that of William “Hoppy” Hammond, who is well-known to passersby for his daily friendly ritual of waving to drivers at his spot on Bridge Street in Elkton for nearly two decades.
In his own words, Walker, 28, of Elkton, lives a carefree life with friends, family and fishing. He works as a delivery driver for Roma Pizza in Elkton, and spends his time traveling for fishing trips.
But after Walker experienced a few dark days last winter following a breakup and totaling his car with his fishing gear in it, he wanted to do something to break through the negativity.
On a whim, Walker bought a small kite for a dollar at Goodwill. When he flew the kite, he said his spirits were raised.
Then he thought: I wish more people could experience the happiness I had while flying this kite.
So Walker made his sign, bundled up in a heavy winter coat and started standing on the median between Route 40 and 213. He’s been standing there with his “Just Smile” sign since then, whenever the mood strikes him.
“A lot of people aren’t living their best lives,” Walker said. “They talk about wanting to do it. I’m big on if you want the job, get it. If you want a new car, save up for it. I’m tired of hearing the same thing over and over again, and they don’t do anything.”
“I got to a point where I want people to smile. It’s not going to change your life, but it will give you that quick dopamine hit,” he said. “If it takes me looking ridiculous out here, then I’ll do it.”
In many ways, Walker is well-suited for the job as the unofficial highway greeter. He says his favorite part of his day job is meeting diverse people — from people in multi-million dollar houses to someone living paycheck to paycheck — and talking with them.
“I like to make connections with people. With this, it’s a split-second interaction, and that’s why the message on the sign is short and simple,” he said.
Six months into his campaign, Walker has moved to different locations like near Delancy Village on Route 40. He’s recently tried a spot in North East along Route 40, although starting over means that people need to warm up to him.
When he first started near Route 213, he said people thought he was a panhandler so people avoid making eye-contact. But once he turns around and people see the sign, they’re more free with their smile.
To keep himself entertained, Walker has made several games out of the outings. When he sees someone trying to avoid his eye contact while stopped at the red light, he’ll hide behind the light post and pop out and wave at them.
Another game is trying to get as many smiles as possible in a row. So far, Walker’s record is nine people.
Walker said many people have tried to give him money, but he turns them down. Last week, an Elkton Police Department officer stopped and gave him a Coca-Cola.
But it’s not about the gifts — it’s about random acts of kindness. Walker says he receives messages from supporters, telling him he raised their spirits.
One of his favorite messages is from a woman who thanked him for restoring her son’s faith in people and teaching him that “sometimes people don’t want anything but a smile.”
“It can go a long way. I also do this for me, because it helps me too. I smile all the time while I’m out here,” he said.