Okay, I am the first to admit I am not the best with huge crowds. I went to fairly small schools growing up and tended to avoid the usual massive gatherings that most of my friends flocked to on weekends, like major rock concerts and other spots where being elbow to nose with total strangers was expected. So when my friend asked me if I would go with her to a book signing of an author I thought, "Sure, how bad could it be?" I mean after all, I have been to the San Diego Fair a quite few times, the Joshua Tree tour back in the eighties with the band U2, which was just becoming huge, and assorted family gatherings. Naive as it sounds, I thought I was ready.
Needless to say, I wasn't.
The day started innocently enough with work. My friend met me and we took off from work and headed up to Hollywood. I grew up in LA so I have been in the city more than once. Over the years I have run up to have some fun in the chaotic city that never seems to sleep, going to plays and museums or hitting a few clubs. As advertised, the freeways in Los Angeles are their own E-Ticket rides. Trucks rumble alongside cars with limited ability to stay inside the pesky white lines. Those seem to be merely quaint suggestions painted by a modern artist on commission. Besides if you are on your cell phone that must be more important than simply navigating your vehicle at seventy plus miles per hour, right? I wasn't driving, so I got to be the one to give directions once we could see signs. The disabled truck stopped in the middle of the freeway was a nice detour. We made it up to West Hollywood in a couple of hours. Not bad.
But I was left wondering at all the glass and marble trucks keeping up with the flow of traffic while weaving in and out -- seldom using their indicators. These are the smaller types of trucks that have massive panes of rock or glass tilted on thin metal racks towards the middle of the truck bed. As we bounced up and down the highway we must have passed and been passed by a half dozen of those trucks. They liked to swerve to avoid craters in the road. I was happy they did. I kept picturing airborne shards of death. Silly me.
We were a bit early for the event. The Book Soup store is right on Sunset in West Hollywood. It was hosting the book signing we had braved traffic to attend. Admittedly, I had never been to any book signings; thus I was pretty ignorant of the whole operation. I have books a friend of mine has had signed for me so I know this is something many folks find enjoyable. *shudder* I am still trying to figure out why. Really.
The director of publicity was a wonderful guy named Tyson. He was helpful, allowing us to park behind the store for more than the allotted thirty minutes. Given how tight the parking is around the town, I appreciated not having to shell out money to simply park. He handed us our tickets for the signing and pre-ordered books. Tyson explained that there would be a select group of folks who got to hear the author speak in the room next door where the signing would be held. We chit-chatted and I was favorably impressed at the store's selection. I had to resist massive purchasing because I really have too many stacks of books unread in my room right this moment.
We began to wander around the area. The first place that called to me was the Tower Record store across the street from Book Soup. I spent some money since there is no such thing as too much music. Peet's Coffee and Tea was the same side of the street so I was forced to have a medium cafe mocha and buy some espresso forte beans. The air conditioning was appreciated, and they didn't shove us out the door for lingering. The barista was very good and the drink was smooth and creamy. The double shots of espresso were helpful in keeping me awake.
Dinner time was getting close so Jaxx, the restaurant next door to Book Soup, served us up a great pizza and Caesar salad. One of the owners was there and we talked about the art on the walls. Rolling Stones pictures were papered up and down the walls. Her husband was the original owner and they had been there for over twenty five years. The dining was casual, prices reasonable and staff attentive. I heard they had wines but figured I would be out cold if I started drinking. Not to mention it would cancel out the cafe mocha.
The book signing was scheduled to start at 7pm. We left the restaurant at half past five and found two security guards in white shirts, and two more serious looking ones in suits. They were very nice suits. Heck, matching suits, in fact. Dark sunglasses completed the look; I did check for ear buds but they didn't have them -- otherwise they could have been jogging alongside a president's limo. We had lingered on the sidewalk to talk to a husband and wife about where we were supposed to go when these men came along and firmly, but politely, told us to move.
Here's where the fun starts. There were two lines. Looking down the sidewalk there were maybe twenty or so folks in the left and about the same in the right. We were told that the left side of the walkway was for ticket holders, yay us! The right side was for those who were hoping to get their books signed. Poor them. We had been told by Tyson when we got our tickets that they would let around seventy-five folks inside first to hear the author speak. Each ticket could admit two. We had numbers in the fifties. *gulp* Well, it wasn't like we could control that so we just stood in line, which was just random folks with tickets milling about, and caught up with the people. As the time passed the lines grew and grew. It was then I heard that the crowds for the author's book signings were anywhere from 500 to 800 people. 800 people!!
There was much dashing back and forth from the folks without numbers to our line. They had discovered the trick. They were beginning to beg to share tickets. A rumbling could be heard and we tried to pretend to be deaf. An hour passed with more and more motion and commotion. Then a lady came out and had us ticket holders reorganize to number order. Soon we were beginning to move. Some more reshuffling and one of the suited handlers began counting off. A nice man wrote our names on sticky notes so the author could quickly sign. Soon we cleared the hurdle and were inside. And then more of us were inside. And then I began to wonder how I would make it to the fire exit when some of the excited women spontaneously combusted. I knew where both exits were and was surrounded by very tall men and women in the middle of the room. I figured I could aim low and make it to the stairwell if need be.
Applause grew as it was announced the author had arrived and in walked CNN reporter Anderson Cooper. (Here's where I get glared at by most folks since I only sort of knew what he looked like. The reason being is that I rarely actually watch CNN but usually have it running in the background. I vaguely recognized his voice.) He was nicely dressed and spoke quickly but directly. He was good at working the crowd, and cut his opening remarks to minimum. I think he was worried about the women torching also. Some of them had quite the crush on the newsman. He mentioned how he was amazed that something so solitary an act, writing, could become so public. I got that. I write. Hell, I was under the illusion I wanted to do book signings at some future evolution.
More shuffling and flashes and the signing began. He allowed people to take pictures and shook some hands. When I got to him I was pretty dizzy from the lack of oxygen in the room and said, "Okay, I write, I don't think I ever want to do a book signing." He laughed good humouredly and agreed it was a bit much. He signed my book after shaking my hand and meeting my eyes directly. The handlers moved the line quickly and I was abruptly outside breathing fresh air.
Bemused I hit the parking lot and came to the conclusion his statement about the act of writing was quite true and the idea of facing a crowd of admirers was extremely daunting. To me writing is in my head and heart, and seeing all those people pressed up against a well-known author gave me a definitely unsettling feeling. But I know one thing, if I ever have a book signing, I will have the back door open and my car ready to go!