Editor's note: Award-winning writer Bob Greene is riding CNN's Election Express across the country in the final weeks before the election to tell stories about how the issues affect Americans.
Sisi Imani of Memphis, Tennessee, says she's concerned about violence in schools.
ABOARD THE CNN ELECTION EXPRESS (CNN) -- On our entire way down to Oxford, Mississippi, we've been stopping to encourage people to think about what would happen if, on the night of the first debate, they were somehow allowed to stand up and ask Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama any question they wanted.
Jim Lehrer of PBS will be the only person asking questions Friday night.
Yet the questions we've found by the side of the road -- questions devised spontaneously by the people with whom we've talked -- have something about them that is intriguing. Maybe it's because the men and women who want to ask them had never considered what it would be like to speak directly to the next president.
Here are a few of the questions, all from people who truly wish they could hear an answer:
Chris Ridenour, 35, of Hagerstown, Maryland, would ask: "A straight response, please -- not generalities. What -- exactly -- are you going to do about fuel costs? I sell cars for a living, and people are hesitating to buy them, not because they can't afford the vehicle, but because they can't afford the gas."
From Faye Webb, 63, of Anderson, South Carolina: "Are we going to keep bailing out the banks? I ask because someone has to draw the line somewhere. It's not the government's money -- it's our money. In our family, we pay our mortgage every month. Why should we have to pay for the bankers' failure to be responsible?"
Terry Penberthy, 44, a waitress in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, wants to know: "How are you going to continue to ensure America's safety from terrorism as effectively as President Bush has for the last seven years? I'd like a detailed answer."
Sherry Brooker, 27, of Cambridge, Ohio, who had her 3-year-old son, Brandon, with her, would ask the candidates: "What will you do right away to make families know that their children can count on adequate health care? We have insurance, but it would not be enough to cover us if things got really bad. Can you please tell me what you will do?"
Darlene Thomas, 50, of Bourbon County, Kentucky, would ask: "Why do you keep attacking each other? It's petty. It has nothing to do with what we're about in the United States. It's beneath us -- the question is, Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama, can you honestly tell us that it is beneath you?"
Jim Kowcheck, 40, of Verona, Kentucky, an automotive engineer: "I make a good living, and I'm not asking about myself. But I'd like to know what the two of you might do for people making $20,000 or $30,000 a year, who are trying hard and struggling. What will you do to help them exist -- because that's what we're talking about, their daily existence."
Meegan Chafin, 31, of Guernsey County, Ohio, would say: "I'd like you to answer me without your answers jumping around. What can you do to bring jobs back to Ohio? There are factories shutting down, people who work for 30 and 40 years are just out on the street, with no one to turn to. Can they turn to you?"
Mike Henschel, 41, of Lexington, Kentucky: "What is the next industry for which you're going to reward mismanagement? Are the airlines the next to get taxpayer money because the executives made bad decisions? Are you going to stop it?"
Sisi Imani, 26, of Memphis, Tennessee, would look the candidates in the eye and ask: "How can you help us parents do something about crimes in our schools? Kids being beaten on their way to school, kids being jumped inside the school, kids bringing guns to schools -- our children can't learn if they're afraid of violence in their own schools. Are you aware of this?"
We've heard many more questions, just as heartfelt as these, on our way to Oxford. It would be nice, in theory if not in debate-rule reality, to hear the candidates answer some of them. Or to some of the questions that you may be thinking up even as you read these words.
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