On Tuesday when I'd usually stay home and make dinner for the family, we all found ourselves heading down to a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Austin for a special event. Well, special for me anyway, maybe not so special for the kids. My wife was late meeting us, so I sent our 14-year-old to the kids' section with her 4-year-old sister and instructions to read her Skippyjon Jones books until further notice.
I headed for the middle of the store to hear a presentation and get a brand new copy of Somebody's Gotta Say It signed by the author, notorious libertarian, Texas Aggie, and radio talk-show host Neal Boortz.
I haven't been to a huge number of book signings, but this one was quite different from what I've encountered before. Usually - even with fairly popular authors - you get a nice little line of a few handfuls of people replenished periodically as new arrivals wander up over the course of a few hours. The biggest one I've been to was with Michael Moore, where maybe 50 people sat around and asked questions and then got their books signed and the line stayed at 20-30 people for the next couple of hours.
This was a different bag of fish. When I got to the center of the store a half-hour before the start of the event, a nice lady handed me a little slip of paper with the letter 'd' on it and a set of instructions. Printed instructions? That was a new one. They explained that we'd be lined up by letter groups with 100 people per letter and that to keep the line moving Neal would only be able to sign the books - no personal messages - and if we wanted a photo with him we had to hand our camera to designated bookstore staff who were presumably specially trained in high speed photography.
I quickly saw why all the regimentation was necessary. There were about 100 chairs set up facing the signing table and they were already filled, and the staff kept handing out lettered slips of paper to a growing throng of people who eventually lined the railing of the upper level of the store and crowded into all the areas between the stacks around the center of the store. I asked someone in management and they estimated that there were 800 attendees based on handing out slips through the letter 'h'. That's one hell of a turnout for a book signing.