“Say Hi to Joe Day” probably sneaked up on you.
Today, April 28, is it, designed to recognize people named Joe and the many roles that average Joes play in American culture. But the holiday doesn’t appear in almanacs or desk calendars. It’s been on national television (thank Jay Leno for that), but President Bush hasn’t decided to make it official yet. And unless you’re a student at Service High, you won’t know the holiday’s founder from Joe Blow.
“Several people call me crazy,” said instigator Joe Ewing, a senior at Service, “but they laugh when they say it.”
Today marks the second year that Ewing, 17, and a handful of other Joe namesakes will celebrate. Participating Joes wear name tags; others observe the day by saying hi to the Joes in their lives. Supporters have grown from five Joes last year to 22 this year, with more than 100 non-Joes falling in line.
What inspired Ewing? Ask, and the fast-talking teen launches into a minute-long spiel — in perfectly rehearsed deadpan — about millions of Average Joes who head off to work each morning, drinking cups of Joe while reading about the G.I. Joes fighting overseas. At night, Ewing says, they come home to watch “Joe Millionaire” and eat sloppy Joes for dinner.
Its origin dates back to a school assignment. Ewing and his classmates were assigned to write a letter to President Bush addressing an issue important to them.
“Everyone was pro or against the war in Iraq,” Ewing said, “but I thought we have to have something that unites us.”
“Say Hi to Joe Day” was born, and Ewing made his pitch to the president. He even picked a date. Searching the Internet for a “significant Joe date,” he came across a site that listed April 28 as, Ewing said, “the day the first cup of Joe was brewed in New York City.” Ewing couldn’t find additional information to back up the claim, and he isn’t sure what year that cup of coffee was served, but he ran with it anyway.
And he’s kept up the pace since, turning the project into a passion to get “Say Hi to Joe Day” recognized nationally. Full of booster-ish bravado, he sees it as the next rite of spring, celebrated like Easter and Mother’s Day.
“Realistically, I think it will take two to three more years before it will be an official national holiday,” Ewing said. “Thirty-seven states will celebrate the holiday in 2005.” Asked to back up that number, Ewing laughed. “That was a completely random guess.”
Ewing plans to attend Brigham Young University next year to study foreign relations and international diplomacy. Thinking strategically, he says the key to holiday acceptance is getting corporate backing. He has targeted popular undergarment company Joe Boxer as the official apparel of “Say Hi to Joe Day,” and he hopes Hunt’s Manwich will provide the sloppy Joes. He has pitched card ideas to Hallmark and requested calendar companies to include his holiday on their products.
A big boost to Ewing’s holiday spirit came recently from Starbucks after Ewing asked the company to provide the official cup of Joe. He got an enthusiastic callback from a Starbucks executive, though no official business proposal is in place.
Still, he works diligently on his campaign. He has sent letters or emails to Oprah Winfrey, Dave Barry, David Letterman, Gov. Frank Murkowski, Mayor Mark Begich and senators from Alaska, California, Utah and Washington. He has also tried to contact a famous Joe, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough. He has heard back from some, though few promised support. President Bush actually replied with a form letter, but it never even mentioned Joe Day.
Ewing did get one breakthrough, when Jay Leno made a joke about the holiday on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
“I was going, ‘Yeah, go Jay Leno!’ ” Ewing said.
But in most cases, it’s just a quick and friendly brush-off. Which only makes Ewing want to send another e-mail. “It’s tough to be patient,” he said.
Despite his lack of celebrity backing, his is not a lonely crusade. Ewing has a staff — the National Say Hi to Joe Commission — with “representatives” locally, and in Washington and Utah. Most are friends from Anchorage away at college. One young associate is a local 12-year-old named Joey Coon.
“He’s got boundless energy,” Ewing said of Coon, who helped create the National “Say Hi to Joe Day” Web site (www.hijoeday.co.nr).
The only official merchandise for “Say Hi to Joe Day” this year will be the 53 T-shirts Ewing and his mom, Lucy Hannigan-Ewing, printed up.
“It seems like there was more than (53),” said a weary Hannigan-Ewing, who spent a recent Friday evening ironing logos onto shirts. “He asked if I could spend another day doing that.”
She said ‘No’ to Joe.
Ewing is fine with that. Keeping with the spirit of the holiday, he’s content simply meeting people and saying hi to all the Joes he knows.