Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sarah Palin in Grand Rapids, MI

Just got back from Woodland mall. I arrived at 7:00am sharp and made my way to the end of the line of people waiting to get in. The line extended from Barnes & Noble, back to the Information Desk at the center of the mall, and then snaked around a maze like you'd see at the airport for a while, and then extended back to the mall entrance.

Next to the entrance to Barnes & Noble is a media setup with lights and camera. When I got in line, it wasn't immediately clear which media outfit was there. Unlike local news coverage, there wasn't any scruffy camera guy and a "face." Instead there were some well-dressed underlings, including a fellow in a tie sitting crosslegged on the floor typing on his MacBook Pro. In the center was a short woman in a pant's suit. Heavy make-up. Looking somewhat long in the tooth. Walking past, I heard her saying that people were standing in line for Sarah Palin. Oh, that's what Andrea Mitchell looks like in real life.

So, how much of Mrs. Palin's bad press is a function of the jealousy of older, less-attractive women? And I'm not saying Ms. Mitchell appeared to be a crone, just that she looked as you'd expect of someone her age. I'm not as young as I used to be, either.

I stand in line for a half-hour and notice the fellow 20 people ahead of me is reading. I slap my forehead with my palm, "I have Mrs. Palin's book with me." Helpful advice: 1) buy the book the night before; 2) show up at whatever time your fanaticism moves you to; 3) while away the idle hours perusing Mrs. Palin's prose. I started reading. The line seemed to go faster.

90 minutes after getting into line, Barnes & Noble personnel had affixed a wristband to me. The girl advised me to return at 4:00pm. I thought this odd. I had the wristband... The signing isn't scheduled until 7:00pm.

Walking through the mall to get to my car, I saw folks waiting in a 2nd line. Their story is a little different. They drove down from Traverse City the night before. They'd waited in line since 9:00pm the night before. True fans. Now they had their wristbands. "What are you waiting for?" "To get into line again?" "What for?" "To get our books signed." Oh. They weren't going to go away and return at 4:00pm. Like I said, true fans.

(I was tired enough last night that I posted this as comments on Stacy McCain's blog. If you've read it there, this is largely the same.)

At Noontime:

I went back to Woodland Mall for lunch. The crowd had changed slightly. Parking is a zoo. This time I observed there are four shows like layers of an onion: 1) There's Sarah who's not there yet. 2) Then there are guys like me with the wristband who have been in line all day. 3) Camping out in a position of Great Honor are the Network Talents. I recognized Andrea Mitchell, but I did not recognize the statuesque brunette (who might induce me to watch network TV again) being interviewed by Access Hollywood. I don't know whether this means she was From Access Hollywood or whether she's someone Access Hollywood thinks important enough to interview. (I later discovered with a bit of googling that she is Norah O'Donnell. You can see a video of her picking on a little girl at the Media Matters website.) 4) Then there's the fourth show, the various acolites and minor deities attending to the On Air Talents. I think they were the most interesting people there.

If you see someone dressed in a black dress coat, s/he's probably from New York and is attending to some broadcast network's business. Conversely, if you see a kid in a Cornerstone University sweatshirt, s/he's been there since Oh Dark Thirty this morning.

Later that same evening:

Mrs. Palin is friendly and personal. She does retail politics flawlessly.

When I got back to the Mall to stand in line again, the line extended outside. (A mall guard told me the fire marshal said there were too many of us to wait inside.)

After a few minutes a pleasant girl from channel 6 in Lansing came by with cameraman in tow and interviewed people behind me. Others kept walking through ruining the shot and I heard the same line repeated 6 times.

When Mrs. Palin arrived, she gave a short speech (couldn't hear much) and a few minutes later the line began to move. The mall seemed warmer than it had earlier in the day.

Andrea Mitchell was camped out at the MSNBC spot directly in front of the Barnes & Noble entrance with Ms. O'Donnell that I'd noticed at lunch. Happily, I've no need to watch MSNBC to learn who that is. Ms. Mitchell looked tired; probably a long day for her, too. Ms. O'Donnell has the youth and looks to not be jealous of Mrs. Palin in those regards. Nonetheless, she may still be jealous of Mrs. Palin's audience.

My cell rang. It was a couple journalism students from Cornerstone University. (My wife had given their prof my number.) They have a Wednesday night class. You could tell by the navy blue "Truth Seekers" tee shirts in a Star Wars font. They came over and we had a nice chat about Mrs. Palin's star power. "Look at this crowd. It's a rock star crowd. She's a Political Elvis"

Their prof owns a small newspaper a couple towns over. This reminded me that newspapers are hurting financially. Mrs. Palin's ability to make old-media newsies irrelevant is an existential threat every bit as real as Craigslist classified advertising. Who needs to tune into MSNBC when you can surf to Mrs. Palin's facebook page and get her words firsthand?

These students went away and the line slowly wound its way toward the Barnes & Noble door. Another Cornerstone student came around holding a big foam core board and a few Sharpies. They were collecting well-wishes for Mrs. Palin. I had to sign it.

Eventually, we got into the bookstore. The clerks know me from the Thursday writers' group. One called, "It's not Thursday." and we laughed. I climbed the deactivated escalators and wended a serpentine route through the stacks.

Sadly, they didn't route us through Philosophy. The teenager ahead of me pulled a book off the shelf about being a gay teenager and handed it to her dad. NTTAWWT. She and I found it a lot funnier than he did. He added that his Facebook account had been hacked a few days back and defaced with a lot of homoerotic stuff. I suppressed additional sniggers.

They had a big cloth scrim set up around the desk where Sarah Palin signed books.

Within this Holy of Holies were cherubim wearing Grand Rapids City Police uniforms and seraphim in plainclothes with coiled wires going into their ears. A high priestess took my books and passed them to Mrs. Palin. She said Grand Rapids was treating her well in that perky, aw-shucks way that I love so much.

I shook the hand of a rock star.

I left slowly, savoring the moment. I spoke with a guy in black suit--Someone Important with Woodland Mall. The crowd control & security was handled professionally and everything went well. His people did a great job. He thanked me back.

The crowd scene was pleasant. Conservatives are all individuals. Some of us can be odd, but everyone was friendly. I detest waiting in line, but I did enjoy the crowd. After Dan's Bake Sale, Rush remarked that the crowd left things neat & clean whereas when the same number of liberals get together they trash the place. This crowd left Woodland Mall in fair shape.

Outside the store the guy in line behind me had his digital SLR out. He asked me to take his picture in front of the Barnes & Noble sign.

Walking back to my car through the mall all the stores had closed and just a few clerks were finishing up for the night. It was peaceful as I carried two signed copies of Sarah Palin's book home.

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